Oops I had an Opinion….

I’ve never been the type of person that yearns to put their point across. Just the other week I was at a big business Expo event and I attended various workshops, one of which loved the whole ‘audience participation’ thang (groan…). They asked for opinions on a certain issue and boy did I have them in the bucket load; did I say them? No. Did I raise my hand to signal I had something to say? No. Did I sit there thinking about my opinion, hell yeah, I always have an opinion. I did feebly open my mouth to express it on a couple of occasions (accompanied by the deafening thud of my pounding heart as public speaking isn’t really my bag) but quickly closed it again when someone else started speaking. So, you see, I’m really not one of those people that loves the sound of my own opinion being aired to the masses. I’m opinionated but I keep a water tight lid on them.

But, you know, every now and again a subject will come up that either lights a fire in my belly or rubs me up the wrong way, and when this happens I’m not so good at keeping that lid on my opinion. It, sort of, loosens a bit and my opinion ends up inadvertently spilling out on to whoever happens to be there at the time the lid pops off (when I talk about this metaphorical ‘lid’ I’m more imagining a champagne cork; it’s a bit more glamorous that way.) .

When I read an article in The Independent about a Sexuality Expert’s thoughts on parents asking their children’s consent prior to changing their nappy, I immediately felt extremely uncomfortable. There has been a lot of talk of consent in the press and it is clearly an issue that sparks a lot of debate. For me, the more the issue is in the press and the better we, and the upcoming generations, understand the issues surrounding consent, the better. It is something we all need to understand, promote and respect amongst society. My discomfort came from the issue being discussed by a person described as a ‘Sexuality Expert’. The idea that nappy changing was being discussed by a sexuality expert made me feel uneasy. I worked in Child Protection for almost five years and the things I saw, discussed and read during that time still haunts me today, almost fifteen years later. So, I get that I may be slightly sensitive when it comes to issues such as this. I’ve sat at a table opposite some true monsters. Monsters that really didn’t understand consent. Monsters that didn’t care nor respect children and their right to be protected, kept safe. So, when a ‘Sexuality Expert’ starts commenting on the act of nappy changing, something that, to me, is an innocent act that is part of the every day care of my baby girl, it started to hit a nerve with me. Nappy changing isn’t an act that should be associated with sex or sexuality. It is merely about ensuring your child’s basic needs are being met when they are too young to see to those needs themselves.

So, throw in there the issue of ‘consent’ (an issue heavily associated with sexual relations in the media) and this article started to feel very wrong for me. I am a good mother; my husband is a good father. When we change our baby’s nappy it is an act of innocence born out of the need and desire to take care of her the best we can. When we are frantically pulling fifty five baby wipes out of the packet (when we were only after one single wipe, that is possibly the most irritating baby-wipe-malfunction ever) and trying to scrub the brown stuff off our baby girl before she gets the opportunity to stick her feet (or, quite frankly, her hands – she’s very explorative at the moment….) in it, we aren’t thinking about consent because we are innocently seeing to her needs, we aren’t disrespecting her body, we aren’t thinking about sex or sexuality – we are, quite simply, being mum and being dad.

I never thought I’d see the day I agreed with Piers Morgan (a man with an incredible ability to piss me off just by merely breathing) but when he opened the debate on ‘Good Morning Britain’ (I just had to google the name of it because I still call it TV-AM, a true sign of being an 80s child….) and they were discussing the act of asking a baby for consent prior to the nappy being changed, I found the whole thing ridiculous. And so did old P-Dog. I bet that’s the first and last time we ever agree on something. If I waited for my daughter to give her consent for me to change her nappy, we’d be up to our eye balls in the brown stuff. We would be living at 108 Poo street in Poo-ville, the Poonited Kingdom. I can’t get my little girl to consent to eating a carrot, never mind her agree to have her nappy changed. I literally have to chase her around the floor until I’ve got her in such a position that I can whip her nappy off (whilst praying there are no surprises inside that are going to fly out and splat on our new wallpaper) get her cleaned up and send her on her merry way with a clean nappy on and all in around 0.3 of a millisecond otherwise it’s meltdown mania. Most of the time the process leads to meltdowns of grandeur. It can be a two-person job sometimes! There is not a chance that my baby girl would ever volunteer or actively consent to having her nappy changed.

When the specialist on TV-AM (or whatever…) was asked by Piers how a 3 month old baby gives consent, she said that there are non-verbal ways of communicating consent, like a baby will relax its shoulders because it will feel happy that his or her nappy will be about to be changed. I’m not sure if my two were just wild or possessed (or both) or what but even at 3 months, they were not fond of the nappy changing thing. No-siree. There were no relaxing of the shoulders or giving non-verbal signs that they were in any way enjoying being changed. They gave plenty verbal signs that they weren’t enjoying it, mind. There were plenty of them. The neighbours 5 doors away heard them every bloody nappy change.

My biggest gripe with this whole debate is that if we are to teach consent to our children, we have to be 100% committed to respecting their consent (or lack of it). To ask a child for consent to do something, something that we know, as parents, that we have to do regardless of their consent, is teaching the very opposite of consent, respect and trust, so why ask for consent in the first place?! My feeling is that every child should be taught consent. They should be taught to respect their body and that they have autonomy over who touches, and what happens to, their body. I’m not arguing with that in the slightest. What I do struggle with is introducing it at such an age where the baby is physically, cognitively and emotionally unable to understand the concept of consent. I also really struggle with teaching consent through an activity that has to be carried out regardless. What is that teaching them? That their consent means nothing. In the same way that when I change my baby girl’s nappy no matter how hard she protests so that one day she learns that nappy changing is something that has to be done no matter how strongly she feels about it, children who haven’t consented to their nappy change who go on to be changed and have their consent ignored, will learn that consent means nothing and that, for me, is the most dangerous thing about this whole debate.

