Apparently, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Everyone is surrounded by loved ones, exchanging fabulous gifts and everyone is joyful. Instagram says so. Facebook says so. Twitter says so. All the adverts say so. Only that isn’t always the case. Some people won’t see anyone at all over Christmas. Or even any other time of year; whether it’s because they don’t have family or they don’t speak to them. Either way it’s painful. Some people struggle to buy gifts for anyone, crippling themselves to provide that hugely indulgent Christmas dinner we all MUST have. It’s lonely and heart breaking. At some point in the future, when my kids are old enough to understand, I would love to set something up for lonely and less fortunate, where they can get a meal, meet other people and get a little gift on Christmas Day. Maybe have a little sing-song and a giggle, play board games. You know, like those awful ads that convince us we must be ecstatically happy because a holy baby may or may not have been born to save the world 2000 and odd years ago. (I’m agnostic. I want to believe but I struggle to. I do believe in being kind and loving people but that’s not just for Christmas) Anything less than ecstatic isn’t good enough and you clearly aren’t trying hard enough, right?
This pressure to have an absolute fucking ball in December reminds me of motherhood. We are presented with beautiful, innocent creatures, created in our own image, who we must take care of, who need us so desperately and we are supposed to rejoice in the unconditional love that comes with it. Each moment is supposed to be magical and beautiful and breathtaking because it is a miracle and we are so lucky to have these little angels sent from heaven or your ovaries or wherever else that you believe these mini human gifts come from. The pressure to love them, and to love it all, is enormous.
Now, I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer in December, or at any other time of year. Sometimes, though, being a parent isn’t so great and we are made to feel like monsters if we don’t just love every second. Yet there are days when it’s hard. The kids are crying or not feeding or sick. Or all three. You miss part of your old life, when you didn’t have to think about anyone other than yourself. Sometimes you feel like you have lost any sense of who you are and any confidence you had has gone up in a puff of baby powder. You have no idea what you are doing and sometimes raising this little person can be thankless. It can be isolating. However, feeling like this implies that you don’t love your child and that there is something wrong with you. (Spoiler alert; That is bullshit)
There is incredible pressure to be the perfect mum. Everyone else’s way seems to be the right way whilst I’m just sitting here like “haven’t got a bloody clue”. It’s so complicated. Nap times, feeds, routines, potty training, weaning… It makes you dizzy. But for some reason, it feels like it’s just not ok to say you aren’t ok.
I have found that when it comes to parenthood everyone is an expert. Including my well-meaning, but a smidge patronising, 11-year-old niece. Everyone is an expert, that is, except for me. I feel judged by the world. Even in mum groups, where everyone is supposedly in the same boat, I can often feel looked down upon because of my methods or how my son is dressed or because I look like a bag of shit and didn’t iron my top.
Then there are the fri-enemies. Allegedly you are friends but suddenly the birth of a child and a ridiculous competitive streak rears its ugly head, with a smattering of defensiveness. You have lived through no good boyfriends, wild nights out and gallons of gossip. You should be in the sisterhood of ‘this is hard work but we love our babies and whatever way we do it, we are all getting there, hey?’ Instead, your mate is all “I have a solid platinum pram, lined with the fleeces of a million softer than soft bunnies, none of which were harmed in the making of this because we are vegans and my children are never allowed sweets and they sleep all night and laugh all day and they joined Mensa at three weeks old and your life must be terribly shit because you dress your kids in Tesco baby grows and sometimes have ready meals, whilst me and my hunky husband and beautiful genius children live in bliss but I won’t share any of my secrets with you because you might copy me and I am an original and I pity your kind.” Ok maybe no one is that much of a bitch but you get the idea. (FYI I don’t hate on vegans or people whose kids sleep. I hate on smug and self-righteous.) All of a sudden, I’m standing here covered in baby sick, with my inadequacies amplified by motherhood (no, I’m not talking about my tits but yeh, them too) and feeling like poop because I’m not that Mary Poppins person. And if I am honest, I don’t even like Mary Poppins. I think she’s a bit of a tit, actually. A smug know-it-all, who led poor Dick van Dyke on a merry dance and then buggered off with her massive handbag (Alright, I’ll let her off with the handbag. With two kids under three, that handbag would really come in handy). Dick could have done better and I actually thought Jane and Michael Bank’s mum was an absolute hoot! Their dad was stuffy and pompous but their mum was spirited and eccentric. Every child needs a mother with principles. Sorry, I digress.
