There is a lot of stuff I love about being a mother. Having someone I adore no matter what and who loves me unconditionally. Having someone to spoil, someone I can watch growing up. I love seeing her become a proper person, with her own thoughts and ideas. I love having an excuse to go and visit Father Christmas, and an excuse to cuddle up on the settee and watch cartoons when it’s cold out! And I love seeing her eyes light up when she sees me.
But, like most parents, there are things I don’t enjoy about being a parent. Here are my top ten – I’d love to hear yours!
10. Losing friends who don’t have kids.
I have friends that I’ve know for years. We don’t see each other that often but when we do catch up, it’s like we’ve never been apart. At least, it was. Then Jess came along, and suddenly my nights out clubbing, going to midnight cinema showings or chatting until the small hours became a snatched hour after work and dashing home to relieve the babysitter, cancelling plans at the last moment, and telephone calls interrupted by “Mummy! I need the toilet!” I suppose we would have developed different interests over time anyway, but it still seems a shame that I’m losing touch with people who were a major part of my life for so long.
9. Animated films.
You know that great thriller that came out last month and was an overnight hit? I don’t. If it’s not a kid’s film, then I haven’t seen it. I’ve seen Ice Age 1, 2, 3 and 4 a hundred times and I can quote Tangled by heart, but anything else is out. I could technically watch something when she’s gone to bed, but to be honest, I’m too tired to concentrate by then! And while animations can be good fun, by the fifty-first viewing the shine has worn off them a bit.
8. Planning days out around toilet stops.
It’s a minor thing but once Jess was out of nappies, trips became that much harder. Wherever we go, I have to note where the toilets are. If we are on a car journey, you can guarantee that the minute we are stuck in traffic or passing a sign saying ‘no services for x miles’, Jess will announce loudly “Mummy, I’m desperate!” Ditto for seeing something like a circus or settling down for a film. And I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been crouched behind a tree holding Jess and hoping no passersby come to glare at us when we’ve gone blackberry picking or for a walk in the woods.
7. “Hello Jess’s mummy.”
I no longer have a name. Jess has been at nursery / preschool for three and a half years now. She changed to a new one a few months ago but before that, she had been at the same one for three years. I took her in most mornings, I picked her up most evenings. I chatted to the staff, I learnt their names. So why can’t they learn mine? I’m not mad keen on ‘Mrs X’, but it’s better than just ‘Jess’s Mummy’. I know they have lots of kids and therefore parents to remember, but when I taught karate, I had over 250 members and I knew all the kids, most of the parents, and half the aunts, uncles, grandparents and assorted others who would drop the children off for their class. I may be Jess’s Mummy but I do have a name – please use it!
6. I’m not allowed to be ill.
A few months ago, the whole family got flu. My partner lay on the settee looking like death warmed up. Jess curled up in a ball listlessly. I, however, went to the chemist for medicine, got groceries, cooked meals, did the washing, dished out countless doses of flu treatment, warm drinks, tissues, sympathy and hugs, and got up a dozen times a night to soothe Jess. If you’re a mum, you lose the right to be ill in peace, particularly if you dare to get ill at the same time as the rest of the family.
5. Being a packhorse.
When you are young and free, you go out with a tiny clutch bag just big enough for your mobile, your keys, your credit card and your lippy. When you have kids, you go out with a bag the size of a suitcase which is stuffed with nappies, wipes, several changes of clothes, snacks, drinks, extra bottles, Calpol, toys, tissues, sun cream, sun hat, gloves, nappy cream, nappy bags, and several other things which you can’t work out why you would possibly need them but know you’ll regret it if you leave them behind. If you are really lucky, you might be able to squeeze in your keys. As they get older, it gets slightly better but you still need so many changes of clothes, extra snacks and favourite toys, that you really need a trolley to carry them all. I’ve never forgotten being in a meeting at work, putting my hand in my bag to find a pen and pulling out a nappy!