If we are ready to teach consent to children who have the cognitive ability and the emotional literacy to understand the concept of consent, we have to be willing to respect that consent otherwise it will only serve as a reminder of the fact that their consent just doesn’t mean anything. We can’t have a generation of children growing up under the impression that consent is something that can be ignored, or something that really doesn’t matter. That is the very last thing our children, and our society, needs.

My bottom line on this is that the issue of consent is absolutely something we have to approach with our children but from an age where they have the ability to understand. I think that asking for consent from a baby to change their nappy only serves as a means to make us feel better about doing it. It tricks us all in to thinking that we are respecting the body, wishes and feelings of that baby but in reality, that consent means nothing. Absolutely nothing. Because them withholding their consent  makes no difference whatsoever to what happens to them. And we can’t risk that sort of culture emerging with the next generation.

We can only teach consent when we are truly willing to respect the child’s response. Until we are completely committed to respecting their view on consent, we shouldn’t be introducing the idea because it will only have a negative effect on their perception of the issue.

I (stupidly) got a little bit too wound up over this debate and put out a flippant tweet explaining that I was fed up of hearing about it and that I thought the idea of gaining consent from a baby was ridiculous. It wasn’t directed at anybody, it was just me needing to vent about a topic that was irritating me somewhat. It got a mixed response; people agreed and people didn’t agree. Most who didn’t agree explained their reasoning in perfectly respectful terms and I have no issue with that whatsoever. It would be a boring world if we all felt the same way about everything, after all. There is nothing wrong with a healthy debate. Everybody is entitled to their opinion; that’s the beauty of free speech.

There’s always one though, hey. Someone really didn’t like my opinion and had worked out that, from the fifteen words or so in that one single tweet I put out, I didn’t have the intelligence to understand the wider issues surrounding consent. I didn’t much like the suggestion that I hadn’t fully understood the issue of consent, particularly given my background in both child protection and teaching, so I explained that I fully understood the matter. I wasn’t rude or argumentative, I just defended the idea that I was a complete and utter nugget who didn’t have the first clue about what I was talking about. I always say that in life you never know the battles people are facing and therefore, I don’t ever like to be confrontational or disrespectful because you just never know the impact that could have on someone, particularly on social media, where you interact with people that you’ve never spoken to before. So I maintained my position but I did it with respect. A couple of others entered the “discussion” and most of them were supportive of my opinion. A couple of lovely people with well meaning intentions challenged the person over the way in which they had spoken to me and BANG! Then the fireworks started going off. It got pretty personal very quickly, with comments being aimed ay myself and one of the people who had stuck up for me about our age, lack of understanding and there was even a ‘why don’t you stop arguing with me and go and see to your kids instead?’ type comment, clearly suggesting that being on Twitter made us poor parents because we should have been dealing with our kids instead. They were in bed, by the way. Not that we need to justify ourselves.

I did the thing that frustrates my hubby the most about me. I sat and wrote out response after response after response but I let my finger hover over the ’TWEET’ button for just one moment too long and the hesitation was enough for me to have second (third, fourth and fifth) thoughts, scrap the tweet and start all over again. I would scribble a response in haste, wound up, but by the time I reached the end of the tweet I had calmed down enough to question whether it was really wise, or appropriate, to respond in such a way so then I deleted it all and started draft 2, draft 3, draft 144 –  you get the idea. None of those drafts made it out in the Twittersphere.

I would love to say that those small comments or ‘digs’ made about me didn’t bother me but, you know, actually they did. And I don’t have any reservation about admitting that. We are all human at the end of the day. I often feel old enough looking at all the twenty somethings smashing it on social media every day so that comment about our age (she approximated that we were 40, she was a few years out and, let’s face it, when you get to nearing 40 every single year counts!) did bite a little bit. The suggestion I was too stupid to understand the bigger picture of the debate hurt too. I try to live my life being as least judgemental as I can because I know how it feels to be judged and would hate to do that to someone else; so when she made the assumption based on my tweet (and maybe my profile picture, I don’t know…) that also got me a little bit. Social media as a general arena is very public so to be accused of, in other words, being stupid, I was acutely aware of all the other people that would see it too and that didn’t feel good. Believe me I wish I didn’t give a shit. God, it would be so cool not to give a shit. I would LOVE not to give a shit.

Despite feeling a little bit miffed, I maintained my composure and the ‘debate’ was over in a milli-second. I thought nothing more of it. The following day, more lovely peeps from Twitter replied to my original tweet with their views. It’s, very obviously, been a topic that has stirred up strong opinions in a lot of people so my initial tweet got engagement from people who also wanted to state how they felt about the issue, and they were very welcome. Again, it was a mixed bag, some agreed and some disagreed. Apart from reading everybody’s replies with genuine interest, I thought nothing more of it. Until I received a notification that the original tweeter (or twitterer, I’m not 100% on the Twitter etiquette so forgive me…) who had taken such issue with my opinion was at it again. She mocked me about interacting with new people who had replied that day, telling me to ‘get over it’ and suggested I had harassed her all day because she had automatically been tagged in to every reply made to the original post due to her initial reply. When accusations like that were starting to be bounded about I wanted to switch off my phone (actually, I wanted to throw it through a double glazed window in my office but I thought it would be unfair to expect the cleaners to tidy up the glass afterwards) and run away. I thought how on earth can one tweet cause so much hassle? I get that it is a topic that people will respond emotionally to. I get that people are passionate about their opinion. But being passionate about your own opinion is different to being passionately negative about someone else’s.

