The Same, Differently

This morning I tuned in to a radio debate and for the first time was compelled to call in and join in. Sadly I didn’t have enough time before the school run to partake, so I’m going to share my views here.

The debate concerned parenting books; the suggestion being that parenting books are responsible for stifling the natural instinct and intuition of parents. Callers of all ages made their points, with some arguing that allowing babies to “cry it out” is the only way to get a baby to sleep through the night. Others argued that Gina Ford’s ‘Contented Little Baby’ routine was both the work of the devil and equally the only possible option for raising a happy child. Several parents from older generations pointed out that none of these books and regimes were available “in their day” and their children turned out alright (even though, when pressed, at least one admitted that her children didn’t sleep through the night until the age of five).

Few topics polarise people as much as parenting. There are so many factors and variables along the rocky road that is parenthood and it’s such an important job. Nothing magnifies irrational thought as much as sleep deprivation and this is where parenting books come in. They can feel like a life-line when your instinct and intuition seem to be failing you.

The one thing all callers had in common was their passion. They all felt so strongly that they were right.

Had I been put on-air this morning, my point would have been this:
“Why does your way have to be the only way?”

Nobody on this particular radio show was able to appreciate that what works for them may not for someone else; all children are different and what works for your first child may not have the same effect on your subsequent offspring. Others may do things differently from you, and that’s fine. It doesn’t mean that they’re wrong or that you are, either.

The main topic of this phone-in was intuition, which I think is a really interesting point. The suggestion was that anyone following a routine from a parenting book was ignoring their own common-sense and instinct. The reason I felt compelled to join this debate was that this view is so incredibly black and white.

What if your intuition is telling you that you need help? Why ignore the wealth of information in books and online? What if you are seriously questioning whether you were over-looked on the day that maternal instinct and common sense were handed out? What’s so wrong with using a crutch?

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I admit that I’m somewhat of a parenting-book-junkie. Especially when Madam was born, in the early days and during the onset of what turned out to be severe post-natal depression, I was desperate for help. I bought book after book, determined to shoe-horn my little baby in to a routine that would get her through the night. Looking back, what I really needed was to feel in control. Anyone who’s ever had a newborn will know that control, hormones and little babies don’t usually go hand-in-hand.

The start of my darkest days coincided with trying to fit Madam in to Gina Ford’s routine. I just couldn’t seem to get her to “obey’ the timings that Ms. Ford insisted upon. I felt like an utter failure. Several of my peers had successfully implemented Gina, yet I simply couldn’t make her routine work. I think my baby was four weeks old. Had I been thinking rationally at the time, I’d have realised that either this routine wasn’t for us, or that we’d have to try later when the baby was a bit older. Perhaps I’d have taken some tips or ideas and found my own way. But I wasn’t thinking rationally. I was desperate. I bought several other books, determined to fit my tiny little baby in to some sort of schedule: to make me feel back in control of the situation and in hindsight, my life.

My fixation on routine was in all likelihood something for me to focus on. Of course I now realise that putting so much emphasis on getting little Madam in to a routine was causing me to miss out on so many joyful moments. I even felt resentful of her at times. Of course, much of this is closely tied in to PND. Also, thinking back, the control issue was also probably magnified by my inability to breastfeed her (more on this topic soon). I looked to parenting books to help me regain control as I felt completely unprepared for the spiral that my life had seemingly become.

With this in mind you’d think I’d be firmly in the anti-parenting book camp. But this is not the case. Not at all. My situation was extreme and I am in no way suggesting that any book was responsible for my depression. I did find a routine that worked for us (from Tracey Hogg’s ‘The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems’), and Madam did sleep through the night from eight weeks. I say this not to brag, but to show that with perseverance I found something that worked. For me, the stress of implementing a routine was negated by the rewards. Getting the baby to sleep through the night as soon as she was ready helped me to feel more in control and made me more capable of seeking help for myself. I genuinely don’t believe that she’d have slept as early as she did without the routine.

I’m occasionally asked my views on Gina Ford and her routines. I would never dream of saying “Oh my God, Gina and I don’t get on at all, she nearly sent me insane. Steer well clear if you’d like to avoid taking up residence in a padded cell!”. I realise and accept that all children and all families are different. The reason there are so many books, ideas and baby products on the market is that there is something to suit everyone. I can only offer my own experiences and share what did and didn’t work for us. I try very hard to stick to point number five in my Mummy Kindness Manifesto:

I will only offer advice when it’s asked for. I will do so with love and without judgement.

