Our yearly check up. How are you going?

I want to take a moment to talk to the stay at home mums. Hi there. How are you? Seriously, how are YOU? I bet not a lot of people ask you that. They tend to forget that you are also a person with hopes, dreams and desires, and not just a mum completely and utterly focused on your children. People see stay at home mums and think that you’ve made this choice that you are 100% happy with, and will be 100% happy with for the rest of your life. Sort of forgetting that one day your children will become adults. Then what? It’s easy to forget that your children are an extension of you, and not the other way round. And yet, most of the time you’re not given a second thought. So I ask again, how are YOU?

You see, I wanted to make sure you’re ok, because there’s this couple that I know* who are not doing so great at the moment. Let’s call them Karl and Cassandra. The story going round is that Cassandra gave up her career to be a stay at home mum to her and Karl’s 3 kids, while Karl worked hard and focused on making a big career for himself. That’s always been the story, it was really well known to, well, everyone. But lately Cassandra and Karl have been drifting apart, getting into arguments, and it seems that a lot of resentment has crept into their marriage from both sides. Now unless it comes from the mouths of Karl and Cassandra directly, we’re never really going to know exactly what the backstory of this likely divorce is. But I’m sure we can all agree that at one point they were extremely happy. So what went wrong?

It seems the obvious and logical explanation is this: When Karl and Cassandra got together they were working equally. They had jobs they both liked and ambitions of moving upwards in those jobs to fashion a solid and rewarding career. They fell in love because of their similar interests and discussed about having a family. Perhaps they talked about what would happen when they had children and how they would juggle career and family life. Perhaps Karl asked Cassandra to be the primary care giver. Perhaps she offered. The end result was Cassandra gave up her career to be a mum while Karl moved ever upward to a point that neither of them could have ever imagined he would have achieved. Perhaps neither of them expected this. Perhaps Cassandra had hoped that it wouldn’t happen. But along the way Cassandra was left at home while Karl worked away. Now children as we all know can be difficult. We’re always excited about children in their small phase, how cute their little toes are, how adorable their little yawns can be, how beautiful they are when the sleep. WHEN they sleep. Their toddler phase is even cuter, when they’re learning things for the first time, the world has so much wonder for them, they say and do the most ridiculous and hilarious things, and you’re right there beside them holding their hands. It’s for these reasons people tend to have a few of them in quick succession. Then they start to get bigger. They don’t want to hold your hand anymore, they start to talk back to you, argue with you, say that they hate you. And all of a sudden you’ve just become the chauffer, the breaker of fights, and the helper of homework, the type of homework that you thought to yourself 30 years ago that you wouldn’t have to do again. Suddenly the reward doesn’t look so shiny anymore. So maybe Cassandra looked up from the pile of laundry, the dirty dishes and never ending uneaten plates of food, and searched for her absent husband. Perhaps she saw the jet-setting life he’d made for himself, the parties he was attending and the people he was hanging out with, and decided she was just a little jealous that she had missed out on all of that. That could have been her too if things had worked out the other way around. Perhaps time passed and Karl got better and better at what he was doing, and Cassandra got further and further away from reviving her own career. That’s where the rot could have set in. But by then it was too late to go back and repair it.

Now I realise I’ve painted a very bleak picture. First let’s start with our kids. Of course there is always going to be wonderful times with your children after their toddlerhood. They will still want to hold your hand, and snuggle with you at night. You will get to watch them grow into strong independent adults. Watch their sporting achievements, or artistic efforts, plays, recitals, dance auditions. Hear how they got an A on the test they studied so hard for, their excitement about Christmas, the time that crab chased the down the beach during your last family holiday. Hilarious, wonderful, beautiful moments that you will remember and love and cherish. Family life is filled with brilliant memories. Yes, there will be incredibly shitty times and you’ll imagine running away from it all. But then your kids will make you laugh again and the bad thought will evaporate instantly.

But as much as you love your children, let’s not forget what gave you that thought to run away in the first place. The little place inside you that is still a person before you were a parent. So let’s go back to the beginning of your relationship. You probably discussed with your respective partners what you wanted out of life. What your dreams were, where you wanted to be in 5 years’ time, and again in 10. You might have wanted to travel, or achieve a particular role in your career, or just do a certain amount of things before you had kids. Maybe you also discussed how things were going to be when you actually had those kids. To the mums out there, maybe you always wanted to be a stay at home mum with 5 children to take care of. What happens when you change your mind after 3 years? Do you expect yourself to always maintain this lifestyle. Does your husband?