I did reply, but only to tell her that I had not tweeted her once and I explained the way Twitter works and that her being tagged in is automatically done by the folk behind the blue bird. I left it at that. I was biting my tongue and sitting on my hands but I left it at that.

Social media has revolutionised the way we communicate. It has changed the way we do, just about, everything. I have met some truly beautiful people on Twitter, and I have witnessed some despicable behaviour on Twitter. I’ve been a bystander in kick off’s on other people’s posts before and when I think about some of the horrible, nasty and unkind things I have read others say to each other, what I experienced on my post was nothing in comparison. Social media provides us with a community in which we should feel free to discuss our opinions, ideas, thoughts and beliefs without fear of unkindness in response. I can listen to opposing opinions all day long (in fact, I am a true believer in that doing so widens our minds) but if someone mocks you for what you think and gets personal in a bid to fuel an argument (I’m not sure why anyone would want an argument mind, maybe there wasn’t much on the telly or something…) it’s just not fun.

I’m not sure I will be rushing back to Twitter (or any social media platform for that matter) to share my opinions anytime soon. I’ll revert back to that wall flower who is too scared to open her mouth and share her opinion publicly.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this debate though – feel free to comment with them; for the avoidance of any doubt, you can rest assured this is a safe, judgement-free space to share your views!

Have you ever got in to a bit of a hardcore argument on social media? Tell me all about it below!

Dear Perfect Parent,

Dear Perfect Parent,

I see you. But you already knew that; you wanted me to see you.

I see your posts on Facebook, Instagram and the like. Whether it be the perfectly poised photographs you post or the self indulgent status updates you put out there, they always leave me drawing comparisons. I try not to. I tell myself I’m a good mum, secure in the knowledge that my children are clothed, fed, clean, loved and happy, but sometimes your life appears to be so dramatically different to mine that I can’t help but compare.

Sometimes the comparison is even laughable. I read your ‘Yay! I’m back in to my size 8 jeans three weeks after giving birth!’ post whilst sitting in my maternity leggings almost a year after my baby was born. I saw the selfie you took in a nightclub mirror looking all glamorous with a full face of flawless make up, holding a pretty looking cocktail whilst I nursed a cup of tea in my frumpy pyjamas watching a boxset at home with the day’s mascara smudged across my eyes.

I see your ‘she’s only 7 weeks old and she’s sleeping through!’ posts too by the way. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for supporting ‘mummy wins’ as, let’s face it, we all know that parenting is a tough gig but when I’ve had all of about twenty minutes kip in three weeks, I don’t feel much like celebrating with you. On that subject, where do you find the energy to go out on a night time? I’m in my PJs by 4pm. I don’t blame you, though. You should have a social life. I’m glad you do. It’s just my eldest is almost 15 and I haven’t actually regained my social life yet. So it just makes me wonder where I’m going wrong.

Then there’s the mummy video’s. You know the one’s – the video clips of your child playing the violin on one foot whilst reciting the alphabet backwards. In French. You certainly make smart babies. If they carry on like this, one day they might run the country. I can’t even begin to imagine how many posts would be dedicated to announcing that on your social media if that happened.

And then there’s the photographs. Gah. The photographs. The ones where your kitchen looks absolutely immaculate bar some carefully placed icing sugar sprinkles across a home made cherry pie sitting proudly on a hand carved wooden chopping board or some jars of home made jams with hand written labels and gingham checked cloth lids. Your kitchen looks like something from the Bake Off tent whilst mine more resembles ‘the morning after the night before at Glastonbury’ type look. And the fact that you have your shit together enough to make homemade jam impresses me on a whole new level. My kids are lucky if they get offered a spoonful of Hartley’s for their toast. Not a single gingham cloth lid in sight.

The truth is that I admire you. I admire that you are doing such a sterling job of raising your family whilst keeping an immaculate home and I admire that you have a baby who sleeps through, an exciting social life, the energy to make home made jam and the time to document and video every one of your child’s talents. And so you should. That’s totally your prerogative.

But on the days where I am feeling really pushed. Pushed for time, energy, lust for life or whatever else, seeing someone making such an amazing go of being a Mum can only serve as a stark reminder of what I could be doing better.

So when I see the photograph of your family sitting around a pretty looking camp fire at the beach roasting meat on the barbeque to go with a side salad made up of organic vegetables you’ve grown yourselves at home, I compare it to what I’m seeing; my children, most likely sitting at my very chaotically laid dinner table, stretching their necks to see what’s going on on the television ,whilst they eat their very average pasta and cheese.

BUT (and it’s a big ‘but’) does that mean I love them any less than you love your children? Absolutely not. That’s one thing that is simply not up for debate. But it is part of my genetic make-up to be hard on myself, be self critical and continuously feel guilt at not being a good enough mum.

I do think that a lot of that guilt comes from being a working mum. By the time work is over and the nursery pick up has been done, it’s very usually a case of throwing whatever is quick and easy in to a pan for tea whilst running a bath for the baby whilst helping the big’un with his homework whilst trying to reply to five and a half work emails (and usually whilst pouring a sizeable G&T) all at the same time. It gets too much some times. In fact, it gets too much a lot of the time. And yet in the same vein it never feels enough. It doesn’t matter what I do, I always feel that my children deserve better than what I can give them.

