Everyone experiences becoming a mother differently. For me, it was a bit like being hit by a bus. Of course, I knew there was a baby coming and that babies were hard work but in terms of the fundamental irreversible impact on my sense of identity, I just didn’t see that coming. For the first two months I sleepwalked in a post-traumatic haze: I was a mother who hadn’t yet become a mother and I was utterly conflicted. I couldn’t let go of the pre-birth me (the person I had invested 30 years into becoming) but I couldn’t see how to be that me in the face of the sheer scale of demands and love that had arrived with my new baby.
Life After Birth by Kate Figes was the catalyst that eased me through the transition to
motherhood. Or, as I melodramatically announced in my sleep-deprived haze, “This book saved my life.” Continue reading
Subconsciously, I equate food with love. As a result, I can take it too personally when my loved ones don’t want the food I provide, and I probably project that guilt onto them. I also sometimes use food for comfort, and I have been known to deny myself food as a form of self-harm. I once tried to set fire to a packet of biscuits to stop myself eating them all.
If you have a positive body image and an easy relationship with food then you are probably thinking that I’m a bit mental…
But in my experience, I’m pretty normal. Most of the mums I know or work with are at least a little bit screwy about food. And, hand on heart, the number of people I meet who are truly comfortable in their own bodies is a lot less than those who would rather their bodies were a bit (or a lot…) different.
Body image issues don’t only affect women and girls. Teenage boys are now under enormous pressure to conform to boy band ideals, and at a time when their bodies are in an awkward transitional phase. One third of men say they would give up a year of their lives to have the perfect body. Continue reading
As a parent, it’s often hard to know what’s important and what isn’t. Does it matter if your child eats their chips with their fingers at the dinner table? Or is it more important that they can sit and have a pleasant conversation with you while they are eating them? Should you push them to keep playing the cello when they want to give it up? Or allow them to make their own choices about how to spend their time? What’s the best balance between structured activities (classes and sports) and unstructured downtime? And does any of it really matter as long as you love them and give them your attention?
Feeling a bit bewildered by so many judgement calls (and in a bid to silence my inner doubting voice) this Mothers’ Day I decided to get back to basics and ask an expert. Continue reading
Becoming a single parent was both the worst and the best thing that has happened to me. At the time, it was devastating: I felt I had screwed up my life and my children’s lives. Fundamentally. Irreversibly. Unforgivably. I had failed at the most basic level of being a parent, I had broken something that could never be fixed or replaced.
It is only now, with over a decade of distance, that I can look back at that first year calmly and understand the stages in my journey towards acceptance and self-forgiveness. This is the story of my transition. Continue reading
The basic premise for Sue Gerhardt’s book Why Love Matters is simple: the way that mothers respond to their babies during infancy influences how their brains develop. On the face of it, it’s a no-brainer. So why did I find it such a deeply uncomfortable and annoying read as both a parent and a professional?
Despite the erudite academic stance, Gerhardt’s argument is utterly reductionist – parents are to blame for all the ills of their children all the way into adulthood (behaviour, mental health and even cancer) and that if we get it wrong in the brief window when our kids are babies then, basically, they are doomed. What’s more, mothers start getting it wrong before their children are even born by providing the wrong in utero environment. The complex interplay of factors that affect the growing child after their first birthday is pretty much dismissed as irrelevant: if we have got it wrong in infancy then their only hope is many years of psychotherapy as adults. Continue reading
My house has gone really quiet and I don’t know what to do with myself. Aside from brief forays for food and toileting, the kids have retreated from the rest of the house and taken up residence in their bedrooms.
It’s my own fault. This Christmas I caved in and set the boys up with the wherewithal to watch DVDs in their rooms. Even as I write that I feel the need to justify it – we have very strict parameters on completion of homework and eating together and both boys participate in heaps of sport and, after all, teens need their space and they promised me they wouldn’t retreat to their bedrooms! I firmly maintain it is the complete box set of Friends that my brother gave them for Christmas that is the real root of the problem.
A lot of attention is paid to the process by which mothers bond with their babies, but not so much on how we are supposed to unbond at the other end of childhood. Continue reading
I want to write about my love for my children, but I’m not sure I am up to it. Romantic love, religious love, even love of one’s country are common subjects for verse (good and bad), so how hard can it be to describe how I feel about my kids?
We all love our children, right? Surely there’s nothing else to say on the matter. But when you stop and think about it, what does that love actually feel like and how do we express it?
More often than not I know I love my children because of the other emotions I feel: a chest full of pride when they succeed or excel, a rush of fear when they aren’t there in the place I expected them to be, a nagging anxiety when things just don’t seem quite right, or a surge of anger that shakes me like the primeval roar of a lioness when something threatens them. If I search my day for love, I find mainly proxies: joy, guilt, annoyance, hope. Continue reading