It’s a story we don’t often talk about – how many of us, as mothers, are constantly surrounded by affection and people who love us and yet, deep inside, feel completely isolated and alone.
We have our friends, but maybe they don’t understand our personal struggles with parenthood. The other mums we know seem so together as parents that we feel like we’ll be judged for admitting we’re completely overwhelmed. We see a photo of all of our girlfriends together at a restaurant on Instagram and we start to feel resentful.
You might feel very connected to your baby (or maybe you don’t), but you feel completely detached from everyone and everything else.
As a first-time mother, I remember sitting in my bedroom in my tracksuit pants with vomit on my shoulder bouncing my colicky newborn to sleep on a yoga ball and feeling like I’d never be able to re-enter the world again and that no one could possibly understand what I was going through.
I felt alone because no one talked about it. All I ever heard were stories of new motherhood and how incredible and amazing it was and how grateful I should be. All people said were how in love with their babies they were. I loved my baby, too, but learning how to be his mother was truly tough. I missed my old life, and mostly, I missed myself.
It’s something we all experience – either in fleeting little moments of reflection during a chaotic day or later on when everyone is asleep and we’re still wide awake scrolling through our Facebook feed or Googling random kid-stuff on our phones late into the night.
We don’t often say it, but what we’re searching for often has nothing to do with “best kids’ shoes” or “how do you know if a baby’s sick?” What we’re really searching for is how to feel less alone.
What we’re really looking for is the sisterhood of motherhood.
Here’s the important thing – you are not alone. There is an entire community of mothers who have come before us and an entire community of mothers who continue to walk beside us on this journey. What we need to do is start talking about it – all of it, not just the pretty, Insta-perfect parts, but the raw, real details of what motherhood can look like.
The good, bad and the ugly
What does being a mum look like?
As any parent will tell you, it’s not like the dreamy crafts you see on Pinterest or every perfectly posed portrait of the kids in their best outfits.
Parenting is hectic. It’s messy. Photographer and stay-at-home mum Giedre Gomes, who runs Pictures By GG, has captured that brutal reality of motherhood brilliantly in a series capturing mums in situations that aren’t so picture perfect. The resulting photos were released for US Mother’s Day, to give an alternative perspective to all those perfectly filtered shots of flowers and breakfast in bed.
‘Usually my client pictures are pretty, dreamy, mums in flower fields kissing babies,’ Giedre tells Metro.co.uk. ‘That’s okay, that’s beautiful, but after the photoshoots I come home to reality, to my own family, and there are no rainbow, unicorns, or butterflies. ‘I wanted to show real life, reality, routine, when every single day is the same… breakfast, lunch, dinner, cooking, cleaning, dishes, laundry, driving, shopping – every single day, the same thing over and over. ‘I wanted to show pictures that mums relate to.’
Motherhood is not remembering what it’s like to get a full night’s sleep, wiping more poop than you ever thought you’d see in your life.
Motherhood is no longer having privacy, never peeing or showering in peace.
Motherhood is using your shirt to wipe runny noses and dirty faces.
Motherhood is learning how to do everything with one hand while carrying a baby in another.
The power of good conversation
With the constant barrage of laptops, iPads, smart phones, and even “smart watches,” being aware and enjoying someone’s physical company oftentimes falls on the back burner.
It’s not just that we are less present. Incredibly busy lives catering to the needs of our children first also means that many of us shy away from booking coffee dates with friends, or even sitting down to have a family dinner together. Between our never-ending to-do lists, returning to work, children’s busy schedules, and perhaps less-than-stellar skills in the kitchen, it all just seems to slide down to the bottom of our list of priorities and lands in the “too hard basket”.
Humans crave togetherness and connecting, so sharing a meal or grabbing a coffee is more about enjoying stimulating conversation than actually eating. It transforms into an energising situation that plies us away from our laptops, smart phones, and other technological gadgets that serve a purpose but also disconnect us from other people.
However now, the problem is that sitting down and having stimulating conversation has become a lost art. Our children will grow up without these survival tactics, and their children will face the same fate— feeling isolated rather than connected with others.
We can change that, one meal at a time.
The unwritten rules of Mothers Groups
Joining a Mother’s Groups gets mixed reviews. I was lucky that I met some amazing women who I’m still incredibly close to and our kids will be friends for years to come. But it’s not always the case. It can be filled with landmines, judgment and just plain awkwardness.
But it is worth trying.
And try not to use the excuse that you already have lots of friends.
You can have too many pieces of chocolate and too many pairs of shoes but you can never have too many friends.
Never, ever lose your enthusiasm for meeting new people.