So when I see your photographs or your posts on social media sometimes they serve as a reminder of the mum I would love to be one day. But one thing is certain: I may not have an immaculate house all the time, and I might not grow my own organic vegetables in the back garden and a year on I might not be back in to my pre-pregnancy clothes (there’s no ‘might’ about it actually, I’m definitely not.) but one thing is for absolute sure: my children know they are loved. They are loved to the ends of the earth and beyond and I’m sure if they were asked they’d say their mummy does her best by them. And that’s enough for me.

I have no doubt I’ll hear from you soon (via your chosen social media outlet),

Keep going Supermum! You’re doing an awesome job.

 

Mamma_B x

How many minutes a day do you dedicate to yourself?

What does ‘me time’ look like when you are a mum?

Being a mum of a boy who was hurtling through his teens saw me regain a huge amount of time that I could dedicate to myself so when I fell pregnant (incidentally I hate that saying – who ‘falls’ pregnant? Like, woops, I tripped over your foot. Bam! I’m expecting!’) I knew that going back to nappies, night feeds and colic was going to have an impact on the amount of time I found for myself.

In fact, for the first few months of my daughter’s life, ‘me time’ wasn’t even on the radar. At no point did I have time for me; at no point did I make time for me. But actually, at no point did I even register that I was having no time for me. That was the scary bit. Once my husband was back at work after paternity leave, there were many days where I didn’t even find the time to get changed out of my PJs or take a shower. He’d come home from work around 5pm and find me in exactly the same way he left me eight hours previous – hair not brushed, not showered, not changed. I would think ‘how do people do this? How do people have a baby and still manage to shower, get dressed, have a hot cup of coffee, chat to friends?’ I felt like I was failing at life.

Of course the reality was that whilst I was sat there in a zombie like state, my baby girl had been bathed, massaged and dressed immaculately. She had milk in her belly, clean nappies on, she’d been cuddled, winded, rocked, shushed, read to, sang to and played with – she had had my undivided attention all day long (and all night long most of the time too!) so I’d clearly had the time to do all those things; I had simply chosen to dedicate that time to my baby rather than myself. I thought that made me a good mum.

I think she was around the five month mark when I started to feel more than just the ‘I’m tired from the sleepless nights’ type of tiredness. Little Miss was having a rough time with reoccurring chest infections so sleep was at an all time low and I was constantly in a state of panic, checking her temperature, watching her breathe for any signs of struggle. I was not only physically exhausted but exhausted in every meaning of the word. I felt drained. I remember sitting in her nursery for hours, holding her upright on my chest so that she could get some sleep without coughing. I sat there for as long as I possibly could, ensuring she was in a deep sleep, before trying to put her back down in her cot again. I crept up to the cot and gently laid her down, as if she was fine glass. I held my breath and said a prayer internally that she would remain asleep so I could get to bed.

And she did. Until I laid my head on my pillow and closed my eyes and then the coughing started, and then the crying resumed. I sat up and felt so emotionally fragile. I cried. I was so desperately in need of some sleep. But not only that, I was desperately in need of time for me. I felt drained, physically, emotionally and in all other ways. This was more than just tiredness; I felt like I had lost myself almost.

I felt guilty for thinking about ‘me’ when I was so blessed to have a beautiful baby daughter that needed me but in five months I hadn’t left her side once. I hadn’t met a friend for coffee as adults, I hadn’t spent any child free time with my husband, I hadn’t so much as had half an hour to read a trashy magazine or a book. This wasn’t for the lack of offers either, whilst we don’t have a massive family network, we have family members that had offered to look after her, but I had not wanted to leave her. I don’t know whether this was because she had had such a traumatic start to life or whether I’d have felt the same regardless, I don’t know. I had waited so long for my beautiful baby girl, spending time away from her just hadn’t occurred to me.

It was only during a chat with my Reiki Healer about how rubbish I was feeling that I fully realised that I had really done myself an injustice in not ensuring that I had time for me. She asked me ‘what do you do for you?’ and I couldn’t answer. I had a small baby, I thought. I don’t have time for me. She asked me to identify one thing I had done out of sheer enjoyment just for me in the last week and I couldn’t answer it. I hadn’t read, I hadn’t written, I hadn’t sat in the garden and enjoyed the peace and quiet, I hadn’t met a friend – nothing. She told me (in friendly but no uncertain terms) that it was absolutely essential that I find time for me in every single day. I almost laughed. Time for me? Every single day?! That was going to be impossible. She maintained that it was essential for my wellbeing though. She told me to start by reserving one ten minute period for me every single day. It was acknowledged that we all need more than ten minutes of ‘me time’ a day but we needed to be realistic here or it just was never going to work.

I thought about what I could do in ten minutes. I could (probably) drink a small coffee (whilst hot maybe!), I could read for ten minutes, I could meditate or listen to some music, I could pamper myself or you know what? I could just lie down in a dark room and drink in the peace. Ten minutes isn’t long but when you have deprived yourself of any time for you for several months, you’ll take it with open arms and you’ll run with it. Fast.

I scheduled these ten minute periods. I mentally popped them in the diary for when my husband got in from work and could take over on baby duty, or for when I got Little Miss down for one of her naps. Instead of opting to get the bottles cleaned and sterilised or hoovering or being in a rush to do something practical like changing the beds, I took that time and thought ‘this is for me.’

Happiness is created through our enjoyment of things. I enjoyed my baby so much but there needed to be an acknowledgement that I had a right to enjoy something for me too. The Reiki Healer was right, once I started to dedicate time for me, doing something I enjoy, even if for just ten minutes, I felt happier. I felt more balanced. I felt stronger. This had a hugely positive impact on my ability to be an upbeat all-singing-and-dancing mum too.

