Strength in the Small Things

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“Everything has it’s beauty, but not everyone can see it” – Confucius.

Ideas for blog posts usually arrive in my head during the middle of the night. I sometimes have to actively ignore them as they’re prone to buzzing around like mosquitoes, robbing me of sleep. During the day they sap my concentration and I often glaze over, mid-conversation as words and phrases write themselves in my subconscious, waiting for that elusive quiet moment when they can spew forth on to my computer screen. I sit and I write and I cut and paste and edit. I reach the end of a post and I read it back, and usually I feel proud of it. Excited to share it. Surprised that the words on screen came from my addled brain.

Not this time, though. This time I’ve been staring at the screen with no big idea. I’m feeling decidedly ordinary.

I bumped in to an old friend recently in the supermarket. After our short conversation I came away lamenting the fact that I had very little to talk about that didn’t involve children and family life. I felt ordinary. Boring. Once we’d finished assessing who was still in touch with whom from our college days, our conversation quickly dried up. He had no children to discuss and I was all out of material. We carried on our shopping and I silently hoped we didn’t bump in to each other again at the checkout. Awkward.

Yes, there’s stuff I can write about today. Birthday parties and baking and mounds of washing and ironing. Cooking and cleaning and running perpetually late. A new gym membership and feeling like the fattest girl in the step-class and trying to remember my own advice on embracing who you are, in order to teach children positive body image. A car that look like a rolling rubbish bin, a child with an aversion to eating anything but crisps and playdoh. Did I mention the laundry? Endless, incessant laundry.

Do you ever feel like your main role in life is simply to move mounds of clothing from one place to the other? Or is that just me? From the floor, to the basket, to the machine. Where it remains for too long. Wash it again. Put it in the dryer. Forget about it. Still damp and smelly. Wash it again. Repeat. Dry it. Iron it (sometimes), put it in drawers and on hangers. Chase moving targets to wrap them in it. Find items on floor. Move them to basket. Repeat, repeat, repeat ad infinitum.

Believe it or not, there is a point behind today’s mundane ramblings about domestic chores;

“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies”
Mother Theresa

Now, I am not suggesting that my (or your) only strength lies in laundry management. Neither am I implying that laundry is a small thing, for that matter. But what I am saying, is this;

It matters. It all matters.

The small things. The chores. The wiping and the chasing and the cajoling and the finding of things. The comforting and the playing and the rushing and the constant busy. It is all part of a very important picture. It may seem ordinary. Mundane even. Sometimes banal. But it is part of the tapestry of family life. The chaos and the odd socks and the furry apple cores in the footwell (just my car, then?!). We manage all of that, us mums. We are the captains of our (sometimes leaky) ships. We somehow keep the family afloat.

Sometimes it won’t feel like you’re doing a good job. Sometimes you might feel under-appreciated or overlooked. Often you might get the the end of a hectic day and berate yourself for everything you haven’t done.

But try, lovely friend, and I will too, to remember all that you have done today.

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The stay-at-home mums and the working mums alike. We are all doing our best, we really are. We show-up every day, we keep trying and trying when the odds seem stacked against us. When it feels like we’ll never be enough, we need to remember; Who else knows that the Hulk costume is in the green toy box under the table in the spare room? Who else knows that your son doesn’t like Calpol but will take the supermarket’s own brand equivalent? Who else knows that sometimes, breaking into a spontaneous moo is the only way to head-off a public meltdown from your two year old?

Yes, you might forget anniversaries and relatives’ birthdays. You may feel like you’ll never wear matching socks again (just me, again?!) Yes, you may threaten your offspring with staying home from the park, knowing full-well that if you don’t get out of the house within five minutes you’re going to combust. Often it will feel like one, enormous uphill struggle that no other mother is enduring, surely?

But it matters. You matter. No-one knows your child as well as you do. Strength in the small things.

When you look at Facebook and see only immaculate children and perfect homes, think on, and whatever you do, don’t compare. Behind the camera is a mama bribing her child with chocolate buttons to JUST SMILE FOR THE CAMERA.

One of my favourite writers, Timber Hawkeye says in Buddhist Boot Camp:
“A flower doesn’t stop being beautiful just because somebody walks by without noticing it, nor does it cease to be fragrant if its scent is taken for granted. The flower just continues to be its glorious self: elegant, graceful and magnificent”.

Now, there’s not much elegant or graceful about me, I can tell you. But I love this idea. Doing our best to keep going, no matter what. Whether our children (or anyone else) show gratitude or otherwise.

