When I started this project, I hoped I’d find loads of different people wanting to join in, and I hoped that people didn’t think I was only looking for people with huge Instagram followings.
The truth is, I’m fascinated by people’s stories and finding out how other people get on with this parenting lark. It’s about surviving the everyday juggle.
I’m going to sound crazy now but I only just feel like I’m finding my feet as a Mother now (yes, I know, I’ve been one for 5 years and 4 months!). Let’s call it an extended probationary period. I think I’ve finally passed it.
Anyway, The lovely Tamsin got in touch to say she’d love to be included and she was so warm in her messages that I immediately knew we’d get on and I wanted to hear her story. Tamsin and her family live in beautiful Cumbria, so we met in the middle at Skipton Castle. Here’s her story!
You know, I knew I wanted a baby. I hoped I’d have more than one. I always wanted to be a mother, at 17, inventing my own imaginary life in which I lived in London with a husband called Angus and two children. He worked in publishing, had floppy hair. Lovely house, parquet.
It didn’t work out that way, although that can’t have come as a surprise, since that person, the Tamsin who married Angus, was pure bullshit. As it turned out, I’m real, and the two girls I grew in my uterus are, too.
I was so ready for my pregnancy and ready for the birth, and ready for my baby. But I hadn’t realised that babies have personalities, needs and wants that can’t be satisfied the way that you think you can. Or at all. This is partly about the baby jungle swing. The fucking jungle swing I carefully constructed and placed in the corner of my living room, next to my place on the sofa. I put my newborn daughter in it to soothe her off to sleep- after all, I’d already let her feast from my boobs, changed her and held her for quite a long time. It was time to eat my lasagne.
It wasn’t going to work out that way. I thought that I could have a baby and insert said baby in to mine and my husband’s life, with some upheaval, granted. The living room was the same, except it had a jungle swing in it now. Except the jungle swing didn’t work. It worked not a single bit. So, I picked her up again, my food lying uneaten.
That, for me, was my first and most enduring lesson. If you want to do this, if you really do, then you will not be finishing that lasagne. You are not the most important thing anymore. Somebody else’s needs are more important. It’s a genuinely harrowing reality to have to come to terms with.
Some women and certainly some men never do- even if they have children, and in fact lots of our childhood industry is really set up to ease this one reality. The industry tells us: here is a thing, and another, and another little thing, designed to make your child impact on your happy place less. Bottle feeding, sleep aids, dummies, rockers, vibrating chairs and the FUCKING JUNGLE SWING. For lots of people, maternity leave has its nice times, but if they had to do it all the time, they’d have a one-way ticket to shitsville.
The evidence is everywhere. I heard a woman on Radio 4 today say that she didn’t want to spend “9 whole months just being a mum”, instead she wanted to go back to her career, tout suite, a place and action which presumably bolstered her sense of self more than parenting. Now, I’m all for individual choice but the idea that you’re only productive when you go back to paid work just needs to stop. How many times for the seats at the back- YOU ARE NOT JUST A MUM- and I hate to break it to you, but you’re a mum for the rest of your life, however long you take “off work”. Mothers and Fathers raise children, they shape small humans- that’s fairly damn productive to me; the only difference is there isn’t much external reward- financial or societal.
Our daily lives have become logistically easier as my girls have grown; for example a reliable night’s sleep I now take for granted, and I don’t have to run my life in cycles of two hours- or endless routine and hiding in the coat cupboard with a chocolate mousse just to be alone and silent for 60 seconds. (“MUMMY WHERE HAVE YOU GONE AND WHAT ARE YOU EATING?”)
Because of my work with children under five, I see parents in the eye of that (shit)storm every day, only yesterday holding out my arms to a baby boy as his mum went to work, exhausted from another lively night by his cot. I’m writing this from a place of transition, waiting for another phase of later childhood to begin. At 8 and 5, Daisy and Audrey have stopped being those very young children. They still need me in a whole heap of ways, and I could argue even more in some ways, but that very intense phase of our lives is over.
Before you become one, don’t really know what sort of parent you’re going to be, (although you might think you do) and in my job I have seen them all- the over confident; the endlessly unsure, the ones who don’t actually like their own children and the ones who see no wrong in them.
Who I was going to be, I didn’t know, but I knew I wanted to go back to work full time in to a career that I felt defined who I was. In the event; I ended up leaving work entirely for nearly three years, and then only returning part time- when it came to the crunch, 9 months off was not going to cut it. I knew somewhere deep down, somewhere that defied logic that I had to make my child’s early life – her experiences and the bonds that build her brain- my focus. I had to let go of all the things that went with it- the income, the “having it all”, a bigger house, a better car, career progression. I swapped all of that for time with both my girls and fuck me, it’s worth it. Whether I should have had to, well, that’s a different conversation, but I stand by my choices.
I have always worn my heart on my sleeve as a girl and as a woman and I could never stand it when parents, through their own way of being, encouraged their children to push their emotions deep down, because they were unpleasant for those around them. Because of this, I knew I was going to be the parent who, though they loved their child more than the universe, lived authentically and honestly. I refuse, still, to bring my children up in a fairy-filled marzipan land where they don’t have to be brave or some things that they don’t like won’t happen. Being a girl isn’t all unicorns and farting glitter.
