Parenting and Loneliness… how can you be so busy, yet so lonely? (Part 1 the baby and toddler years)

motherhood

I was watching a bit of BBC Breakfast, (seriously Channel 4, how many times can you expect people to watch Everybody Loves Raymond and Frasier?) They were running a piece about loneliness in parents; their particular focus was on new mums.  It got me thinking about my own experiences; even though mine are now 7 and 6; the issue is still a factor for me, but in different ways.  I am in no way offering advice about how to avoid loneliness in parenting, as I truly believe that as a parent you do whatever works for you to get through each day.  I am just going to talk about how it was for me.

As with many women, I set off to work as soon as education finished.  Much of my work life was in the 9-5 (more like 8-6 these days), Monday to Friday, but I also worked shifts. Even during a period of illness, work supported me and was still there in the background.  For the 6 months I was off work, and 12 months part time afterwards, I was so focused on my health: I still had the complete freedom to do what I wanted, whenever I wanted, so I didn’t feel the loneliness.  I think the key to my issue is freedom; everything is so tied to a routine with parenting that you can’t always find friends, or family, or places open at the times when you need them.  24 hour shopping is great, but I am not sure dragging a screaming baby around Tescos at 2 in the morning offers much relief.  Often it was just me and her, while Dad slept to prepare for his ridiculously long work day ahead of him, or was at work.  (His company chose to send him on a 2 hour each way journey to a project just after DD1 was born… cheers for that one.)

My first maternity leave started a bit early for me. I have always enjoyed the freedom (there is that word again) and variety of contracting / temping, so I chose this employment route during my pregnancy.  Foolishly, not realising that employers were not keen to employ heavily pregnant women.  I even met one manager who told me quite openly that she avoided employing parents as much as possible, as she found them to be unreliable.  She was a mother, so I hoped there was an element of humour in the comment, but I am not sure there was.  To be fair on the employers, I was pretty pathetic during my first pregnancy, if I could have wrapped the bump in cotton wool and stayed in the security of a bubble, I would have.  It’s a story for another time, but I was convinced that my baby would not come home with me.   I didn’t really know in what way I thought this would happen, but it meant that I was terrified throughout the whole pregnancy.  So for me the loneliness set in early, I didn’t have that lovely work social circle to wave me off to maternity leave.  My own friends were either busy with their children, or their work / social lives, so I started to feel before DD1 was even born, that my life was in for a big change.

She arrived, beautifully healthy, and came home to the initial buzz of visitors, medical appointments, phone calls, messages; all the stuff that happens after the first one, but is much less enthusiastic the 2nd time round.  Then her Dad went back to work and the door closed to silence.  I was so used to being busy and having my day planned out with either work or social life, this sudden void appeared in front of me.  There was constantly something that needed doing and a routine soon started to form, but it was nothing like the routine of going out to work and most of all, much of it was just the 2 of us.  I had worked from home in the past, but it was not something I really enjoyed; far too easily bored and distracted, I needed the work environment to keep me going.  I bonded really well with my first baby and felt that total glow and euphoria that I had heard about.  She was my world and I could not contemplate leaving her to go back to work, so in some ways I was glad that I did not have a definite end to the maternity  leave.  However, I did go back to work after 11 months, already pregnant with the 2nd, but it was a new job, so I didn’t get the chance to form a whole new circle of friends before going back on maternity leave to do it all again.  Work was different after babies; I felt different.  I clock watched constantly, fearing that I would not be able to get my work done by the time I need to leave for pick up.  I worried about getting the call to say she was ill and I needed to collect, or having to make the call saying I couldn’t come in because she was ill.  I was so relieved when maternity leave 2 started as I didn’t need to worry anymore.

It might be useful to say at this point that I have always been a shy person and struggled socially, but with a drink I could usually relax and have fun.  But having children seem to magnify the shyness immensely and it became a barrier to forming new friendships.  I’ve worked in many male dominated industries and often found myself surrounded by male work colleagues, though I have social circle of women, I felt less as ease with women who I didn’t know, so entering into Mum territory was daunting.

