It has happened to us all. You are out and about with your children, minding your own business, when an unknown voice intrudes into your space. This kindly, well-meaning person goes on to tell you how to best take care of your children. Perhaps your child is not dressed warmly enough. Perhaps your child is dressed too warmly. Is your child particularly small or big for his/her age? Maybe your child is hungry or thirsty. Could your child need a haircut? Or does our child not look enough like his or her own gender? Is that a boy wearing a princess dress? *gasp*
I was reading Not Knowing The Colour of Your Wife's Underwear Could Get You Deported today in the Huffington Post. Apparently, quite a few immigrants are being detained due to them possibly marrying for convenience (i.e. a passport). Some of the people getting caught out don't seem to know their wife's bra size, or the colour of her underpants or her National Insurance number. Wait, what? Are those the important things that tell you if someone has truly married for love?
I used to think I was a good mum. But then I had a second child, and was so busy focusing on keeping us all alive that I stopped thinking about being a good mother. But recently, as I seem to have gotten the knack of parenting two children, my thoughts have turned to parenting. My youngest is now three and a half and he is better able to communicate his needs and to engage in conversation. At home, things are mostly okay. The problems arise when we leave the house.
Yesterday I took Dubz out for a rare treat after his speech and language therapy appointment - a chocolate biscuit and juice at a cafe in our local Tesco Extra. After scoffing the biscuit in two minutes, he wanted to run around the cafe, then he begged for more biscuits and then he ran off to look at Star Wars clothing. I manged half my tea before giving up. It is easier just staying home.
Dubz argues about wearing socks, which shoes to wear and how many toys to take into the car. Once in the car, he argues about where he is sitting and whether he can put on his car seatbelt on. Then there are the arguments about where we are, what we are doing and whether he can have a chocolate muffin. I am okay until about noon. Then my patience is all gone. And by the time we pick up Moozles from school at 3.30pm, I am on the edge. Ready to erupt.
And erupt I do. Every afternoon I start shouting at my children. Yes, they're annoying. But I don't actually think they can help it (most of the time anyway). But I tell myself, 'don't worry, you're not a bad mum, you're okay'. But is it acceptable being an 'okay mum'? Should I not be striving to be the best mum I can be? I'm not talking about being perfect. Just being better than okay.
But I've decided that okay is the best I can be right now. Beating myself up will not make me a better mother. I let my children know that they are loved. I kiss and cuddle them. I take care of their needs, I clothe and feed them, read to them everyday. I do not lock them in the cupboard under the stairs. Okay, this latter point is basic human dignity, but sometimes you need an extra win. Sometimes I shout. But that doesn't make me a bad mother. So, I'm not the best, most patient mother. But I'm the most okayest mum I can be.
Do you remember the day you first held your child in your arms? And you swore that you would do everything right. But let me tell you, there is no right way. There is listening to your heart, and listening to your instincts. There is trusting yourself. Trusting yourself a a person and as a parent.
But this is easier than said (or written). It feels like we live in a society that encourages self-doubt. We start out as confident babies and toddlers. And as childhood progresses, we start to worry. We begin doubting our capabilities. By the time we are teenagers, we are often drowning in negativity and we have lost belief in our instincts. It can often take years to gain back one's confidence. Some people never get it back. It wasn't until my mid 20s that I started to trust myself.
Becoming a parent is a time when many of us begin to lose faith in our instincts. How can you trust the way you want to raise your child when a million experts are telling you a million other ways. It is not always easy to follow your instincts. But we must. We should trust ourselves, as people and as parents. Trust that no one knows your child better than you. And yes, we all sometimes need some guidance. But if we let go the fear of doing things the wrong way, then we can finally trust ourselves.
When I was first pregnant, I would imagine holding my precious newborn baby in my arms, gazing at the person I had created. I wanted to do everything right for my girl, from having a natural birth to breastfeeding. All the research said that breast is best. For the baby, and for the mother. What I didn't expect was how tough it would be to breastfeed my baby.