We’ve named feelings since they were tiny, and both girls didn’t and still don’t hold back on their feelings or their opinions for that matter. Sometimes emotions are unpleasant to experience and to explain, but then so is the sub-zero cheese section of the supermarket to a 16-month-old baby. Daisy was always sure to show me her feelings, loudly and with panache, and I had to learn to parent her, to absorb those feelings and to love her still, over and above all.
In those early days, I found I made decisions that took me away from who I thought I was. Actually, it was these seemingly maverick actions that took me closer to who I actually was- and was meant to be all along. For example, unusually for my peer group, I ended up co-sleeping with both my girls, quite by accident, because I knew that I wasn’t going to be the sort of parent who puts a stair gate on their bedroom door. I’m an Early Years Professional and I know how children’s brains develop. I couldn’t unlearn that because it suited me to have more “me time”. The truth of that really stung deep and it still does.
What would have helped in those manic early months? That someone would have told me some home truths. That someone would have told me “You will be tired”. You will in fact, be so tired in mind and body that you will have to make a deal with the devil to get through; and it will become harder to do those things you did before- like working, shopping, brushing your teeth or going to IKEA.
I think I would have punched someone if they had told me “Your needs or wants will never (and shouldn’t) come first again.” Oh- ho, I would have scoffed, Gruffalo-style, but only when they’re tiny- NO. I mean never. You will never get back to that place you were before you had children, and even if you get close to it, you will be changed. Your cells, your brain, your outlook on life, and upsettingly, your fanny.
The best thing you can do is to take a belt and braces approach. Build a different reality, accepting change and compromise as readily as you would accept a Jaffa cake and cup of tea on a rainy Tuesday in November. Some of those things you did before you may return to after a hiatus, finding they no longer give you joy. In my case: thongs.
Would I have listened? Nah. Especially not to “You will learn to value the little things.”
In fact, I came to relish the tiny victories a 25-year-old me would have dismissed as scraping the barrel of a life not worth living. For example, the victorious day my baby did not shit in the bath, the day when the ducks actually ate the bread I threw, and the day when I managed to play a game with your eyes closed- “sleepy kitties” was a perennial favourite chez nous.
When I was preparing to write this blog, Hannah asked me what the best thing about being a mother is; and for me it’s the progression. I think Children are like rivers: they never stop moving in mind or body, they move from one state to another seamlessly without us really noticing. They embrace new things, on the whole, without chagrin, as long as they have that solid little riverbed of love and security to run over. They carve out their own reality like the water does to stone and to be quite honest there is little you can do to change who they fundamentally are. This was an epic lesson for me- children have personalities from birth and the name of the game is to adapt or die.
What, then, do I think is the most important thing you can do? More important than baby led weaning, than video baby monitors, or restricting screen time, and all of the other right-on parenting we’re supposed to be doing? Here it is:
– Do your best to provide that strong emotionally bonded base for your babies (and children) and you will never regret it. Never. All of the rest of your child’s life will be built on it. Be that safe place for them, even if you’d rather be downing the flaming sambuca.
– Reflect on yourself and your journey, often, and take time to be still. Follow their needs (different from wants) and find the joy, however small. Be kind to yourself through it all. Midget gems, soluble vitamin C, Diet Coke and the song ‘Pure’ by the Lightning Seeds got me through some dark times.
This could come out a bit glib, I suppose. But I don’t mean it that way – because I know how hard this is, in fact I’ve lived it. To build and work on that relationship is the hardest thing a human can do. It constantly evolves, tests you and requires self-work. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do.
Increasingly, this relationship must weather all sorts of storms that threaten it, as individual as the mother herself…post-natal depression, poverty, or on the flip side, pressures to earn, to consume, to have more. But as l look back on those very hard days where I had £80.40 a month to call my own, I see that I didn’t have more, but I was becoming more. And more still, I was creating and forming my daughter’s lives- not just gestating them but raising them. I still am. I’m present and I’m true for both my girls, a solid touch stone of love, albeit one that says ‘fuck’ all the time. But nobody is perfect, and it’s bloody hard, all of it.
My quest to find the joy in the seemingly mundane only becomes more relevant the older my girls get; like last week Daisy tried to set up a sarcasm club at school instead of joining the Brownies, or when Audrey wrote a letter to all of the poo’s she’s ever done entitled “Goodbye to You, Poo” and then flushed it down the toilet.
I don’t know how I’m going to parent my girls as Pre-teens or teens, because I’m not there yet, I’ll just have to fly by the seat of my pants. I’m sure I’ll have to face some uncomfortable truths along the way, like global warming and the surprisingly high number of calories in a digestive biscuit. Above all, I know there will be joy along with the hard stuff, even if it is hard to find.
Tamsin, THANK YOU so much, I found this such a refreshingly honest read….and it gave me a bit of food for thought as I continue to parent my 3 and 5 year old. You’re absolutely right – it’s an ever changing feat. Once I think I’ve got the hang of it they go and change…..but it’s one hell of a fun ride!