Those ten minutes each day may not be much but they are a nod to the fact that us mums are people in our own right. We shouldn’t need to accept that every minute of our day should be dedicated to doing things for others. It’s Ok for us to be selfish some times and say ‘this is what I’m doing for me,’ not for the husband, for the dog, for the kids, the mother-in-law or the neighbour down the road – for us. For me. In fact, that isn’t selfish at all. It’s doing what is right for us. What is healthy for us.

When that Reiki Healer asked me what I did for me, I was confused. The fact that I found that question so confusing is exactly what was so very wrong. In my head somewhere, I subconsciously believed that as mums, our whole lives should be dedicated to our little people. And for all we love our little people and for all they make our world go round, it is not good for our health, our state of mind or emotional wellbeing to neglect ourselves in the process.

Ask yourself the question, what have you done for you today? If you can’t answer it, I hear you. You are probably just as exhausted as I was. You may be thinking it’s not possible to have ‘me time’ and be a mummy but please, give it a try. Reserve ten minutes out of your day tomorrow and find something to do that you enjoy, do something that makes you happy. See the difference it makes to how you feel.

I know that having time for me makes me a better mum. I’m more patient, I’m more energised, more balanced and I’m happier.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this! Have you found the right balance?

Going away with your baby soon? Read these top tips to avoid a whole load of stress!

In the last three weeks we have been away twice with our brood in tow. Each time just for a few nights in this country, either to see family, or to just get away and spend time as a family somewhere a bit different. We go on our proper holibobs in a couple of weeks so it was a bit of a test run if you like. Boy did it test us, at times. Here’s my top tips for taking a baby away:

 

  • Plan your packing and only take what you need.

From someone who literally packs a suitcase of baby stuff just to nip to Asda for some bread, I struggled with this. We were travelling by train for one of our trips away so it was essential that we travelled as light as possible as we had the pram and travel cot to carry also. I over packed ridiculously, packing an outfit for every sort of weather you can imagine. Not sure why I thought my little miss would need a summer romper in Birmingham during the British summer time, but I packed it anyway. I also packed ‘dressy’ outfits for her in case we went out for dinner on a night time (It had totally escaped my mind that you can’t really do ‘posh dinners’ on a night time with a baby.) It turned out that instead, we ate at Nandos in the middle of the afternoon, each of us shovelling in our food as quickly as possible whilst the other entertained the baby. No dressy outfits were required. Not one.

We bought some sterilising tablets that you use with cold water and these were a godsend and allowed us to sterilise her bottles and dummies in the bathroom sink at the hotel – much easier than trailing the steriliser with you.

We packed items that were really not needed such as calpol, in case her teething got bad, pouches of food in case she didn’t eat what was on offer at the hotel/restaurant, a hundred and one nappies just in case we had unexpected nappy explosions and enough packets of baby wipes to sink a small ship. What we had totally lost sight of was the fact that we were staying within the UK and that there were a wide range of shops close to where we were staying. We could have gone and bought food pouches, extra nappies, calpol or wipes if we’d needed them. We really shouldn’t have trekked them all the way there on the off chance we’d need them – because, as it happened, we didn’t.

 

  • Do some research on where you are going and the facilities on offer where you are staying.

This is something we didn’t do. I wish we had, in particular, researched the facilities available at our hotel before booking. They were only little things but things like not having a bath in the bathroom and only having a shower, made things tricky as our Little Miss is used to having a bath every night as part of her routine. It was hard for her as it was, to be in an unfamiliar environment so not having a bath made it difficult for her to wind down for bed on a night.

We also failed to take our gro anywhere black out blind with us (which was a monumental sized error, by the way) and as the hotel curtains were not the best, our Little Miss was waking a lot earlier and as we were all staying in one room, she then awoke the teen (who, incidentally, does not do ‘tired’ very well) and it made for very long days.

Researching things like the times the restaurant is open on an evening or if there are restaurants near the hotel that open quite early would also be very useful and would avoid you being left in a situation like we were with a hungry baby whilst trying to find somewhere we could all go to eat together.

 

  • Relax the routine.

I’m a huge advocate for routines with a baby. I think they are so important. But, trying to maintain that routine when you are miles away from home, in an unfamiliar place, will only result in massive stress. I spent a good couple of days stressing over nap times, meal times, bed times and in hindsight I wish I hadn’t. I worried that if I relaxed the routine while we were away, our Little Miss, who is an absolute creature of habit, would never get back into the swing of things again when we got home. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As soon as I relaxed the routine a little, I was able to enjoy it better and so was she. Yes she stayed up later some nights and yes some days she didn’t nap until tea time (which would usually put the fear of God in me) but going with the flow allowed us all to spend some relaxed time together as a family without constant clock watching and that was really important not only for us and Little Miss, but more importantly for our big Lad too. And, as it happens, as soon as we got home, she relaxed back into her usual routine absolutely perfectly.

 

  • A baby crying is not the end of the world.

Both on the train and when in the hotel, there were times where Little Miss was screaming and crying and I felt really aware of the strangers around me. I worried that we were bothering them, keeping them awake, disturbing whatever it is they were doing. My husband, on the other hand, couldn’t care less. He firmly believes that we should never have to apologise on behalf of our crying baby because, let’s face it, we have all been there and done it at some stage or another (even if we can’t remember it!). The further the trip went on, the more I realised that if Little Miss cried, she cried. Yes I would attempt to console her, distract her, offer her cheese puffs and rusks, give her whatever ridiculous objects we had to hand to play with such as random water bottles and car keys, and give her cuddles, but I soon realised that sometimes babies just cry. And when you’ve used every trick you can think of to distract them, there’s very little you can do to stop them crying. It’s just as simple as that. As much as I was very sorry for any discomfort the crying may have caused fellow passengers or hotel guests, it really wasn’t the worst thing to happen in the world and it was only ever temporary. It shouldn’t be a massive deal.