You may have read that my natural birth turned to a caesarean section when my daughter proved determined to be breech. It was tough enough dealing with the c-section, the shame and the pain. I didn't expect that it would take a few days for my milk to come in, and by then Moozles was hungry and jaundiced. At the hospital we had to give her formula from a little spoon. It was such a stressful time, and I just wanted to go home.
But the midwives at St Thomas' Hospital, London, did not want me to leave. They kept pressuring me to breastfeeding, even using the pump. But nothing. No milk would come. They told me that I would not get such support at home, that the hospital was the best place for me. Normally one will be discharged from the hospital 3-4 days after their c-section, if there are no complications. I stayed for five days. On the fourth day, the midwife said that my heart rate was high and that I needed to remain in the hospital. And even on that fifth day, they wanted me to remain but Husband and I were united and strong that we would not be staying another night.
At home, my milk came in. But by then Moozles wanted nothing to do with my breasts. She screamed every time I tried to bring her close to me. It hurt my heart. So Husband went to Mothercare and bought a breastfeeding pump and a breastfeeding book. That evening Husband used the new breast pump to withdraw my milk. I remember the pain of the first pump. He had to do it for me (luckily it wasn't a manual pump) as I was crying in agony. But we were able to finally feed our baby with breastmilk. But it was not how I had imagined it.
For one week, I expressed my breast milk for Moozles. And she continued to reject my breast. I planned to quit breastfeeding after the first three weeks. I knew I could not continue with the heart break. The only positive for me was that Husband was getting the opportunity to feed our baby. But then, we followed a tip from the breastfeeding book. I used nipple shields, and all of a sudden Moozles would take the milk from my breast. It was not exactly how I had pictured it, but it was more like the idealised version. I decided to give myself small goals--breastfeed for two months, then four, then six, then we would see. I used the nipple shields until she was five months old, and then I breastfed normally until she was almost one.
I am so glad that I breastfed my daughter (and later my son). But I never felt like I was a better mum than the mothers who fed their babies formula. I think some people don't realise that breastfeeding has its own problems, and many of us struggle and feel inadequate. As mothers, we put enough pressure on ourselves. We do not need other mothers or health professionals putting unnecessary stress. Whether we breastfeed or bottle feed, surely it is about doing what is best for our child and ourselves. As long as a child is well fed, it should not matter where their milk is made. As long as it is given with love.
When I resigned from my part-time job two years ago, one of the reasons was to have an active role in my children's early years. We figured that we could just about afford losing my salary, though we would have to give up holidays and shop at lower-cost stores. In exchange, the children would have my presence.
I don't think I properly understood what that meant, not really. I knew I would be 'around'. I'd be at home or in the local vicinity. I could spend the days with Dubz while Moozles was at school. I would be able to handle the school drop-offs and pick-ups. I could take Moozles to clubs and manage her playdates.
These days I write my hugely popular blog (as all of my 12 readers can attest to), which can reduce my presence as I write posts and attend events. But I try to keep the events to four a month. And I normally write my posts in the evening, after the children are in bed. But sometimes I need to finish things off during the day. And I pop onto Twitter and Instagram frequently during the day.
I started to worry that blogging and social media were detracting from my family life. But I decided that these things aren't so different than putting on a face mask, going to the gym, making dinner or doing laundry. There are things that I do around the house as well as for myself. But they do not take away from my presence. In fact, having time to do non-mummy things, probably makes me a better mother.
I am there for my children. I am present. And even if I worked full-time or part-time, I would be present. Because I have realised that presence isn't about being there for every moment of your child's life. It is about knowing your child and being there when they need you.
I'm not talking about the pop princess, Pink, singer of hit songs such as 'Raise Your Glass' and 'Just Give Me A Reason'. I'm talking about the colour pink. Apparently, when I wasn't paying attention, pink became a villain. Apparently girls shouldn't like pink. Pink means we're too girly. Pink means we won't be taken seriously. Pink means we're not equal to men.