Antenatal Groups:

I was lucky with  my baby group; I can’t say I learnt any amazing insights into the world of parenting, but I met people who were going through the same thing as me.  Several of them are still friends now, initially a small group of us regularly met up, and through social media stayed in touch throughout the lonely times.  We did a group baby massage class at our homes.  We all went to get our clay hand and foot prints done together.    I didn’t sign up to the baby classes for the 2nd pregnancy, so 2nd time was a solo affair.  I went off to baby massage classes with just me and DD2.  We decided clay was way too painful, so chose to paint the hand and foot print, but we did this as a family the 2nd time.  I kind of wished I had done the baby group again as I feel  both me, and DD2 missed out on new friends.

Baby / Toddler Activity Classes – way too many to name and believe me I tried a lot!

I joined every baby group / class that I could find, despite my baby really not being up for it.  Several of them breathed a sign of relief when me and DD1 left.  She was a very lively little person with little or no respect for the structure of the class.  Baby swimming was particularly painful, screaming really echoes around those small pools they use for baby swim classes.  Needless to say, we did not get the beautiful underwater swimming photo; we still wouldn’t get that!  A later attempt at swim classes went equally badly as she howled and groaned her way through the classes.  She actually groaned constantly for the full 30 minutes, doing a sort of zombie impression, for 12 weeks. Strangely, the other mums were not that keen to enter into conversation with the psycho child’s parent.  It got worse as she got more lively and disruptive; I could just feel the disapproval in the room as my child led the others astray.  I remember she had a thing about fire extinguishers and was drawn to them wherever we went, this often started a toddler stampede as they all rushed to see what the fuss was about.  If she wasn’t hunting down fire extinguishers, she was standing on my knee nose to nose; personal space is not something she knows much about.

The main issue with baby/toddler classes is that they nearly always run only during school term times and school hours.  That is because many of us parents discover that sending our children to school does not actually provide free childcare, it actually increases the cost of childcare, so we try to set up work around school hours.  I too offer baby massage classes during term time (shameless plug there).  But what to do between 3 pm and bedtime became quite an issue for me.  At least with school holidays, I found that some of my friends were more available – being an older mum meant friends with school age kids already.  Another obvious issue was the cost, I could really only justify a few paid activities a week.  I can’t say that I made any friends through these groups, but for the time I was there, I felt that I was providing appropriate sensory stimulation and sometimes got a little bit of conversation out of them.  I quickly worked out who I had nothing but baby talk in common with, and those that I could chat freely about life in general with.

Free Baby Groups

These are tricky to find, but well worth it if you can find a good one.  Local baby and toddler are a great way to meet your future school gate friends, but sadly, neither of my children really took to the groups and my shyness meant I really struggled with the social side of things. I loved the anonymity of the local library ‘rhyme time’ classes though, I could come and go as I pleased, and if the children became energetic, I could just duck out without being noticed.  Sometimes, people chatted, but often there would be companionable silence between us; it was just nice to get out.

Which brings me to friends:

Relationships change post children; I had always been the late one, or the one to cancel because I had some crisis or other, but suddenly the tables turned. The most organised friends were often late, or cancelled, or just couldn’t be pinned down to a plan.  Childless friends continued their child free life and weren’t always too keen to meet with child in tow.  Their Dad is super proud Dad and was happy to drag his children along to meetings with his childless friends, needless to say these meetings became less and less frequent.  Childless outings are still tricky as we don’t have readily available childcare, so often the planning required makes it all more effort than an exhausted body can cope with.  I was sometimes relieved when friends cancelled; I was so busy trying to appear to be supermum that I never wanted to cancel and look like I couldn’t cope.  There were a few occasions where I went through the endless prep required to leave the house with baby, forced the wriggly one into the car seat, then got the text to cancel.  I stored up those ones for later revenge when I no longer cared if I looked like supermum or not.  I think I have become a massive baby / children bore though, what did I used to talk about before I had children?  Must remember other topics exist.