The more stressed I was getting about the situation, the more upset Little Miss was getting and the worse the situation felt. I have definitely learned that I need to relax more and roll with the punches. Of course, I remain sorry if my baby’s crying does cause any distress to complete strangers but, there needs to be a realisation that babies cry. That’s what they do. Sometimes it’s crap to listen to but she’s just a baby, it’s not her fault. And it’s not mine either. Us parents do our best but we can’t raise a brood of muted children just to ensure that strangers around us have a peaceful day.

 

  • Be Realistic.

This final tip is a biggie. When you plan your trip, don’t romanticise it. Don’t allow yourself to envision yourself lounging around the hotel spa sipping on Mojitos or having lazy lie ins on a morning with breakfast delivered to your room so you can remain in your hotel dressing gown whilst watching morning TV. Whilst, yes, you’re going away for a few days, you have to be realistic about what to expect when going away with a baby/children. It’s not going to be a romantic rose-petals-on-the-bed and double-rain-shower type of trip. Those days may return (if you have a very kind babysitter!) but it certainly isn’t going to be like that with a baby.

Yes your trip will be stressful -even chaotic I suspect – but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing. Our trip was totally full on (and to be honest, I could have slept for a week when we got back and still would have been exhausted) but I honestly would not have had it any other way. It was wonderful to relax the routine, go with the flow, visit new places, do new things and experience all of those things as a family of 4 with our Big Lad and Little Miss.

 

I’ll admit I am a little apprehensive about taking our Little Miss on an eight hour flight for our holiday in a couple of weeks but I am so, so, very excited to spend more quality time as a family. Even if it is sure to be total chaos most of the time.

 

 

 

 

My Doctor Prescribed me Mummy Guilt.

Thanks for prescribing me a stonking big dose of mummy guilt, Doctor.

So, you know the way it goes. You spend the best part of a decade longing for a baby (although, granted, that was probably just us – we had fertility issues), you look at mums pushing prams and nursing bumps and you are so envious it physically hurts, you dream of the baby you so desperately want and all the things you would do together if your dream were to come true. Then the magic happens and you conceive. You spend nine months yearning to meet your child. Your pride and joy is born and you feel immersed in a great big bubble of love. You look forward to the long stretch of maternity leave ahead of you and you plan all the lovely things you will do with your baby.

Then, like some sort of bad sci-fi movie, your life speeds up, flying through six months of maternity leave at the rate of knots and before you know it, you’re setting your alarm for your first day back at work and rummaging through your wardrobe desperately looking for something semi-formal (and preferably elasticated for obvious reasons) to wear to the office.

My maternity leave came to an end when my baby girl was just over five months old. I would have loved to take more time off but as my husband and I both work for our own business, it became clear I had stretched my maternity leave out for as long as I possibly could and that I needed to return to the office to ensure our business continued to grow. We started looking at nurseries when our little one was three months old as it was important to us that we looked at as many different nurseries as possible and had the time to really consider which one felt right for us and our little lady.

I was always very acutely aware that I was returning to work quite sharpish compared to the length of maternity leave parents tend to take these days. With my son, fifteen years ago, six months was the norm and those who took a year were the really privileged ones. This time round most of the mums I spoke to were taking a minimum of a year off. So, to start her at nursery at five months seemed really young and I did feel anxiety about that. Every nursery we visited would say on their brochure ‘from six weeks to school age’ but yet when we toured the nurseries, there were never any young babies there to see. The youngest we saw in most of the nurseries was around eight to nine months old so every time I left a nursery I would feel crushing guilt that I was starting my baby way too soon.

We saw the good, the bad and the damn right ugly during our tour of the local nurseries. With some nurseries I knew within seconds of stepping through the door that it wasn’t the right place for our lady. We talked to friends and asked if they had heard any good reports of any particular nurseries and I quickly realised that choosing a nursery for your child is a really personal thing. For every positive referral I heard from a friend, I heard a negative opinion from someone else. I concluded that this is because maybe we are all looking for something different when we weigh up the best place for our child. Maybe when us parents look at childcare, nothing is ever good enough for our children and that is where negative opinions stem from.

We did reach a point where we started to feel quite panic stricken. We weren’t being terribly over fussy (or at least I didn’t think so!) but we just wanted to walk in to a nursery and feel that, in our heart, it was the best place for her. She was still so little, so fragile, it was important to us that we felt 100% reassured that she was in a safe place and the right place for her. We had exhausted every nursery in the immediate local area. I’m not for one second saying that we have bad nurseries in our area, because we don’t. There are so many nurseries getting good to outstanding in their Ofsted reports so clearly there were good nurseries; but we were looking for more than an Oftsed rating. We were looking for that feeling in the gut, that warmth in your heart, that lightbulb moment: this is the right place for our precious girl.

Having visited all of the options in our immediate local area, my husband suggested we widened the search. I wasn’t particularly happy with the idea as I knew that would mean a longer commute on the way to and from work and would have far preferred to have been geographically closer to the nursery when at the office incase she was ever poorly and needed to be collected urgently. However, with very little other options, I agreed, and we visited one further nursery that was just outside of our immediate local area – only a few miles down the road from nurseries that we had ruled out.

