Dear Stupid Parents,
This lesson is one that I keep learning, forgetting, (or ignoring) and re-learning over and over again. It’ll stick some time, I guess!
One of the toughest – and dare I say, shittiest – things that become apparent in the first year or so of new parenthood, is that no matter how badly you’ve been put through the ringer to get your baby here, no matter how blissfully happy or exhausted or downright confused you are, the world point blank refuses to stop turning and let you stay undisturbed in your little bubble of new-found love for as long as you’d like. You’ll have a week – two, if you’re lucky – when friends will come round with food and hugs aplenty, maybe (again, if you’re lucky) they’ll even insist on tidying up a bit or holding the baby while you catch a few Z’s on the sofa but after that, it’s business as usual. Partners return to work, visitors stop knocking, dinner still needs to be cooked, clothes still need to be washed. (Although I find a massive lowering of standards and willingness to give vomited-on jumpers an extra few goes around the block before being washed can help keep that at bay.)
But how the hell are we meant to carry on as normal and ‘do life’ alongside dealing with the relentless needs of a baby? The conclusion I’ve recently come to is that you can’t. You just can’t do it all, you can’t have it all, everything and everyone will eventually operate on a mediocre level and to stop yourself completely losing your mind, you have to accept that, and sometimes, just sometimes, allow yourself to give the fuck up.
Sounds pretty logical, doesn’t it? When the going gets tough, just stop going and have a little lie down instead. Except I am busy. Like, always busy. It’s one of the things that annoys me most about myself; I can’t relax, I’m forever making to-do lists and measuring the success of a day and my own worth according to how many items I ticked off the list. It’s pretty efficient but mostly, not fun.
Three months ago, I had my second baby – we now have two under two and I’ve only just realised that if I don’t want to lose it entirely, if I want to stop feeling like a failure and avoid divorce, I need to let myself give up every now and again. I’m not talking about the big things like raising my children, obviously, just small things that are a bonus if ticked off the daily list but equally, okay if not. It might be bagging up the Toddler’s too small clothes or yet another trip to the supermarket or a determination to prepare dinners for the whole week in one afternoon. Whatever it is, whatever little thing I can live without doing today, in times of stress or feeling overwhelmed, I should let go of.
The last couple of weeks in our house have been pretty rough to be honest. Baby Boy’s sleeping is getting worse and hubs and I are functioning on around 4 hours sleep a night. It’s taking its toll, it’s sending us both crazy and something’s going to give unless we either figure out how to make the boy sleep better immediately, or how to get by until he figures it out for himself. I previously refused to acknowledge that I need to maybe step back from life a bit until such a time when I’m getting proper rest and not hating the world so much. But two nights ago, dressed in my running clothes, ready to go out the door at 8.30pm, after a pretty stressful bath/bed time, I suddenly cried. I didn’t really know why I was crying until I started talking then I slowly realised that I was putting myself under insane pressure to carry on as normal despite our new family dynamics needing a huge adjusting to. Up until now, I’ve been set on cleaning/hoovering/tidying every day, cooking from scratch every evening, setting aside time for one on one play with Toddler Boy, (and hating myself if I couldn’t) having at least half an hour a day to catch up with husband AND on top of that, run regularly. For me, running is as much about my mental wellbeing as my physical and while I try not to see it as something I have to do, once the decision is made to go for a run, I feel pretty shitty about not doing it. The other night though, I just didn’t want to go, I didn’t want to do anything, I wanted to give up, so just like that, I did. I went back upstairs, ran a bath, lit candles, poured a glass of wine and lay there ’til the water went cold. It felt like sheer luxury for the simple fact that I never let myself stop. I’m not saying I didn’t feel guilty or lazy for not having ticked everything off the list, but it felt good to give myself permission not to for a change.
Having two children under two is hard. So, so, SO hard but I refused to believe it, or at least refused to give in to it until now. I’ve tried to do it all like I did before but I can feel myself unraveling and with no end of the demands and exhaustion that come with parenthood in sight, I know I have to start being kinder to myself and give myself a chance to stop, think, recharge and just be.
But not every time; it’s not in my nature to give up entirely and I think it’s good for our sense of self-worth to strive to achieve. I’ll keep making my lists and I’ll definitely run tomorrow night but if, the next day, I feel it’s too much, or I don’t manage to complete the list, I won’t beat myself up about it, I won’t hate myself, I’ll just stop and when I’m ready, I’ll go again.