Recently, I have been struggling a bit. Maybe it’s the miserable weather and the stress of Christmas or the fact I have started to think about going back to work. Maybe it is just baby blues. But I have felt alone and doubted myself, not just as a parent but as a human. Even though I am on my second baby, motherhood has left me feeling like the driver of a Ferrari Formula 1 racing car in the Monaco Grand Prix, without having had one single driving lesson. I have felt anxious and even a little bit depressed. There have been a few pity parties thrown, a few irrational and possibly unjustified barks at my husband and a few moments when I have wondered ‘why did I want to be a mum so badly? I absolutely suck.’ I am luckier than some. I do have a good family support network. Others can go a whole week with only a baby for company. But sometimes you just need someone around your age, in your exact position at that exact time.
Two weeks ago, I bumped into a girl I used to see at play groups when we had our eldest babies. It was lovely to see her. I felt such relief. Occasionally, I find the mum groups a little bit like something out of Mean Girls. “You can’t sit with us.” I don’t feel like I can approach them. They all know each other. Why would they speak to me? As an extroverted introvert (an ambivert, apparently), I seem loud and outgoing but I struggle to strike up conversation at first. When I do, I worry I talk too much (I definitely do that), that I am annoying or stupid or that I have accidentally offended people. I then massively overthink myself into a blind panic. But this girl is lovely and not competitive and good company. She’s just a nice person. She suggested that we go for coffee soon and, as sad as it sounds, I was so thrilled for someone to ask me. I never like asking people first in case they think I am overbearing. It’s ok to gush at your celeb crush on Twitter but it’s just weird in real life. (OK, so maybe a bit weird on Twitter. Sorry Umar off Gogglebox and Andy off Cbeebies. No restraining orders, please?) Christmas has meant life has been hectic but I definitely will message her in the new year and arrange a playdate. Seeing her made my week. I feel really pathetic writing that but it did. I know I am not the only person who would be so relieved to see a friendly face. Channel 4 news recently reported on the struggles mums have. You can see the video here
If you are at a mum (or dad) group and see someone on the outskirts, please say hi. They might just be shy. They could be a rude bastard but they could also be overwhelmed and uncertain. If you are on the outside of the mum group, find someone else who looks a little lost and say hi. You might get on. Even that clique of mums, who all seem so perfect and chummy and so impenetrable, might actually be ok if you just say hello to one. (If they are arsey though, fuck them. Who needs that kind of negativity?)
Meeting other mums does help. Children’s centres can offer free play groups if you can’t afford some of the more ludicrously prices ones.(I’m selling my eldest on eBay to pay for my youngest child’s Baby Sensory class) There is also the Meet Other Mums website, which is like a dating site and helps match you with other mum friends. (FYI, it’s not actually a dating site. It’s a friendship site) MeetOtherMums is working hard to put the fun and friendship back into parenting so that no mum walks alone and the
#MumFriendMarch empowers mums to help each other! A recent study by The British Red Cross and Co-Op found that becoming a new mum is a life event that can cause loneliness. No mum should feel alone, whether a seasoned mum of six or a rookie with one, so mums are spreading the word about MeetOtherMums and how easy it is to make friends in your local area. In return, mums get oodles of good vibes and a lovely #MumTribe T!
As I write this, the atrocities in Syria and the tragedy in Berlin are flickering across our tv screens and boldly splashed on our newspapers. These are harrowing images of real horror and yes, I do think about my feelings of frustration and loneliness, take a step back and think “Jesus, talk about first world problems!” Yes, my anxieties are nothing compared to the unthinkable cruelty these people live with everyday. Yes, I am so, so blessed. I feel guilty almost for feeling insecure and down. But life is relative. I am so obscenely lucky but also, we react to our surroundings and the accident of a fortunate birth does not take away from anyone’s day to day struggles. Regardless of where or what or when, everyone in life struggles in some way.
Loneliness is difficult and so utterly devastating. But don’t be afraid to reach out to people; friends, family, play groups, MeetOtherMums… Message me if you really like! I love a good chat. Sod the Christmas images, sod the Mary Poppins images. Don’t try and keep up with everyone else. Just be you, because you are amazing.
Merry Christmas and a happy new year to all mums and dads and your little squidgy offspring. I truly hope it is the magical chocolate box it is supposed to be. No matter how massive or modest your Christmas is, remember; You are everything. Also remember that most under 5s will be happy with a hug and cardboard box on Christmas Day.