I knew within two steps in to the nursery that it was the right place. I actually felt excited as the Manager showed us around; excited at the potential role the nursery and its staff could play in our daughter’s life, growth and development. The nursery was very different to that of the others we had visited. It wasn’t a franchise; brightly coloured plastic toys and equipment were exchanged for more natural materials, there was lot of wooden toys and a huge emphasis on outdoor play. I didn’t know at the time that that particular concept would appeal to me, but it did. Within minutes.We clicked with the baby room staff immediately and one of the most reassuring things we heard that day was that they had recently had a six month old baby start. We talked about how nursery would support us with weaning, crawling, walking and other things and everything just clicked into place. Before we were even told the price of the nursery, we had decided that whatever the cost, we would find a way to ensure that our daughter was cared for there.

Finding the right nursery did, in some ways, make me feel less guilty about returning to work so early but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t plagued with guilt about handing over my beautiful little baby to an apparent stranger for seven hours a day, multiple times a week. My little girl knew no different and that was one huge advantage to her starting so young, she didn’t really recognise that I had left her and she therefore settled in really quickly. I, on the other hand, did not settle in to the arrangement very well.

I remember sitting down at my desk on that first day. I put up some new photographs, sticking pictures of my new baby girl on the wall. I changed my screen saver to reflect our new addition to the family. I must have blamed baby brain a hundred and one times for locking myself out of various accounts by trying forgotten passwords incorrectly and I chain drank coffee from the new swish coffee machine that had been delivered whilst I’d been on maternity. I remember staring at the number of emails in my inbox. I can’t remember the exact number but it was four thousand and something. I felt overwhelmed. I felt exhausted before I’d even begun and I felt emotionally drained. I did nothing but watch that clock (actually, I tell a lie, I rang the nursery a few times to check on the baby too). I was very unproductive. But it was the first day back, surely that was expected, yes?

I wish I could say it got easier but for me it hasn’t. My little girl is nine months and is now at nursery full time. I torture myself with ridiculous ideas like ‘since she’s gone to nursery full time she hasn’t said ‘mamma’ to me as much’ and convinced myself that was because she had bonded with her nursery key worker more than me because I had been so absent from her life due to work. The key worker would write the little lady’s diary ‘she’s really enjoyed tummy time today’ yet when I tried to put her on her tummy she screamed until I picked her up. She tried her first finger food at nursery, she stood unsupported for a few seconds first at nursery. She waved first at her keyworker. I know these sound trivial things (they’re not even significant enough to be called ‘milestones’) but nobody brings a baby into the world to have them cared for by other people and miss out on all the good bits. It’s been really tough.

I can’t say that the separation from me has upset or distressed my little lady in any way. She is 100% happy, content and settled at nursery. Not once has she ever cried when I’ve left her (she has once or twice when I’ve collected her though! Argh!) and she is thriving there. And that is what counts, right? That should make me feel better, yes? So why don’t I feel any better about it?! I have, at times, felt really quite low at not being with her. I’m not someone that dislikes work. I am work focused, ambitious and driven. I don’t long to be off work, or at home, I just long to be with my baby girl. I think about all the weeks on maternity I took for granted and wish I could re-live them again so that I could squeeze every last drop of joy out of every single day. But, given time travel isn’t an actual thing I can only go forwards.

I go forwards, however, with a lot of mummy guilt. My little one has caught infection after virus after infection since starting nursery, so I have felt extra guilt about that, a ‘if I hadn’t gone back to work so soon, she wouldn’t have been in nursery now and wouldn’t have got ill so it’s all my fault’ type thing. When she sleeps in and I have to wake her to get her dressed and take her to nursery, I feel guilt then. When I end up picking her up later because work has overran and then have to start the bath/bed routine the second we get home because she’s shattered, I feel it then too. Some days I feel like I don’t even grab so much as one hour of quality time together from one nursery day to the next. It makes me feel low. Like, I’m just not emotionally built to be separated from her so early on.

Other parents haven’t helped. Even some of my friends. They don’t mean anything malicious but the whole ‘she’s started nursery already? I didn’t even think nurseries took babies that young’ gets said quite often. Meanwhile I sink down in my chair and hate myself just that little bit more. Even just today, I took my baby girl to the doctors on the advice of nursery because there had been a case of impetigo within the nursery and my little one had developed a few spots on her mouth so we went to get checked out. The doctor, who is our regular doctor and knows the family well, asked what was wrong, so I explained. He stopped and said ‘wait a minute, she goes to nursery? Isn’t she too young?’. Cue me, rapidly trying to justify our decision ‘ we’re self employed, I didn’t have a choice’ blah blah blah. He raised his eyebrows, in a judgmental and disapproving way and said ‘I’ve never known a baby so young start nursery.’ With a shake of a head, he goes on to examine my baby meanwhile I feel a little bit wounded on the inside. The doctor thinks she’s too young to be in nursery. He must be right, I mean, he’s a Doctor, right? Doctor’s know everything. As he brings the appointment to a close and I leave clutching a prescripton, I feel a little broken. Thanks so much for pointing out that I am a shit mum, Doc. The guilt is going to keep me up all night. But cheers though, have a nice day.

The fact this judgmental comment was said by a medical professional, a family Doctor at that, made it all the more poignant for me. This wasn’t just a flippant comment made by one of my friends who thinks she knows it all when it comes to kids; nor was it a comment from my grandma, who can be excused because times have changed since women stayed at home and raised their babies. This was from a family medical professional. I felt ashamed. Ashamed of having to go back to work to make a living and build a life for my children. Guilt that I couldn’t have stayed at home with her for any longer. I felt like he had attacked my ability as a parent to make the right decision by my daughter. That hurt.

It shouldn’t have upset me. I should have been stronger. I shouldn’t have let it bother me. But it did. He opened the door to mummy guilt and invited it back in to my head and now I’ll be entertaining it for days. Maybe even weeks. Months.