This post isn’t ground-breaking, revolutionary or even particularly note-worthy. It hasn’t sat in my head for days or probably even told you anything that you don’t already know. But let it be a reminder. Sometimes there is beauty to be found in the ordinary. Keep shining, beautiful mama. The world needs your light.

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I’d be so grateful if you’d please “Like” my Facebook page. You can find it here.

Picture credit: Brave Girl’s Club

Complimentary Thinking

I think there is something about sharing your darkest secrets with the wider world that makes people trust you and feel comfortable sharing their own stories with you. As a result my head is spinning a bit. I have already learned so much in the two short weeks since I started this blog. I’ve received messages from people I’ve not seen for years, telling me about their struggles with depression, and messages of encouragement from mental health professionals congratulating me for my honesty and advocacy. This means more to me than I can articulate.

It’s been a scary, scary process so far. Two weeks ago not even my dad knew about my depression and neither did some of my very closest friends. Everyone has been incredibly supportive, but still I admit I’ve questioned myself. I have a terrible habit of reading in to things that people say and imagining hidden messages that usually aren’t there.

For example, one very dear friend asked me via text message how I felt about my story being “out there in the wider facebook world”. Her message was of genuine concern for me, having recently found out things about me that had previously been unknown to her. She was worried that I was feeling regretful. However, my mind started racing and my imagination went in to overdrive. Does she think I’m over-sharing? Are people talking about me or criticising me for putting so much “out there”? Does she think I’m doing the wrong thing? Am I doing the wrong thing? What have I done? This was absolutely my own self-doubt rearing it’s ugly head.

The point I’m making is this: Even though written and statistical evidence support the fact that lots of people have been helped by this blog (it’s now had over three thousand views in under two weeks), this is still a very scary thing to do. Particularly for someone prone to anxiety. I don’t take compliments well and I have a hard time in believing nice things people say about me. There is a technical term for this that I learned during my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and it’s called Mind Reading, or assuming you know what people think without having sufficient evidence of their thoughts.

For me, it’s not enough to just share my story in the hope that other mums like me will know that they’re not alone. Reminding mums that they’re not the only ones feeling like proverbial swans on a lake, seemingly gliding along on the surface whilst underneath kicking and thrashing about to stay afloat is all well and good. There must be something I can do to encourage other mums, above and beyond sharing my own (mis)adventures in parenting.

I’ve given this a lot of thought and there will be more than one post on this topic. But first I’d like to cast my mind back four years. In my old life, I used to have a pretty high profile job negotiating advertising contracts for a national newspaper. I was responsible for bringing in tens of millions of pounds a year in revenue. It was a big responsibility. But I had a manager, she had a manger, he had a manager and his manager reported in to the City. Everyone was accountable to someone. We had regular one-to-one meetings and appraisals and knew in no uncertain terms whether or not our performance was up to scratch.

Move on four years, and I find myself doing the most important job in the world, raising two small children. But I have no boss (well, actually, my son often feels very much like the Boss of Me but that’s not the point!). I don’t have regular appraisals (I know the health visitors are there if you need them but I stopped paying attention to them when they told me to limit my son’s carbohydrate intake when he was seven months old).

As mums, we’re only really answerable to ourselves, and we’re our own worst critics.

Rightly or wrongly, other mums are the benchmark for how well I feel I’m doing as a parent. My husband or mum may tell me they think I’m doing a good job, but in my mind they’re obligated to say that. It’s in their job description. (There’s a CBT term for this, too actually. It’s called Discounting Positives, or dismissing positive things as trivial).

Now luckily for me, and as I’ve said before, I have a very supportive group of friends. We are usually pretty honest when it comes to the highs and lows of raising babies and toddlers and we don’t feel the need to compete with one another. With this in mind many of them seemed hurt that I hadn’t told them about my PND at the time I was going through it. The reason I held back wasn’t that I didn’t trust them, far from it. I didn’t tell them because I knew them well enough to know the words of comfort they would offer, I knew what they’d say and I knew they were right. It just wouldn’t have made any difference to me at that very low point in my life. I couldn’t really believe anything complimentary that my friends might have said to me. I discounted their positives without even hearing them.

My point is this: We may believe we know someone, but deep down, we never really know what’s going on behind the scenes. The mum who you think has it all together may well be falling apart at the seams and feel completely unable to discuss it with anyone. But what can we do? How can we make a difference?

The best bosses I ever had in my media career were those who asked for input from their teams and gave feedback on a job well done. And yet, the majority of comments I’ve had so far on this blogging adventure have been from mums who feel inferior to other mums, who feel in competition, who feel they are judged by their peers on every parenting choice they make.

