I was a great mum until I had kids. Isn’t that how the saying goes?
I didn’t know what kind of mum I wanted to be, but I had some idea of the kind I didn’t want to be. I avoided baby and parenting books because I didn’t want to risk getting into the dangerous mindset of ‘should-ing’ when my baby arrived: she ‘should’ be sleeping through the night by now; she ‘should’ not be allowed to cry for too long; I ‘should’ feel joy every moment of every day; I ‘should’ have done the ironing three weeks ago (I won’t lie on that last one, the pile is getting dangerously high).
I’m ten months into my parenting journey now and still very much have days when I don’t ‘feel’ like a mum. Oh, and I cock up on a regular basis more than I ever have at anything in my entire life.
These past months, where I’ve been covered in more bodily fluids than I ever thought humanly possible (the majority of which are not mine), I’ve come to the uncomfortable realisation that I used to be a mum-judger. Sometimes subconsciously, sometimes not, I was one of the smug childless that reckoned although having a mini human around all the time was hard, it couldn’t be that hard that all your usual standards and expectations for life go out the window.
I used to trot out the same old tropes. Tired? Sleep when the baby sleeps! Wish you had more time to yourself? Get a babysitter! Want more time with your baby? Take the full year maternity leave! Dummies? Not necessary! Snotty nose? Just wipe it! (I now know you can’t possibly keep up with the rate at which a baby’s nose runs.) TV? They don’t need it! Baby not sleeping? Just let them cry it out so they can learn to self-settle!
“Whatever stage of motherhood you’re at, I just wanted to say I’m sorry; I didn’t get it before. But I do now.”
But the truth is parenting decisions are never purely based in logic. I always assumed I’d be fine using methods like Cry It Out to teach my baby to self-settle. What an idiot – I don’t think there are any words accurate enough to describe the gut-wrenching, heart-piercing feeling of hearing a baby that isn’t a good sleeper crying for you at all hours of the night.
So now it’s time to make amends. Please consider this my better-late-than-never love letter to my fellow mums (and dads) that are living on a prayer, winging it like there’s no tomorrow, and generally just trying to make it through the day with minimal meltdowns on either side. Whatever stage of motherhood you’re at, I just wanted to say I’m sorry; I didn’t get it before. But I do now.
To the mum who says “I love my kids, but…”: Before I had children, this sentence used to make me uncomfortable. I felt that if it were true you wouldn’t say whatever it is you were about to. I don’t feel that way now. My advice? Find yourself some friends who won’t judge you when just go straight into “my kid was a prick today”.
To the mum who shouts: No one quite knows how to push your buttons like your kids. Especially when you’ve already tried asking nicely. Four times. In that moment, there’s not always time for a deep breath and a count to ten, even for the most patient of parents. Unless that deep breath is so you can shout louder.
To the working mums: I’ve been back at work a month and the waves of guilt, followed by relief, followed by more guilt, can be suffocating. I always knew I would go back, so I didn’t judge you before. The juggle struggle is real. From the hugely complex emotions that come with leaving my baby while I try to be myself again for a few hours every day to pumping at your desk, I can’t help but think a heads-up would have been nice, you know?
“Society has never been kind to stay-at-home mums, assuming you must lack all forms of ambition or sense of self. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
To the stay-at-home mums: It’s laughable I ever thought you had it easier than a working mum – it was a lack of experience and real understanding of what being a mum is on my part. To be completely honest, there were parts of maternity leave I struggled with, and some I downright hated. Don’t get me wrong, overall it was an amazing time and with hindsight I’m sure I would enjoy it a hell of a lot more the second time round, but I now know for certain I couldn’t do what you do. Society has never been kind to stay-at-home mums, assuming you must lack all forms of ambition or sense of self. Nothing could be further from the truth. You guys make parenting look easy, even when it’s not. Keep being awesome.
To the mum who gave up breastfeeding: I have never, and would never, judge any woman for this, if a baby is fed and happy what’s the point? But I did always wonder why. Breast milk is free, after all, and tailor-made for your baby. Plus, no time-consuming sterilising of bottles and making up formula in the middle of the night. Seemed like a win to me!
But let me say it now: BREASTFEEDING IS HARD. I confused ‘natural’ with ‘easy’. For the first three months it nearly broke me, physically and mentally, but it got easier as everyone I spoke to promised it would and I’m proud that we’re still going at ten months.
To the mum paying more attention to her phone: I know now you’ve probably had your eye out for baby-related danger since 4.30am. And that you’ve responded to excited toddler shouts of “Mum, watch!” 20 times in the last five minutes. Likely you’re Googling illness symptoms/arranging that playdate/checking development leap times etc. but you’ve more than earned a few minutes to scroll Instagram, reply to that WhatsApp, or order yourself (or, let’s be honest, the kids) some new shoes.
To the mum who shares everything on social media: Like every childless person on the planet, I used to despair whenever another kid picture popped up on my timeline. But now? I don’t mean to brag, but my daughter is the most adorable and beautiful thing on this whole planet, and it’s been difficult for me not to share these first few months of her life online. So, I get it. Slap on your biggest grins with your beautiful babies and be proud of what you’ve created. I know I am.
With love (and no more judgement),
P.S. To the mum who doesn’t vaccinate: I will never understand what possesses you to think you know better than ACTUAL SCIENCE. With any luck, and despite your best efforts to the contrary, you’re raising children that will be infinitely smarter and more engaged with the real world than you are, and they will choose to get themselves vaccinated as soon as they are legally able.
Angharad Planells is a former broadcast and magazine journalist turned writer and account director. Follow her on Twitter at @Welsh_PR
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