All of those dreams are fine. But let’s also remember one thing. We change as we get older. Our hopes, dreams, aspirations, opinions and desires all evolve and change over time. So it’s very important that if you make plans or have agreements at the start of a relationship that you make the effort to always discuss any desire to change those plans. The decisions that you make in your 20’s are not necessarily going to be the same decisions that you’re happy with 30 years down the track, or even 10 years. It’s absolutely ridiculous to think that you can stay the exact same person your entire life. I myself have had thoughts and opinions that I’ve done a complete 180 on a couple of years down the track. When we grow and mature physically, so do our desires and ideas. How can they not, when our brain is constantly changing. So as you grow and change, it’s important to keep an open dialogue with your partner. Tell them you’ve decided you want to go back to Uni, or get a new job, or revamp a career, or would like them to start taking a more active role in caring for your children. Tell them you really want a change, or a compromise, or more equal parenting. Talk to them about how you can both make each other’s lives more fulfilled and wonderful. Have this talk every year. Mark it down on the calendar. You’re “How am I Going?” date. Without this kind of discussion and communication, you could end up bitter and alone. You could end up like Karl and Cassandra. So to the stay at home mums, and even the stay at home dads, I ask you again, how are YOU?

 

*Note: I don’t actually know them.

Resilience

Let me start by saying this: Criticism does not necessarily equal bullying. People are allowed to have a contradictory opinion to your own, to disagree with your opinion, and sometimes critique that opinion with facts and experiences of their own. If they do so in a constructive, non-personal and non-threatening manner, they are not bullying you. And yet more and more I see people succumbing to crippling anxiety issues because someone said something mean to them. A mummy war seems to be erupting online as we speak. It has basically turned into a she-said she-said debate with supporters on either side completely destroying each other. Kind of ironic when the whole Queen movement is all about supporting each other. I have to say the whole thing has made me more than a little nervous, considering some of my own previous views. But frankly no one “owns” the mummy blogging world. You haven’t cornered a market that only you and no one else is allowed to have an opinion on. That’s not fair. If it was, how are we supposed to have a diverse conversation? As Notorious Mum put it, not everyone fits into the category of “Queen” nor should they feel they have to. In which case, stand aside and let someone else have a voice, so those mums have someone they CAN relate to.

The point is when you post online, when you become a popular presence in society, you have to expect some opposition. Sometimes even backlash if you have an unpopular opinion.  Notorious Mum disagreed with the Queen movement, and she gave various views on why. I agreed mainly with the point she was making, though I really didn’t like the way she went about it. Some points seemed very reasonable, others seemed deliberately hurtful. The part about actually parenting children because you don’t want them turning into psychopaths when they’re older may have seemed like a generalised comment and was probably meant to be taken in that way. But to me it sounded like she was inferring that this is what was going to happen to Constance’s children. And if I read it in this manner, then I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been the only one. What happened next was uncontrolled threats and bullying from mothers on each side of the debate. A lot of hurtful slinging has gone back and forth, and it’s frankly ridiculous. Disagreement is fine. Trolling is not. What Notorious Mum said was sometimes hurtful, I get that. The comments by her followers after (which she admittedly participated in) were however unacceptable. But Constance’s followers threatening terrible things back was equally unacceptable.

What I find worrying was Constance’s initial reaction, admitting to having a complete breakdown and hiding herself away in a room for hours until she calmed down. In a way, this reaction is completely understandable. She has been thrust into notoriety with little training or experience. Her short stint in the Big Brother house and the 15 minutes of fame that came after may have prepared her to some degree, but really she was just a regular person who went to bed one night and woke up the next day with a million followers. That’s an immense pressure for anyone. Obviously, she has support to varying degrees from many people within the industry, and that’s wonderful. But this isn’t the first time she has had a severe reaction to a negative situation. That’s where I believe she would benefit from some professional counselling and training. Maybe she is getting that help, I don’t know. I certainly hope she is, because frankly my heart went out to her, and Notorious Mum, when I read about how upset the whole affair made each of them. Which is a timely reminder that if you’re going to post comments directed to someone on the internet, you need to remember there’s an actual real person on the others side of the words that you’re writing. Cut out with the trolling. If you don’t support an idea, then move on from it, don’t eviscerate the person who wrote it.

However, trolls are not going to go away overnight, so we must find a way to deal with them in the meantime. That’s where resilience comes in. The worrying part is, the more I look for it, the less I’m seeing it in today’s society. Firstly, don’t get me wrong, I completely understand that people can suffer from severe anxiety due to traumas they’ve faced in life. I would never ever deliberately diminish this fact. I believe Constance is one of them, which makes her reactions even more justified. But for others who haven’t suffered from adversity or trauma, we need to remember that there is a difference between diagnosed anxiety and just feeling worried. I’m seeing more and more young people today not being able to cope with the everyday stresses of life. Yes, on the one hand life is stressful, and sometimes more stressful than ever before. We face an extreme rising cost of living, irreversible global warming and a slide back towards conservative values. But on the other hand, we’ve never had it so good, with human rights, workplace diversity, modern medicine, and access to technology that makes life simpler and easier. So why the increase in young people’s inability to cope? Babyboomers would likely tell us that “kids today are too soft”, thanks to overindulgence in luxuries. You know, like food whenever we want it, disposable income, countless forms of entertainment (from cinemas, to television to numerous gaming consoles, etc), vaccines, non-compulsory conscription, houses with the same number of bedrooms as people living in it, and instantaneous messaging. When my mother was young her family didn’t own a car, or a TV and never once had a family holiday. Her mother before her left school at the age of 14 to work on a farm to help support her own family. And what was my biggest gripe growing up? If I didn’t have orange juice with my breakfast you could hear my complaints down the street.