Traditionally, little girls were dressed in pink. Pink frilly dresses, that they had to keep clean, and pink bows in their hair, which they had to keep tidy. But the dresses, over time, have changed in colour. And dresses have changed to jeans and dungarees (that's overalls to my American friends). And now little girls can wear anything.
But with the opportunity to wear anything, there has come a backlash against pink. People are now having baby girls and are only buying clothes that come in yellow, grey or rainbow. Plus now there are dresses with dinosaurs, trucks and pirates. This is all well and good, but what if your child doesn't like those things? Sure, when they are babies they will wear whatever you put them in. But a toddler is a different story. They want control - of their food and toys and clothes.
So what do you do when your stylish monochrome-clad little girl wants to wear pink? Is it something to argue about? Do you tell her that there are no pink dresses in her size? Do you settle for fuchsia rather than a pale pink? Can you accept that wearing pink dresses won't limit your daughter's potential? She can still be a scientist or an engineer or even the Prime Minister. My girl loves pink. Pink clothes, pink shoes, pink walls, pink bed. And I don't believe that will hold her back. As long as Moozles knows that it is what's on the inside that counts, she can wear whatever she wants.
Once a year, Husband and I have a mini-break away from our children. And although we always have a great time, there are so many emotions that we go through as we plan, enjoy and recover from our time away. It got me thinking about the five stages of grief, and how tough it can be to focus on what we're actually feeling.
1. Denial - You or your partner bring up the idea of going away for a night or two, without your children. But can it work? When will you go? And when you have a free weekend, which grandparent can you
con sweet-talk into watching the kids? And how will the children handle a night (or three!) away from Mummy?
2. Anger - 'Damn my husband, I can't believe he expects me to book our entire mini-break plus do all the packing. Bastard!' But this stage is short-lived as you are so excited to be getting some time alone with your partner.
3. Bargaining - You are lying in your hotel bed. There is only a couple of hours until check-out. You have had a brilliant time with your partner, but it is virtually over and you have to get back to the madhouse you call home. You start bargaining with God, offering regular church attendance so that you can have another day without the kids. Atheists promise to start believing in God, all for another night in the hotel.
4. Depression - It. Is. Over. You are home and there are piles of laundry to be done. Who knows when you will get the chance again to nap at 3pm or eat at restaurants that don't have a children's menu.
5. Acceptance - You had a nice break away. Enjoy the memories and catch up with all that laundry. Besides, the children are happy to have you home. It's not so bad here after all.
Your first thought when good friends invite you over for a meal at their house - 'Hooray! I can't wait to see them'. But if your friend doesn't have a child/only has a baby or older children, then a second thought runs through your mind, 'Damn, their house is going to be trouble'.
People who don't have children or who have infants, do not know the pitfalls of having a toddler running around. People with older children have forgotten all about it. No one takes time out to toddler-proof their homes ahead of a visit with friends. But those of you with children between the ages of 10-42 months will know what I am talking about.
There are actions that you can undertake that will reduce the headaches and suffering that may otherwise occur. If you have invited over friends who have a toddler, here are...
Some tips to toddler-proof your house to save you and your guests some stress:
1. Put away sharp knives. I can't tell you how many houses we've been in that have had huge, sharp knives on the edge of dining tables, on a coffee table, at the bottom of a butcher's block and even on the kitchen floor. Seriously. On. The. Floor.
2. Blow out those candles. Yes, lighting a candle can be quite nice and relaxing. But arriving at a house covered in lit candles when you have a two year old? My heart begins fluttering as I picture my toddler a) burning down your house or b) getting third-degree burns on his hands and face.
3. Move your bottles. I understand you like to display your valuable wine bottles on a low shelf or on the floor. But maybe you could keep them up high so that hundreds of pounds worth of wine don't stain your carpet? And remember, my family lives on one income, we will not be reimbursing you.