Exercise

I am not a buggy fit mum, as previous mentions of lycra in my posts might suggest.  But I am so jealous of those beautiful fit, post baby women, looking fit and healthy as they whoosh around the park with a calm baby in a buggy.  I would have looked like a sweaty wreck as I pushed a screaming child around the circuit, begging for oxygen.  I did not buy the required buggy for said exercise, mine weighed a ton and it was work out enough just getting it in and out of the car.  However, it had the car seat attachment which was a saviour, being able to transfer sleeping baby from car to buggy and vice versa saved my sanity, it gave me the freedom to not care when nap time was, or rush home for bed time.  Needless to say I have one child that is a terrible sleeper and still wakes us up most nights, so maybe I should have cared about naps and bedtimes!  Why is exercise so expensive though?  Pilates and yoga classes seem so appealing until they tell me the cost.  I am there with my free YouTube options all alone in my living room, probably causing untold damage from the lack of health and safety.  I think gym memberships should include free creches, even if only for a limited time.

Work

For some a necessary evil, for others a joy and escape, and for me it is just something that is what it is.  There are no rules on this one; I did a long maternity leave, followed by a shorter one, after which I tried to set up my own business, I’ve done self-employed, unemployed and here I am now, waiting for employment to start.   There was huge pressure to go back to work after babies, which still remains an issue as finances get stretched tighter and tighter.  If I had sat down and worked out what goes into providing childcare, I would have had an idea of what the costs would be, but it came as a huge shock just what I would have to pay for 2 children to be looked after.  I had just assumed I would go back to work and be this be this super organised working mum.  But I discovered while pregnant with DD2 that the cost of this would be a big percentage of my salary.  Hence the attempt to set up  my own businesses; still a work in progress.  The start of my self employed journey provided me with a great network of colleagues all in the same situation as me; new mums setting up a business.  There was study and training to fit in, along with the work required to start a business.  It was a fantastic loneliness buster and if only it had worked out as a business plan, life would have been much simpler.

I could ramble on for hours and will write another one about loneliness and the school mum another time.  I want to end by saying that being a mum is by far the best job I have even had, it provides more joy, reward, excitement and variety than I could ever have anticipated.  It comes with loneliness, anxiety and stress, but for me it is a job that teaches me something new every day.  I can handle the loneliness because I know that whatever I do, it is for them and they are still at that lovely age where they appreciate me!

Children’s Party Entertainers and The Big Man in the Red Suit.

It is that time of year again when men and women don the red suit and entertain the children.  Add to that, the Christmas party with the children’s entertainer, and for my children you have agony and ecstasy all in one package.  A terrifying performance, followed by sitting on a complete stranger’s lap, ending in the receiving of a present (the ecstasy part).

I have never been a huge lover of parties; dancing is my thing, so if I can dance, then it’s a party.   But if I have to make conversation, then copious amounts of alcohol are required for me.  I love a chat, but as soon as I feel that I have to chat, then my conversation well runs dry.  There have been many work Christmas parties and New Year’s Eve parties over the years, some painful ordeals, others, more fun than they should be, with just the right amount of party guilt the next day.  I am a bit scared that my children will follow my lead and become social hermits, unless the option of dancing until they have blisters is on the cards.  Anyway, I am leading myself down tangent boulevard, so back to the children,

Yesterday the children were all dressed up in their unique mix of charity shop style and stained clothing – beautiful party outfits gather dust in our wardrobes, whereas the charity shop finds for school dress up events get loved to bits.  DD the 2nd loves her clothes to be 1 to 2 sizes too small, with just the right amount of staining to show how loved the item is.  While DD the 1st just mixes the most amazing combos of clothing styles.

We arrived at a party arranged by a local club that their Granddad belongs to (all the names changed to protect the not so innocent).  The children knew no one, which is always a bad start for DD the 1st.  The entertainer was in full swing with her microphone head-gear in action, singing tunelessly to the Christmas sound track.  Embarrassingly, the oldest child made a run for it and had to be subtly restrained and dragged back into the room with the promise that we would not leave her side, with Granddad looking on, expecting joy and exuberance.  One of the tallest children in the room then spent the entire ‘performance’ sitting on my knee, only transferring to her Dad’s knee, when the threat of DVT became real.