Cheers Doc.

Get out of the Baby Parenting Competition Now!

Our first ‘child’ (when your boy starts sprouting a moustache it feels ever so slightly inaccurate to call him a ‘child’. A ‘mini man’ or ‘man in progress’ sounds a bit more on point) is almost fifteen so we’ve been out of the baby game for a number of years. A high number of years, at that. So, when I became pregnant with our daughter, who is now eight months, I was abruptly reminded of the competitiveness that comes with baby parenting. It’s like as soon as those two blue lines show on the pee stick, you are automatically entered into some sort of insane parenting league where you compete against your nearest and dearest friends as if you are life long rivals. And it doesn’t matter if you don’t want to be competing in that league. You’ve got no choice. You’re pregnant now. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to grip on to the idea that it is undeniably ridiculous to compete with one another on such a subject as parenting, you are drawn into it, against your will, and before you know it, you catch yourself saying something like ‘In my twelve week scan my baby signed the lyrics to ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ with its bare hands inside the womb, what did you see in your scan?’ and sounding like one prized muppet.

Months later I sharp remembered the competitiveness that surrounds birthing. This is something I will never understand. There are two camps with this one. You can enter the competition for the ‘Best Birth Ever’ or the ‘Worst Birth Ever’. Who in their right mind would compete against each other for having the worst birth experience? Why oh why? Having had lots of friends and acquaintances who have had babies (and enjoy discussing their birth experience in GREAT detail), I can say with absolute certainty that people do. Whether it’s the biggest birth weight squeezed through the smallest hips, the highest degree tears, the injuries sustained, the longest labour, the worst midwife – mums compete for the ‘worst birth’ title with steely determination.

Then there’s the ‘Best Birth Ever’ camp. This tends to be the competition that the pain free, drug free, hypno birthing, pushed-out-in-fifteen-minutes-while-the-midwife-was-on-her-lunch-break mums enter. I’ve seen mums fiercely compete against each other for who gave their baby the most peaceful, relaxing, smooth and tranquil transition into the world.

As a C-Section mum, one time round out of the two, I have experienced feeling rather lost in these discussions at times, like I don’t really have a place in this oh so special league. Not that I would want to be competing. But, you know what I mean. I’m a none-breast-feeding, C-section mamma. The worst kind! It doesn’t matter why I didn’t breast feed. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t personally elect for a section, or not to breast feed, actually. I’m judged on the start to life I gave my baby, whether I actively opted to give her that start to life or not. And I didn’t, by the way. But the very fact I felt I needed to justify that, is what makes it so sad.

I think that being a mother is the most challenging, the most rewarding, and the most important job in the world all rolled into one. We all know it’s damn hard. It’s nigh on impossible at times. We wouldn’t change it for the world, but there is no denying it is tough. So, why do we compete? Why do we make the job harder by entering into discussions that could potentially leave us feeling extremely inadequate and negative about our own ability as parents? Why are we so judgemental? Why are we drawn in to pathetic conversations where we debate who had the worst / best birthing experience? Fast forward a few months and we’ll be competing about Baby Led Weaning, or whose baby has moved through the weaning stages quickest, who makes the most exotic home made purees, then whose baby is sitting up unsupported first, then crawling, then walking, then speaking – who knows where it ends. My boy is almost fifteen, and I’m glad to say that I definitely haven’t been drawn into silly competitive chat in a while. However, I do take great pleasure in announcing his excellent grades on Facebook. Those posts are 99% fuelled with pride. 1% fuelled with ‘you told me my baby wouldn’t be as clever because he wasn’t breast fed. Well, there you go. A* in English. Boom.’ So, I suppose, there’s an element of competition no matter their age.

I would very much like it to stop, though. I don’t know why, as grown and mature adults, we are drawn into that sort of behaviour. It’s not a fantastic example to set for our little, milestone-meeting darlings. Take birthing for example: giving birth is not a day out at the races. Naturally done or otherwise. It is hardcore stuff. Physically and mentally gruelling. Sometimes it doesn’t go to plan and some of us are genuinely left traumatised by our experiences. To have to listen to others dreamily recall every minute of their ‘perfect birth’ can be hard. Really hard. I don’t think there’s many winners in this sort of competition. At one stage or another we will all come away from a playdate (the type of playdate you have at Costa) googling ‘what should my baby be doing at x months?’ after being made to feel like someone else’s baby, or their parenting, is better than yours.

We need to stand up and acknowledge that us women are nothing short of amazing. What our bodies are capable of doing, when ‘growing’ and giving birth to a baby, is miraculous. We get through those birthing experiences, whether good or bad, fuelled by a mothers love. That love is strong. Powerful. The biggest love of all. What, as human beings, we are capable of doing in the name of being a mum, is astounding.

It’s the same for raising a child or children. It is bloody hard. Exhausting. Draining, too, at times. Yet there we are. Rain or shine. In sickness or in health. There we are, doing the most amazing job in the world: Being a mum. Sod the competition, that’s something to celebrate right there. We are amazing, ladies. Pop the cork on that bottle of Moet that’s been sitting in the fridge waiting for a justifiably ‘good enough’ reason to open it; we’ve got something to celebrate. Withdraw your entry from that competition. It’s not worth competing in. You know why? Because we’re all bloody amazing, that’s why!

Next time you overhear a mum preaching how good or bad their birth was, or arguing that their child is more advanced than yours, congratulate them. Then leave. Leave with the knowledge that you are just as amazing as them. Because you’re a mum. And all mums are amazing.