4. Hide your sweets. I appreciate that you want to be welcoming, but a giant bowl of candy and chocolate? Have you ever met a child? Do you not care if my child get hyped up and shrieks the entire drive home (all whilst being covered in wine)?
5. Pick up the pens. A pen or a marker in the hands of a toddler who doesn't have paper? Neither you or I want my child to write all over your walls.But how can I stop my lightning quick toddler if he finds a pen while we have our backs turned for half a second (cause that is all it will take)?
6. Be prepared for the mess. You would be surprised how quickly a small child can destroy a room. I always try to tidy up after my children, but many people say not to worry. I hope they are not huddled in a corner, in tears, after our departure.
If after all this, you still want to invite me over. Just tell me a time (that obviously does not interfere with my child's nap time or bedtime) and I will see you there.
Today is my 10-year wedding anniversary, so I thought I would take a trip down memory lane. People often ask me how I met my British husband so I thought I would write a post chronicling how I convinced Husband that he couldn't live without me.
In April 2000, I left San Diego, California to study for a Master's degree in Paris. To be perfectly honest, it was not the studying that interested me. I was 24 and wanted an adventure. And I fancied a romance with a Parisian man. I lived in a dorm-type accommodation with other foreign students. I stopped attending classes after a couple of weeks. I partied with my new friends. I spent my days exploring Paris and practicing my French. I did lots of flirting and even had a date with a Frenchman (who was so boring I had to dodge his phone calls for weeks after).
But at the dorm, I had met a boy. A British boy. And a boy he was. He was 22, scruffy and awkward. But he was witty and funny and cute and sweet and generous. His room was three doors down from mine so we would chat and hang out loads. But I was too afraid to ruin our friendship, so I did not tell him how I felt. I did instigate a pact where we agreed to marry if we were still single when I turned 40 (and he turned 38), so I figured I could someday make him mine. I only lived in Paris for four months. My dad was having some health problems so I flew back to California, in July 2000, to be with him and my mom. The night before I flew back to the USA, after everyone was partied out, we were the last two awake. For hours. And for hours we talked, but nothing else. I kicked myself later for not being brave enough to kiss him.
We remained friends and emailed often. In June 2001, my British friend came to visit me in San Diego. There were so many butterflies when I saw him. But again, I was not brave enough to tell him how I felt. A few days after his arrival, we went to Arizona to visit another friend we had made in Paris. And there, my now-husband was fueled and emboldened by his birthday drinks, and kissed me. Apparently he had had a crush on me since Paris but had been worried about destroying our friendship.
We did the long-distance thing for 10 months, which included daily phone calls and three visits. In that time, I managed to finagle a two-year working holidaymaker visa. Before I moved to London in May 2002, Husband and I agreed that we would stay in the UK for three years then we would move to California. I am obviously not called Californian Mom in California, so you see how the story went.
Husband and I got married in 2004, at Coombe Abbey in Warwickshire. I can't believe I managed to plan our wedding in eight months, while working full-time and getting my Master's part-time. But it was lovely, and we enjoyed sharing such a special day with our family and friends.
We married on the day my visa expired. This probably looked more than a bit dodgy. And since my visa had expired, I had to leave the UK to get a spousal visa. So we had a mini-honeymoon in Vienna (we had our proper honeymoon in July, during my university holidays, in Kenya). After a nerve-wracking interview at the British Embassy, where I was terrifyingly quizzed on my new-Husband (by myself in a tiny room, behind glass), I was granted a visa (despite not knowing the law qualification that Husband had attained).
Ten years after we were married, I am still madly in love with Husband. He is a wonderful friend and father. And despite sometimes wanting to murder him (like when I'm picking his pants up from the floor or when I'm trying to sleep and he's snoring like a bear), I look forward to many more years with him.