The entertainer had an energy I can only dream off, not stopping performing for the entire party.  She was possibly the wrong side of the inappropriate line for some of the performance, but many of the children lapped it up.  She made no secret of her ability to easily transform her show into the adult version, with some very old style innuendos thrown in at every opportunity.  At one point she bent over her box of props in her gold sparkly trousers repeatedly asking if we were looking at her bum, whilst wiggling said bum, saying, “This is one for the grandads.”  Our Granddad was present and I didn’t feel much enthusiasm for the sight, from his corner of the room.

There was much reference to a duck that never actually made an appearance, using her duck caller, she tried to summon the duck from the back of the room, telling the adults to show some enthusiasm and help with her search for the duck.  This was a bit of a tumbleweed moment as no one joined her in her fruitless search.  She decided later in the show to try this part of the act again and was met with similar disinterest from the crowd.  I almost felt a bit sorry for her at this point, had I not lost all feeling in my legs, I might have gone to search for the duck myself.  We were handed flyers at the end that referred to a game on her website, where we got to search for the duck.  The duck mystery remains though, as I was not even vaguely tempted to try the game.

There were constant fart and nose picking jokes throughout the show.  Dont get me wrong, I know the impact of a fart joke on children is major, but I think even they were beginning to wonder if this woman just had serious dietary issues.  A cute dog puppet was brought into play; everyone loves a puppet, right? It was fluffy and even got my 2 laughing, but it was a bit obsessed with sniffing its own bottom.  This joke was slightly overplayed, but the kids were giggling by this point, so I started to feel some relief.

The trick with the magically appearing lights appealed to both me and the children; got to love anything with sparkly lights.  This was the best part of the show and contained almost no fart jokes.  However, there was another tumbleweed moment when she decided to roll up a piece of paper, winking, saying, “Here is one for those of us who went to college.”  The visual on this was her pretending to roll up and smoke a joint (well I can only imagine that was what she meant, as how could I possibly know!!)  Getting little or no reaction, she went for the same joke a second time, making it even more obvious she was smoking the rolled up piece of paper.  Second time was met with even less reaction than the first.

The levitation behind her flying carpet trick was made hilarious, as she struggled to get her boots back on, after taking them off to make it look like she flew.

I know I am being a cynical old grown up; the children seemed to genuinely enjoy show, it was just us grumpy old adults that perhaps weren’t feeling it.  She was quite assertive, to say the least, and had no problem telling off the ‘grown ups’ for talking through her show, as well as asking for volunteers who ‘wouldnt go running to mummy.’  But, despite some giggles, I think that overall, my 2 found the whole experience quite terrifying.  In much the same way that they have felt with the entertainers of previous parties.  There was the mad magician balloon man, who would have looked at home at Glastonbury, a lovely lady, who is very well know in these parts and puts on a great show, a balloon blowing clown, as well as one I hired myself who just danced and played simple games.  I would have thought the dancing lady would have been a hit, but these 2 little people are a tough crowd.

Is it just my children though?  Is it possible that us adults think we know what a child might find funny, think one size fits all and then just go for it in an energetic way?  They are brave, enthusiastic, funny and clever people, who do a job that I would never in a million years be able to, but is it for everyone?  I’m not so sure, or at least I hope that it is not just my children who are weird.

So the entertainer took a break while party food was served.  Then it was time for the man in the red suit.  It was all very nicely done, with a small firework display, followed by a fairy lighted golf cart driving across the grass, to the delight of even my children.  It all took a quite a while and the anticipation was almost too much for some of the children, but my 2 too stood firm and waited for their gifts to arrive.  Eventually in walked Santa, ringing his bell, complaining that he had to walk most of the way and sounding ever so slightly embarrassed to be there.  He was a man of few words, so no lap sitting chat was required to get the ultimate reward of the pre-bought presents (our gifts were provided by the parents /grandparents prior to the party)  Needless to say the entertainer had to make reference to Santa’s very full sack; to little, or no response from the audience. Then followed a roll call of names as children walked up to pose for a photo and collect their gift.  Youngest child initially whispered that Dad needed to go with her, but I think once she realised she could grab and run, she went solo. It is a lovely tradition that I want my children to enjoy, but when we talk to them constantly about stranger danger, can they really be confident with this stranger in a red suit?  As he was leaving the room, the rather awkward Santa had no problem sitting himself onto the lap of one of the men in the crowd, making me wonder if perhaps this man might not be the real Santa after all.