When it comes to receiving parenting advice, experience has taught me to filter advice and to keep an open mind. It is perfectly acceptable to glean useful nuggets of information from an assortment of media and to disregard what doesn’t speak to or work for you.

There is no reason why reading parenting books should stifle our parental instincts or intuitions. If we have peace with and faith in our own choices as parents, there’s no reason why we should feel threatened by someone else’s different approach. I think this goes for all aspects of life, really, not only parenting. We all simply want to do our best for our families. Hopefully we can all continue to listen to our own instincts and at the same time respect and accept that others are doing the same, differently, and that’s fine too.

Being The Good

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“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
― Fred Rogers

Yesterday three people died and over one hundred were horrifically injured when two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon. I watched the news in shock with my heart racing. I just can’t understand what would make someone feel that an act of terror like this is justifiable.

It seems that every day there’s more and more hurt, pain and bad news. For someone like me, who’s already prone to anxiety and panic, it’s almost enough to make me become a hermit, never leaving the house and relying on Internet shopping to keep my family sustained. I’m not really even kidding.

This morning I had a couple of child-free hours and as I drove to the Westfield shopping centre in East London all I could think of was terror explosions and how one minute you can be going about your business and the next…well, I can’t begin to imagine.

I mean, marathons are charity events. Bombers targeted ordinary, kind and charitable people.
Day after day we hear horrifying stories of pain and devastation all over the world. Each seems worse than the last.

This morning on Facebook someone shared a picture of a man in Boston with most of his leg missing. The image is seared on my brain. You can’t just “un-see” something like that.

It’s almost enough to destroy your faith in human nature altogether.

But where will we be without faith in human nature? What will happen if we all believe that the entire world has gone to shit and that no-one cares any more? That there’s no good left?

We simply cannot let our hearts be hardened by the sadness we see in the world. We can’t just accept that bad stuff happens to good people and do nothing about it. We can’t believe that the human race is tainted by Evil. We can’t let the sadness of an atrocity like yesterday distort our view of humanity.

We (or I) simply must remember that a minuscule fraction of the world’s population are truly evil. But not the majority. If this was not the case, the human race would have destroyed itself thousands of years ago. We never would’ve evolved this far.

Each of us are but one person, but together we’re a force to be reckoned with. In my view, our only option is to Be The Good.

It’s up to us, friends, to put the Good back in to everyday life.

“Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world usually do.” – Steve Jobs

You see, we can’t single-handedly stop terrorism, cure cancer or prevent natural disasters. We can’t heal the sick or turn back time. But we can Be The Good. We can love harder for every heart-breaking news story we see. We can be a little bit kinder. We can make charitable donations if possible. We can give blood. We can donate time. We can just be nicer to people. More patient. More friendly. We can smile at strangers and hold open doors. We can let someone in to our lane in traffic. Even pack an old lady’s shopping at the supermarket. Anything really. Any random act of kindness will do. Think of it as killing evil with kindness.

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Can you imagine what a difference it would make to humanity if we were all just a bit nicer? Kinder? More loving to our fellow human?

I’ve said before that I believe our children learn more from our behaviour and from watching us interact with the world than they do from any lessons we deliberately try to teach them. It’s up to us as parents and as citizens of the human race to lead by example. Not to let the bad in the world pollute all that is good. To show our children how to put the ‘human’ back in humanity.

If enough people commit to undertaking even the smallest acts of kindness we can collectively help to restore the world’s faith in human nature. Each smile at a stranger could make somebody’s day. It’s as simple as that.

I don’t normally ask this, but I’d really appreciate if you’d share this post. I want as many people as possible to see it. One at a time we can change the world, we really can.

I hereby resolve that for every heart-breaking news story I see, I will try a little bit harder to do good. For every sad article I read I will remember that I may just be one person, but I can change the world, one smile and kind gesture at a time. We all can.
We can, and we must Be The Good.

