Mums, be kind – to yourselves

Life with young children can be an emotional rollercoaster – so take some time out

Being constantly told that these are the best years and how much we should treasure our young children can add to the pressures of being a parent. Photograph: Thinkstock

Being constantly told that these are the best years and how much we should treasure our young children can add to the pressures of being a parent. Photograph: Thinkstock

Tue, Aug 12, 2014, 01:00

Q The thing is, Grit Doctor, I find being a mum so hard. I get up in the morning with the best intentions to be kind to my kids, but have always screamed at at least one of them before we leave the house. It’s as though I have become this impatient scowling dragon since having children. I get wound up by the slightest thing and I spend a lot of time wishing the time away and wishing they were a bit older (I have three under six) and could do more for themselves. And then I just feel guilty for thinking that, and guilty because my mum keeps telling me that these are the best years, and that I should treasure them, and thank God they are healthy and all. I have inner grit and I’ve done the whole fat bitch running malarkey. Just show me the way to be better at managing my emotional rollercoaster.

A I wish I had the answer to this one. It would be my Holy Grail. All I do know is that once we have our first child, a combination of uncontrollable variables is unleashed that has us feeling as though we have been forced on to a terrifying fairground ride. But be reassured that every mother feels like this. I most certainly do. And thank you for being brave enough to share the truth with us all.

I reckon it’s a good thing for our kids to get a dose of our emotional “roller coastering” on a daily – and, let’s face it, sometimes, hourly – basis. Otherwise, how are they going to understand women? Their future wives?

That’s what I tell myself, anyway, after a fiery day with twin sons. And there is nothing more irritating than being constantly told that these are the best years and that we should treasure our young children. That sort of commentary sets the roller coaster off at breakneck speed.

What utter nonsense. Says who? Our mums, of course. Only because through the rose-tinted glasses of their winter years the idea of babies and toddlers, who are as yet unqualified for prison sentences or emigration to Australia, looks comparatively straightforward. It looks easy because they have long since forgotten what it feels like to do it over and over again and again and again after three hours’ sleep.

Uninterrupted sleep

Things might be easier if you had uninterrupted seven to eight hours’ sleep a night, a regular nine-to-five shift and weekends to recharge.

But there is no “off” switch and there are no holidays. The relentless nature of the job, coupled with ludicrously long shifts of 14 hours or more – often without breaks and always without thanks – shorten our tempers.

Imagine if you had to do an office job, even one you love, 24/7 and all weekend with indecent swathes of time spent on all fours wiping crap off the floor?

Would I love writing under such conditions? Would I make any sense, I wonder? Might I be prone to regular meltdowns and a short fuse? Hell yes!

No mother is without a huge sense-of-humour failure at least once a day and, in my case, at least once an hour. So definitely give yourself a break and, unusual though it is for me to say this, the last thing you need to be is more gritty with yourself.

 

Empathy

Get gritty with your mum, though, in asking her to indulge you on occasion and to have more empathy for the reality of your daily grind. Get gritty too with your kids when necessary, remembering that they are incredibly robust and have no idea – yet – how to hold a grudge.

Take advantage of this, in not dwelling on the shouting matches of the day or the perceived injustices and moving swiftly past them, as they always do, to those calm, fun moments that invariably punctuate the mayhem. Learn to dwell in those.

There’s no doubt about it: the kinder you are to yourself throughout the day, the less the swing. It is supposed to be chaotic. It is supposed to be hard. It is supposed to be awful a lot of the time and we are supposed to get teary. It is all part of the process of surrender that characterises becoming a mother. Provided you are not on first-name terms with all the staff at A&E, no one died on your watch and you are still talking to and not screaming at your other half, you are doing a fantastic job.

Remind yourself that you are not alone. The mum who seems the most together at the school gates is, more often than not, the most deranged of the lot. So don’t be fooled.

The Grit Doctor says: Put your feet up at the end of another long day, enjoy some time to yourself and think about all the things you got right, no matter how short-lived or trivial they may be.