santa

From the first interaction with Santa at a young age, my children have cried, squirmed and trembled their way through the experience, driven on only by the promise of a gift at the end of the ordeal.  Now, almost to the end of believing, I am not sure they are ever going to relish the experience and see it for the true childhood joy that it should be.  Have I let them down in some way, or it is just something that we can’t force?

Counting the Facebook post likes – what message am I sending to my children?

So today while casually checking out Facebook, I found myself comparing the pitiful likes I now get to my Facebook posts, with those of my friends.  What is this sad and pathetic person I have become?!!  (To be fair I have never been someone who posts regularly, when I do post, I don’t give much away, so it is not a surprise that people lost interest). Time to accept that my life has moved on and deal with it.  But then I started thinking about how my older daughter likes me to post a photo of her and then constantly nags me to go back and check the number of likes.  I try to explain that I don’t get many likes anymore and though my virtual friends were all once real friends and are real people…. honestly; we have sadly lost touch and even the power of Facebook can’t keep the now virtual friendships alive.  Over the years, I have done many jobs and moved house more times than I can remember, during those nomadic times I met so many amazing people, who I felt lucky to call friends.  Sadly, distance and lifestyle separated us and the promises to keep in touch and meet up came to nothing.  Life took its twists and turns and found me here.

Initially I thought Facebook was this amazing way of keeping in touch with people and what was happening in their lives.  To start off with, we regularly liked each other posts and made occasional comments, but then the un-friending began and my number of friends started to decrease.  I can’t blame them as we went our separate ways, it doesn’t devalue the experiences and friendships we had, it is just life.  To be fair, I unfriended a few myself when the girls started checking out my posts, as the language could be a bit lively for little eyes.  I made new friends in my new lives each time a new adventure started, some joined me on Facebook, but some didn’t. I realised a few years ago that I had become this voyeur, watching people living their lives and wishing wistfully I could be there too on their travels. Now, I am fully aware that people post the highlights, some bravely post the low lights, but they are a rare breed.  I have joined many a local Facebook group, as the shared information can be really useful, but it is shocking how these ‘brave’ people choose to mock, abuse and threaten people from the safety of their invisibility cloak that is social media.  Why people feel the need to be so offensive and cruel is a mystery to me.

I have joined some of the other social media ‘clubs’; Twitter is not for me, I just can’t be witty in that few characters, or at all!  I dip in and out of Instagram as I love taking photos, that one seems a bit less invasive, as it is just a picture with a short caption.  I feel that pictures offer less interpretation than words, so it is more simple.  Snapchat is a huge favourite in this house as the girls are always on the camera, but I purposefully have very few friends on it, so that they can’t publish the hideous photos they make of me.  Me with a terrifying pumpkin head is just not what the world wants to see. I am keen to stay in touch with technology, as I want to be able to understand the world my children are growing up into, but when the virtual social circle is rapidly shrinking, it makes it hard to keep up.

I want my children to be the whole package; love the simple pleasures of the real world, enjoy the hands on experiences, as well as delving into cyber world.  Mostly though, I do not want them to fall into the trap of peer pressure formed from these unrealistic expectations of social media. If a post is not liked by people on Facebook, does that take away your experience?  Does it mean that you enjoyed something less because cyber world didn’t value it?  I have always been so concerned with what people think of me, but realistically, are they even thinking of me at all?  If they are, then great, but what they are thinking is all them and nothing to do with me.  If I can do anything at all in this minefield of parenting, it will be to bring them up to love themselves and not crave validation from others.  Social media is an amazing tool and brings the world together, but is it real?