Today I picked my eldest daughter, L, up from nursery and one of the staff asked me how I am. I said ‘fine, thanks’. My husband, G, phoned at lunch time to ask if I was doing OK and if I needed him to come home early. I told him I’m fine.
The thing is though, I’m not fine.
Minutes before the nursery staff member asked me how I was, I was screaming ‘FFS, just go to sleep’ at my three-month-old son, J. When G phoned, I was sitting with our baby in my arms, crying because I couldn’t get J to stop crying and go to sleep.
We say we’re ‘fine’ all the time. I’m always amazed by the number of patients I call through to my consulting room who when I ask how they are respond ‘fine thanks’, when they clearly wouldn’t be seeing me if they were ‘fine’. We’ve turned being fine in to a reflex response when someone asks how we are, but more than that, I feel a need to actually be ‘fine’. I struggle to admit when I’m not and that, sometimes, the tired mummy needs help!
We appear to have broken the baby
If you’ve read my earlier posts, you’ll know that J is usually a good sleeper, we’ve tried our best to encourage him to be! Yesterday he had his second set of immunisations and it appears to have really distressed him. L was never really up or down with them, she cried briefly during the injections and that was about it.
J, on the other hand, hates them. He gets fever, wind, vomiting and is distressed for at least 24 hours afterwards. Perhaps I notice a big difference with him as he’s usually so laid-back.
Last night he was up all night crying. He’d briefly fall asleep and then he’d wake up screaming again. I’ve had about an hour of sleep in two 30-minute chunks and I’m exhausted. My head hurts, my eyes are stinging, I feel tearful and my patience is zero.
I’ve held J all day whilst he screams and I’ve tried everything I can to soothe him, but none of it’s worked.
I feel guilty
I shouted at my baby for not sleeping, even though clearly it’s not his fault that he’s too distressed to sleep. I shouted at L for waking J up when I’d finally got him to sleep, when all she did was walk in and ask me for a snack.
Since picking L up from nursery she’s been given her kindle-fire for kids and left to play on it alone. We normally have so much fun together in the afternoons and today I just don’t have time, as all I can do is hold a crying J and try to calm him down. L is upset, both because her brother is crying and because I have no attention to spare for her.
Today, I’m not a good mum. I am so tired that I don’t have patience or understanding for either of my children. I’m struggling.
Em, why did you say you were ‘fine’ then?
I sometimes joke to G about being a ‘mummy superhero’. I talk about having superpowers – I can hear one of our kids start crying and am instantly alert even in the middle of the night, I can interpret J’s crying to know what he needs, I can sense when L is about to get in to mischief… I joke about it, but I also think it reflects a belief of mine. I believe that I should be a superhero.
I’m not alone in this. Society expects parents to juggle work, day to day chores and kids, without anything suffering. Look at the recent comments by Kelly Brook about not using children ‘as an excuse’ if you can’t do something at work. We are expected to be perfect – perfect employees, perfect parents, have the perfect clean home.
I expect this of myself too. I hold myself to a high standard as a doctor and as a mother and I am afraid of being judged if I’m not meeting those standards. People are quick to point the finger and to criticise.
So we show the world our best side – we post on Facebook and Instagram the days where we baked with our kids or had a water-fight or did crafts. On the bad days, the days where the baby won’t stop crying, or the toddler’s on a rampage, or the tired mummy can’t bring herself to cook so she serves the kids a ‘picnic’ of whatever was in the fridge… we hide. We don’t let the world see the days when we aren’t ‘fine’.
Does it matter if we pretend?
I recently went to a library group where eight women with babies between 2 months and 10 months old all claimed that their babies were sleeping through the night, feeding perfectly and that they were ‘loving’ parenting. Not one voiced a different opinion or admitted that sometimes it’s really hard.
I have no idea if they were all being honest or not, but I suspect probably not. Being a parent is incredible, but it is really hard. It’s tiring and challenging and some days I think we all fall short of being the parent we want to be.
If no-one is honest about that, then the risk is that everyone feels that they have to pretend and the people struggling end up feeling like it’s just them who aren’t ‘getting it’. It’s very isolating to feel like you’re the only person not ‘#winning’.
Admittedly L’s nursery worker doesn’t need to hear that I’m having a bad day, but I could have been honest with G. I could have asked for help. I was embarrassed not to be ‘fine’. I didn’t want him to miss a meeting at work to help look after our children, or for his colleagues to think that I can’t handle it.
I don’t want to admit that sometimes I can’t do it all. I don’t want to admit that some days I am not a superhero.
I started this blog because I wanted to be honest, about the ups and the downs, the good and bad. Yet I’m still sitting here hesitating about admitting on the Internet that I was a rubbish mum today, that I couldn’t do it.
I’m going to though. For the sake of any other parents out there who feel like they’re the only ones who don’t always find parenting easy.
Today, I am not ‘fine’. Today, I am tired and tearful and it’s hard.
Today is just a bad day
Today has been a hard day. Today I am not the usual me. I’m the tired mummy, the struggling mummy, the mummy who really should have accepted her husband’s offer of help. Today is a bad day.
If you’re having a bad day then know that it’s OK, it will pass. Tomorrow will probably be better. If you’re doing your best with your kids then that’s all that matters. It’s easy to dwell on the days where things went wrong and you weren’t the parent you wanted to be. I spent two hours re-enacting ‘room on the broom’ and ‘the gruffalo’ in the park with L on Tuesday, yet I’m beating myself up because she played her Kindle-fire for two hours today.
Today is just a bad day.
If, however, all of your days feel like bad days then it’s worth seeing your doctor. Patients sometimes ask me how to tell if they’re depressed or if they’re just sleep deprived and it can be hard to tell! With parenting you will have good and bad days, ups and downs, highs and lows. Depression is different for everyone, but people often can’t remember a time where they felt like themselves, where it was a really good day.
Whether you’re a parent just having a bad day, or whether it’s more than that, know that it’s OK. We don’t need to be ‘fine’ all the time. We can ask for help.
And maybe if we all start to be more honest, then our kids won’t feel a need to always be ‘fine’ when they grow up. Maybe they’ll be able to ask for help when they need it. I really want that for mine.
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