Elvie and I went to play with some friends this afternoon. Part of our ongoing paddling-pool crawl – rock and roll! While we watched our girls dripping ice lollies down their arms, my friend asked if I had considered what I would say to Elvie when she had children. (Other than the obvious response of “ha ha – now you’ll see how much grief you caused me.” I presume that’s standard.)
I hadn’t really thought about it before. It’s a long way off – which, judging by her current childcare standards, is undoubtedly a good thing.
I thought about it all the way home, through dinner, and through bedtime. And here’s what I would say.
My gorgeous girl,
So, you’re a mummy! Welcome to a very special club. A place where you can never be too tired, too confused or too irrationally emotional. Everyone you meet now will feel free to give you the benefit of their advice. For what it’s worth – here’s mine.
Hang on to yourself: Your children will take up the vast majority of your time and your brain. But they are not the sum total of who you are. Carve out some time for yourself, however you do it. Time to keep up your passions and your hobbies. Time for the things that make you feel alive. Not the housework. You are absolutely worth it. Your sanity and your happiness are a priority. At least they should be.
You are good enough, just as you are: Don’t compare yourself to everyone else. Or compare your house to theirs. Or your clothes. Or your children. Everyone does motherhood differently, and nobody is right. You’ll never know what anyone else ‘s life is really like – chances are they’re judging themselves against you as well. On this topic – if you’re having a bad day, stay away from Pinterest. These people are not real. I repeat. Not real.
Be honest: With yourself, with your husband and with your friends. Pretending to keep it together is exhausting, and just makes everyone else feel the need to pretend as well. Honesty breeds honesty, and you’ll soon find out that you’re not on your own. Being a parent is hard. If anyone tells you otherwise they’re lying. Or they have a cook, a cleaner and a full time nanny. Try not to hate them.
Record your achievements: During the stay-at-home phase, it can feel like you’ve not accomplished anything for months. When you do – document it. If your plant grew, take a picture. If you bake something new, take a picture. If you manage a super-fun day out with the children, take lots of pictures. Store them all on your phone. That way, when you have a bad week, you have evidence of your brilliance right there in front of you. Believe me, there will be days when you need it.
There will be bad days: Days when the toddler won’t listen to a word you say and the baby is teething and you’re all hot and grumpy. Get through the day however you can – beans on toast and cbeebies are perfectly acceptable options. Then have a cup of tea, or a glass of wine and sit down with some mindless telly. Breathe. Maybe tomorrow will be better.
Accept help when it’s offered: No, really. Please do.
Notice what you’ve done well: Maybe you kept your cool when the children were fighting. Perhaps they got their 5-a-day. Or you all had a laugh at the park. Or you got the paints out when you really couldn’t be bothered. Or you remembered to take the library books back. These things matter. At the end of each day take a moment to give yourself a pat on the back. Let’s be honest – the children won’t do it for you.
Try not to worry too much: Yes, they mostly eat with their fingers. Yes, they dribble everywhere. And have the occasional little ‘accident’. She won’t wear trousers. He bites everyone’s shoulders. I’m willing to bet that by the time they get to ‘big school’, none of that will be an issue. Worrying about it will just drive you crazy. Nobody wants that.
You’re doing a great job: Turning up every day. Doing what needs to be done. Even when it’s the last thing you want to do. Your children love you more than you know. They’re part of you and you are the best possible person to raise them. You’re doing brilliantly, and I’m so proud.
I love you. Maybe now you have some idea how much.
P.S. It’s possible to write a letter to your daughter and realise that actually, you’re writing to yourself. Listen up, hey?!?