There’s an ocean of literature about all manner of things relating to parenthood. There are pregnancy bibles, labour guidebooks and the ‘what to expect when expecting’ books aimed at providing antenatal support for the expectant mother. Then there’s an entire library of books on how to actually raise your child. There’s also an exploding market in books about what to feed your child.
But there’s not a lot written about how to get along as a mother. You hear it’s tough, often tiring and sometimes tedious (sometimes?) but you can’t understand it until you’re living it. Here are my tips for surviving and thriving in motherhood.
Find your own mothering rhythm
It doesn’t matter what Ally’s mum says about formula, or your MIL’s advice about controlled crying, or what Jack’s organic mama says about sugar. Ignore it all. It’s futile comparing yourself to others, and even more so comparing yourself to other mums. Do what works for you. Do what works for your family. Do what works for your relationships. Block out the parenting “noise” and trust your own judgement. Learn to mother without expectations, without conditions, and most of all without guilt. You’ll be so much happier.
Pick your battles
When the going gets tough, cut some corners and cut yourself some slack. Decide what matters, and what doesn’t. So your two-year-old wants to wear a sleeveless dress when it’s 10 degrees outside, why fight it? Throw a cardigan at the bottom of the pram and save yourself the angst. Need to use some screen time to get through witching hour? An extra hour of TV won’t harm them. Similarly, if you’ve had the day from hell and the thought of cooking dinner for toddlers who probably won’t eat it fills you with understandable dread, save it and call in the backup meal: scrambled eggs, a bowl of Weet-Bix, who really cares? Get through the current day and think about vegetables the next.
Be gentle to yourself
With so much energy being poured into the family, the person who usually ends up depleted is mum. Much like in air travel, the ‘fit your oxygen mask before your children’ is true to motherhood. It’s simple, really: if you don’t replenish your own needs and treat yourself with the same care and compassion, the entire family will suffer. Being gentle on yourself also means celebrating the small steps, the little victories, and the mothering milestones. It means patting yourself on the back and going easy on yourself when the times are tough. Learn to move on from the bad moments quickly; don’t replay them over and over in your head.
Phone a friend
There’s no benefit in pretense so don’t suffer in silence: speak up. If you’re having a bad day, bad week or bad month, tell someone. I have a couple of “go to” friends I know I can call to say “I’m having the day from hell” or “I want to run away from my kids”, and they know not to call child services. Instead they listen, agree and offer understanding. A little vent actually helps. And if it feels more serious than just airing your motherhood frustrations, visit your GP and lay it on the table. There’s no shame in not enjoying motherhood 24/7. None at all.
Adopt the 80/20 rule
This is my personal favourite. We know we’re not supposed to shout at our kids; instead we’re meant to speak to them calmly and rationally. But at the end of a day involving perpetual battles, sometimes the rage escapes you. Of course you feel terrible afterwards; we all do, but we’re also flawed human beings. Human error is simply that: human. Even surgeons make mistakes, as no one is infallible.
So you feed your kids well 80 per cent of the time and allow for some treats or casual meals 20 per cent of the time. That’s fine. No outdoor play today? Big deal, you did it yesterday. A reader got missed? Don’t sweat it. Bed time usually 7pm? Allow for some later nights once in a while. The 80/20 rule can be applied to all areas of life too, not just parenting. If you’re not already on board with the 80/20 method of parenting, implement it today!
Perfection is the enemy
Being a parent and a perfectionist don't sit easily together. Trying to do it all and expecting that it can all be done perfectly is a recipe for disappointment. It’s simply not possible to achieve an idealistic standard at anything all the time.
Instead, aim for "good enough". Just get the job done. I learned to lower my expectations and my standards a long time ago. I also learnt to get comfortable with mess. And collectively, let’s not cultivate the myth of the supermum. Let’s remove that word, along with “perfect”, from our vernacular. Permanently.