Everyone has a story and everyone special gifts. If you disregard that person and decide in your mind that their story isn’t worth hearing, you are the one missing out. Everyone has something to offer. Make sure you don’t miss it. And with that, why not make it easy for those around you to make friends too? Be the one to introduce yourself and introduce others. I even introduce friends that I know have a lot in common and haven’t met yet.
There is a difference between sharing with the group and boasting.
Never boast about your child ‘sleeping through’. It might have happened just once, or you might be lucky to enjoy 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night with your baby. Whatever the scenario, just don’t dare talk about it because more likely than not, everyone else in the room is struggling with it.
Leave your judgement at the door.
Use your poker face if need be. Mummy shaming is not ok. Whether it’s to hide your horror when everyone breaks out into a tune-less rendition of The Wheels On The Bus, or to stop your eyes bulging when someone you’ve just met proceeds to divulge all about her piles/stitches/post-birth sex life. It does happen and the best rule is just not to judge.
Find your tribe
Seek out someone with an item of clothing you covet. It’s only natural that us humans gravitate towards people who we have something in common with. So when you stumble into a baby group, sleep deprived and high on caffeine, the easiest way to avoid a billy-no-mates moment of terror, is to scan the room, identify someone with an item of clothing/shoes/bag you covet, and make a beeline for them. The aim isn’t to steal their prized possession, but it’ll give a you fair idea that you at least like something the same. Or it’ll be a conversation starter at the very least.
When you meet another mama, she will tell you her name. When you hear it, look her in the eyes, shake her hand and repeat her name back to her saying, “It nice to meet you ____.” Then silently repeat her name in your head five times while still looking at her. And when she tells you her kids’ names, look at the child and again, repeat their name in your head 5 times. Why? It is important to feel important and when you see her again… you should know her name. If you forget… that makes you human! Ask someone her name so you can greet her properly.
Know That Your Way Is Not Necessarily the Right Way
When it comes to anything, there is most likely more than one way to go about it – especially when it comes to parenting. I agree that you may be the best parents for your children. You may have it all figured out and what you do works great for you. This does not give anyone free reign to start acting like parenting police telling anyone who will listen the right and wrong way to parent. I cannot tell you how many times I overhear mums saying things like,”Can you believe they co-sleep?” or “He had a dummy until when?” or “That child is still in diapers?” Let me tell you… there may be more to these family’s situation than meets the eye. It is not for you to judge or to give your personal opinion of the right way or wrong way.
Never underestimate the power of a smile and helping your fellow mamas. If you see someone struggling with their pram or trying to carry something when their hands are full – help them. Pick up the bags in the puddle, move the shopping trolley out of the way. Whatever it is, helping other mamas goes a long way. Be helpful.
Having good chat
“But I have no clue what to talk about!”. We know more about the latest celebrity gossip than we do our own family and friends. When in doubt, fall back to being curious and ask questions that are a little bit different. You will start to get to know your new found friends on a deeper level and learn something new.
In the context of your mum friends, to help you get started, here’s a list of some of our favourite conversation starters:
- Where was the last place you had really good coffee?
- I’m on the hunt for a new show to watch. Have you seen anything lately that you would recommend?
- If you could pick any career in the world, regardless of ability/age, what would it be? Why?
- Is it more of a priority for your kids to be smart or kind? How do you do that?
- What’s a city, town, or country you’ve never seen that you’d like to take your kids to? What draws you to this destination?
- What’s your very first memory of life?
- If the house were on fire, and you could save just one of your possessions, what would it be? Why?
- What’s the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you when you were with your kids and what did you learn from it?
- What’s something you have seen, heard, experienced this week that touched you?
- What do you love most about being a mum? Why?
Repeat after me: Self care is not selfish.
Life is constantly happening all around us, whether we are ready for it or not. Good and bad things don’t always happen when we plan for them to, and sometimes it can be easy to slip into reaction mode especially when you have kids. You are the greatest authority on you, and it’s important to know yourself and anticipate what you need to get through this thing we all call life. And if there is anything I have learnt over the years it’s that you cannot care for your little ones if you can’t care for yourself.
Give yourself permission to not be okay.
You are strong and powerful and a total boss when it comes to raising humans, but that does not mean you are a robot. We all have feelings and needs that need to be honoured. It is okay to not be okay, it is okay to need to take a break, it is okay to be less than perfect. In the age of social media living, too many people are competing and comparing instead of turning inward. When life comes at you fast, give yourself permission to stop and catch your breath. Not only is it okay to not be okay, but it’s also okay to be kind to yourself! You are likely more okay than you think you are, and whatever you are is beautiful. Love yourself every day and as often as possible. You are enough.