4. I am my mother.
I love my mum, of course I do, but I have no wish to become her. However, it seems like it’s too late. I hear myself saying the exact same things my mother says: be careful, you’ll hurt yourself, because I say so, sit nicely, in a minute, the list goes on and on. I even use some of her facial expressions and several times lately family members have said “Oh, I thought you were your mother”. I’ve cut my trademark long hair because it’s not practical and I no longer paint my nails because the upkeep is too high. I’m the one that has to be sensible, that has to tell Jess that it’s bedtime, that has to ask my partner not to get her over-excited, the one dressing her in sensible clothes and ensuring she eats properly. As mothers go, I’m pretty lucky if I’m turning into mine I suppose, but does anyone really want to become their mothers?
Some women bloom in pregnancy. A friend once told me that if raising children was as easy as pregnancy, she’d have 50 kids. Her skin glowed, she was full of energy, she relished every second. Not me. I had every unpleasant symptom going. Hyperemesis (constant morning sickness and yes, I mean constant. Forty times a day. I lost two stone in two months.) SPD. Spotty and itchy skin. Lank hair that fell out in patches. Crippling heartburn. Brittle nails. Eventually I even developed HELLP syndrome, which can be fatal. “Ah,” I hear you say, “but wasn’t it amazing when you felt the baby kick?” Nope. It felt like an alien in my stomach, every time she kicked I felt sick. Of course it was all worth it in the end, but the ‘joy of pregnancy’? Not so much.
I’m sure there are parents who live for playing make-believe with their children. They are probably the same parents who throw themselves into soft-play, look forward to days out at kiddy theme parks and can’t wait to go to the park and push their children on the swings for hours. I envy them. It must be nice to enjoy the same things as your kids.
I do look forward to taking Jess out because I love seeing her so happy, but I find most of the activities she enjoys interminably dull. I tend to take a book with me and while she’s playing I sit reading and calling out the occasional word of encouragement or caution. When she’s playing at home, I’m cooking or browsing the net or ironing. I feel rather guilty that I’m not down on the carpet playing cars with her or dressing her dolls but she’s happy enough playing at my feet, and I do feel that entertaining herself is an important skill to learn, especially as she’s an only child. Every now and then I’ll feel bad enough to grab a blanket and suggest we make tents, but I always feel that Jess would actually be happier if I left her to it!
There is a reason sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. When you’ve slept well everything is easier to cope with. Tantrums are one of life’s little annoyances, a broken down car is a minor nuisance, and a large bill is just one of those things. When you haven’t slept properly for weeks, spilt milk can be the end of the world.
As a baby, Jess wasn’t a great sleeper. She had one whole month where she wouldn’t sleep for more than thirty minutes at a time, day or night. I was a zombie. I was working at the time and more than once I fell asleep at my desk. Somebody only had to look at me to reduce me to tears. I remember sobbing over Jess’s cot and yelling “What do you want from me?” before walking around the garden to cool down. And this was with one kid, how on earth do people manage with twins?!
Thankfully we got through it – Jess started sleeping through soon after and I managed not to have a nervous breakdown. But it was a close run thing.
Now of course I can look back on it calmly (at least until Jess has a bad night which still happens from time to time). And I have a couple of words of advice. If you are lucky enough to have a child that sleeps through, don’t boast to your less fortunate friends. Gloat quietly if you must, but don’t sit there beaming and saying smugly “well Annabella slept through at two days old” while your more unfortunate friend falls into an exhausted coma. If you want to help, do so. Don’t make vague offers, take the initiative – turn up, look after the baby, and send your friend to bed. If you are the one with the sleepless child, be open to trying anything and everything and don’t beat yourself up for using techniques you never thought you’d resort to. Controlled crying, rapid return, feeding to sleep, co-sleeping – if something works for you, go with it. Sleep whenever possible. There is nothing wrong with going to bed at 6pm if the baby is settled – it isn’t forever. And if all else fails, keep telling yourself: this too shall pass.