Now I’m not saying that we need to let our kids suffer from extreme adversity. I’m not saying take all their worldly possessions away, place them on daily rations and make them share a bedroom with six other people. I’m not encouraging starting a world war or exposing them to third world country conditions just so they can see what “real” suffering looks like. But we do need to start letting our children experience negative situations. We need to let them fall, and experience the pain from that fall, so they can learn to pick themselves up and keep going. We need to let them experience all kinds of emotions without labelling them “good” or “bad”. Sad and angry are just are important to feel as happy and joyful. We need to help them face their fears, defeat the monsters and maybe in the end make friends with them. We need to teach our girls and boys that it’s perfectly normal to cry, it’s important to cry, but it’s pointless to do it over spilt milk. We need to show them that perseverance is important, that things are worth doing even if they are hard, to not give up in the face of adversity, and to always keep trying.

We can do this. We can have children not afraid of pain but equally not afraid of their emotions. And my hope is that when my son is eventually exposed to unflattering comments or mean sentiments, he will merely shrug them off, perhaps change some of his behaviours for the better, and continue on with his head held high and his self-esteem intact.

As for the “mummy war”, I hope a truce can soon be reached, and the fighting ends. I hope you too can find your resilience in the face of negativity, and know that I will respect and support the both of you.

Oh The Things That You’ll Learn

There are many things that I have learnt over the last two years, a lot of which I don’t feel I could confidently devote an entire blog to. So instead I’ve decided to compile these moments together and post them in one handy hit. Here are the things that I have learnt (so far).

  1. There is always a bigger tantrum. Thought that you child was already going through the “Terrible Twos” even before they turned two? Nope. No they weren’t.
  2. You will always have an overwhelming sense of frustration and guilt. This is your life now. Deal with it.
  3. You child will do amazing and wondrous things. But only in front of you. They will never repeat in company, therefore making you look like an idiot. They are not a performing monkey, and they know it.
  4. They’re confusing. They want to go outside, but when they’re out the want to immediately go back in. They refuse to have a bath, but by the time you finally get them in there like a twitching cat, they scream the house down when it’s finally time to pull the plug.
  5. Someone else’s food will always be more appealing. Even if they have the exact same meal cooked in the exact same dish in front of them. They will always want yours.
  6. There’s nothing wrong with using the TV as a babysitter for a couple of hours. As long as the shows are somewhat educational and interactive, and aren’t just rubbish. And of course I mean while you’re at home. Don’t use it to literally babysit your child while you go out to dinner. That tends to be frowned upon.
  7. Even if your child hasn’t been anywhere near sand during the day, you will always inevitably find it somewhere in your house by the end of the day.
  8. Speaking of sand, if you ever get the smallest amount in your bathtub, you child will claim it’s “in their bottom” for weeks after you’re sure you scrubbed the last grain out.
  9. Selective hearing is a thing. To the point where you will be convinced that they are having silent seizures. But will automatically have their hearing back the second you open a new biscuit packet. They could have been in the next state and will still come running full steam if they think there’s a biscuit at the end of it.
  10. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. You might be feeling on top of the world, the most confident of your life, thinking how fantastic you look, and you’ll still make it all the way to the shops before you realise you have dried egg yolk in your hair.
  11. There will always be a bigger poo.
  12. You children are both a sponge and a parrot at the same time. Absorbing everything in, and spewing it all back out again. Usually in the most inappropriate circumstances. Teaching them the proper names for their genitalia for example will always end in them screaming SCROTUM in the most delicate of circumstances, such as at the hair dressers or a quiet moment in church.
  13. If they’ve worked out what the rubbish bin is for and how to use it, ALWAYS check it before emptying it. From toys to priceless family heirlooms, things will mysteriously disappear until you’ve worked out it was your toddler being “helpful”.
  14. Communication with your partner and any other adults that come into contact with your child is super important. Especially if you want to avoid the endless tantrum and confusion if you can’t work out what “the dinosaur one” means when looking up videos on Youtube.
  15. You can bring as many of their favourite toys or books to any place you need to take them too (a café, the doctor’s surgery, etc), and they will still want to completely disrupt everyone and everything around them. They won’t want to sit, or eat, or play with the toys already provided. They will probably run down halls they’re not supposed to, or eat off strangers’ meals. That’s just what they do. Accept there is no stopping them.
  16. Be prepared to give into everything. Especially when it comes to that face. Look at the that little face!

boo

*Ok, not actually a picture of my son, but pretty similar in cuteness. You get what I mean.