Only this morning, one of the mums at nursery said to me “I never really had many female friends before having children, but I thought this would change once I became a mum. In actual fact, it’s even worse. Women can be so bitchy and competitive, especially when it comes to child-rearing. I can’t be bothered with it all! Where’s the solidarity and sisterhood?”

Now this? This we can do something about. This is where we can affect change.

If you see a mum who’s managed to make it out of Tesco’s with shopping done and sanity seemingly intact, what’s to stop you saying “Nice work there, sister! Last time I tried to do the shopping with my kids in tow I aborted the mission and contemplated abandoning my children along with the shopping trolley. I take my hat off to you. Well done!” ?

Conversely, when the mama with the screaming kids in the supermarket is, for once, not you, a friendly smile or words to the effect of “we’ve all been there, love, don’t worry” could well go such a long way in helping her to survive her ordeal. I’d argue that random words or encouragement from strangers are just as valuable as praise from those who know you well. And remember, we don’t know what’s going on under the surface of even the most immaculately made-up face.

I genuinely believe that if we were more confident in our abilities as mothers and less focussed on our insecurities we’d be able to brush off some of the more tactless comments we’re regularly bombarded with. I think it’s our lack of confidence in ourselves that cause us to find hidden meanings in otherwise harmless comments from our peers.

I think if we focus on praising our fellow mums by giving credit where it’s due we can go a long way in remembering that we’re all in this together. We’re all fighting our own individual battles and we could be lightening each other’s loads. I bet you can think of countless mums that you admire for different reasons. But do they know this? Could it be that whilst you’re comparing your insides with her outsides, she’s doing the same and finding herself to be lacking?

Here is an excerpt of an email I received from a friend after she read my blog. I’m nervous about sharing it as it feels a bit like blowing my own trumpet but I think it proves my point:

“To use the not-so-random example of you, who was never anything other than friendly and supportive to me, I enjoyed seeing you but it was always mixed with envy/insecurity that Monkey* was advanced in crawling, walking etc, that you had family close by, a routine, less night waking, a spotless child-friendly but stylish house and that you always looked great! It’s not that I was unaware you had a horrible birth experience and were upset that breast feeding hadn’t worked but in my mind, the things you could control, you excelled at. I don’t know how relevant that is but thought you might be interested to hear it.”

This whole paragraph was a revelation to me. It had never occurred to me during those early days that anyone would look at me and see anything worth looking up to. But there it is, in black and white. Who knew? I wonder if having this knowledge would have made a difference to me when depression hit two years later with the birth of my second daughter? Impossible to say.

But we’re not just talking about me here. I genuinely think that almost every mum could benefit from a bit of encouragement now and then from her peers. That by consciously making the effort to support one another with kind words, we can help culture an environment of solidarity rather than competition.

I asked an online group of mums to tell me if they’ve ever received a lovely compliment and how it made them feel:

“My autistic sons paediatrician said to me ‘you clearly have a great understanding of his needs and are so in tune with him, he is lucky to have you as a Mum’ she may have said that to everyone, but I don’t care! it helped.”

” A friend recently told me ‘You are incredible. You’ve had so much to deal with lately and you just get on with it; you are a wonderful mum and a fantastic friend and your children are a credit to you.”

” I was on my way home from the school run with my three year old twins in the pram. A lady stopped me and asked me if I didn’t mind her telling me something!! She went on to say what lovely children I had, how they were always well dressed and polite, that my daughter was always on time for school and how calm I was all the time!! I was gobsmacked!! And I felt very emotional as I had been struggling so much. I told her how much it meant to me! It made me feel like the best mum in the world! My friends often compliment me on how well behaved my children are! I have struggled with PND since having my twins so compliments mean a lot to me.”

“An older lady stopped me in the hospital toilets to tell me that my son (age 6) was a lovely spoken, polite little boy. It feels lovely when it’s a stranger telling you rather than somebody you know (although that’s still nice too)”.

I hope you’ve got examples of lovely compliments that you’ve been paid. I hope that you’re able to accept genuine words of support and encouragement and not discount them. I hope more than anything, that in reading this article, you’re formulating a mental list of women you know who deserve a pat on the back and some recognition for the incredibly important and often hard job we’re all doing our best at. A psychological pay-rise, if you will.

So with this post I’m setting you some homework. Please go out in the world and practice some Mummy Kindness today, and come back here to the comments section to tell me and your fellow readers how it felt to make someone else’s day.

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