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All pictures credited to the Brave Girls’ Club

The Perfect Mirage

I am pleased to say that once again the black clouds have lifted. Reading back through some of my recent posts, I feel like a different person. I can’t say whether that’s down to increased medication or my CBT but I don’t suppose that really matters.

One of the questions my therapist asked me to consider is what I feel makes me “good enough”. Even though I wrote a blog post on this topic a couple of weeks ago, I still can’t put my finger on what, specifically, makes me “good enough”. But at the same time, I can’t think of anything that makes me not good enough, either. Perhaps being good enough is not something we can quantify. Like the meaning of life. It’s different to everyone and it may even change on a daily basis.

With this in mind, I’ve been thinking a lot about the tenth point of my Mummy Kindness Manifesto:

“I will not compare my insides with everyone else’s outsides.”

The simple fact is that pictures we all post on social media are the carefully edited highlights of our daily lives. Of course they are. Not many of us will happily share photos of our children mid-meltdown and ourselves au-naturel with frizzy hair and no make-up. Yet most of us use these images as a benchmark for the so-called perfection that we feel we need to achieve. I said in my last post that I feel perfection is a bit of a myth, and a dangerous one at that. We can blame our lack of perfection as the reason we may “come-up-short” against the goals we set ourselves. If only we were cleverer/prettier/thinner/wealthier everything would be so much better.

Nobody’s life is perfect.

Even the mother who seems to have it all will be comparing herself to someone and aspiring to be better. Imagine a world where we stopped comparing and remembered that social media pictures are really just a mirage. Where we remind ourselves that perfectly-put-together mum who sometimes makes you feel like a dishevelled frump has her own issues going on. Imagine if we genuinely started to remember that we don’t need to compete with each other, and we’re all doing our best.

No-one’s life is perfect, and not every moment is photo-worthy. But if we can find a few moments a day where things are good, I genuinely think we’re winning. No-one sails through life (and especially not motherhood) without a succession of tantrums, tears, snot and stress. Stopping every so often and realising that the kids aren’t fighting and for once there aren’t crumbs under the sofa is a mini victory, some days.

Of course there are many beautiful, amazing moments but they can easily get lost in the madness and the busy if we’re not careful. I’ve been making a conscious effort to stop and take in some of the lovely moments as they happen, and to try to remember them last thing at night. This has really helped me. Rather than thinking of what I haven’t got done today or running myself down for the things that went wrong, I’m trying to give myself credit for what I did get done. I might not be giving deep, joyful sighs at the wonderful day we’ve all had, but overall, there is usually something to smile about.

So I’m going to share some pictures that I’ve taken during the Easter holidays. Lots of them have been shared on my personal Facebook page as they’re full of smiling, joyful kids and happy me. Some of them haven’t… I wonder if you can tell which are which?

Madam and Me. All made-up and profile picture-worthy.

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Madam and me. Make-up free and mid-meltdown.

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Yours, truly. Fully made-up complete with falsh lashes and pout. On my way to a wedding.

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Yours, truly. At home this morning. Keeping it real (am I SERIOUSLY sharing this picture?! Have I LOST MY MIND!?)

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Playdate for ten at my house.

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Cakes we made.

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However, Madam spent much of the baking time (in fact, too much time in general) doing this….

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Look, world. See all the fun, crafty things we do?

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My children are perfect, you know. Always so well behaved…

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Look at my perfectly adorable, smiling child. See how happy she is, all of the time?….

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… Or not, as the case may be.

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Oh look! How adorable, she painted her own toe-nails!!

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…. Oh bloody hell!!

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And did you notice my lovely, tidy house in the pictures? I didn’t include this, on Facebook though, did I?

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So here’s a snapshot of my life. Warts, spectacles, tantrums and all. And you’ll notice that I’ve still Instagramed all of the imperfect pictures. I’m not that brave!

So next time you’re comparing your life with someone else’s, even mine, remember that we’re all the same, deep down. We’re all fighting our own battles and projecting our own little mirage to the outside world. Cut yourself some slack, I’ll do the same, and let’s remember that good enough is enough, thank you very much.

PS, as always, I’d really appreciate your help sharing the Mummy Kindness via my Facebook Page, so please do like it here

What are your views on real-life versus social media perceptions? I’d love you thoughts so please do leave a comment. Thanks!