I felt like Alice in Wonderland. At about 14 months, Filip started having moods that went something like this:
You won’t let me destroy the credit card reader? Massive MELTDOWN at the post office.
You won’t let me use a fork to scratch Teflon off the frying pan? TRAGEDY.
I don’t want your explanations, mother. I’ll just stretch out on a pile of frying pans and scream until your head flies off. And then I will come cuddle with you, mommy. Right when you feel like sending me off to very distant relatives and cuddling is the last thing you want to do.
I felt like a terrible hypocrite. Only two weeks previously I had written about how easy it is to practice Unparenting with a 1-year-old. And now this! What if we meet someone, and they think this is how things usually are with us? And then it clicked.
Someone replaced my child?!
Wrong. He just picks up on every little thing.
Somehow in this everyday hustle and bustle, I forgot to think about myself. I didn’t even notice. But Filip did.
As soon as I realized what was going on, all it took was tweaking a few small things. Then Filip was back to his happy, smiling self, seeing a car or a dump truck in everything. He used a wooden spoon on the frying pan and smiled at everyone at the post office.
Nevertheless, those few days brought me back to earth a bit. It was a great reminder of how things used to be.
… So I want to write about how it all began
and why it just won’t work without a happy mama. Also, I’d like to point out a few things about selfishness.
Instead of having the “best time of my life,”
it was a total nightmare
The year before that, life was quite different. I was alone with a crying baby, my husband was working late, and we didn’t have much of a family support system. I was inexperienced, tired and the first of my friends to have a baby. I was completely lost. Drowning, even.
And I felt even worse when my mom started telling me about when my brother and I were little: “It was super easy. You never cried, and I managed everything just fine – honestly, there was not much to manage!”
Great, thanks a lot! I have no idea who my boy takes after. And who do I take after since I struggle so much?
I felt guilty because I wasn’t enjoying “the best time of my life.”
My husband compassionately listened to my sniffling and tried his best to show his support: “We’ll find a babysitter so you can take a break. And a cleaning lady so you don’t have to iron my shirts on top of everything else.”
“Geez, I don’t need any help. I can do this!” … but at what price?
I knew he meant well. I was humiliated at the thought of somebody finding out that I (a young and healthy mama of a bouncing baby boy) was “so incompetent” that I needed help from other people...?!
So I just kept sinking deeper and deeper. I couldn’t sleep and blamed myself for pretty much everything. There were days when I didn’t even manage to grab a bite to eat, and washing my hair became a major accomplishment.
Having a baby made me feel terribly isolated, and I was slowly but surely sliding towards depression.
I must confess, a couple of times I totally “gave in” and tearfully confessed to myself that I am a terribly selfish person who should never ever have become a mama. That I had become that kind of a parent I’ve been trying my whole life not to become: I can’t fully be there for my child. I am not able to give him everything he needs. Total nightmare!
Unexpected support came just as I was about to give up
After many tough discussions at home and the first few weeks in the Unparenting course, I finally dared to try. It was that part of the course which talks about the importance of relaxing and recharging – and how to find the time to do so while taking care of your children – that gave me the courage to try. I listened really carefully: Nobody said that treating yourself means you’re a bad and selfish parent.
Instead, I learned that
parents who care about their own well-being are actually giving their children an amazing gift.
They are teaching them exactly what I was missing and what I’m trying so hard to learn as an adult.
So I took the leap. I found a babysitter to watch Filip occasionally and started going dancing.
And you know what? He suffered absolutely no trauma from being with somebody else once in a while. He even seemed to enjoy the change.
It was a real weight off my shoulders to realize that I don’t have to do it all by myself.
Just a few months later I came to the conclusion that I needed to go back to work. Working brings me satisfaction, and it’s really hard for me to live without it. Filip was less than a year old.
So many people told me that this is just wrong! That children need to be with their mother for the first three years. That I am simply a heartless mother.
Luckily, thanks to the Unparenting course, I came to realize this is not the universal truth. We just need to find a solution that works for both me and my child. So I’ve learned to look for these solutions with Filip. And so:
The trauma everyone predicted never came to pass
I now work part-time, and Filip happily greets both of his babysitters at the door, and he waves at me with a big smile from his stroller on the way out.
And I am as happy as can be.
I love both of my guys, the big one and the little one, and now I'm actually looking forward to the day when our family grows even bigger. And the result of my good mood is a peaceful and harmonious family.
“Being selfish” helped me realize something else:
Doing “what I should” can lead to unhappiness
This huge change made me understand one more thing. Most of us were brought up to “do what we should.” Which apparently means that we should put others first and meet their needs before we take care of our own needs. We were taught that the right order is: the children come first, then our partner, the dog, the goldfish, and then way down at the bottom of the list, me.
“Just make sure not to be selfish, spoiled, self-centered... A bad girl. Nobody would like me then.”
Sound familiar? But honestly, does it do us any good? We try so hard to make sure our children have everything they need that we forget about our own needs.
We end up tired and drained with no more energy to give.
And when our children roll around in the mud, we yell at them: “Stop it right now! How many times do I have to tell you that?” Because we already see the loads of extra laundry in our future.
How to turn a mountain into a molehill
That’s exactly me. When I’m up to my ears in family obligations, every little thing becomes a problem. I get irritated by crumbs on the floor, muddy clothes or sand in his hair. It drives me up the wall. I don’t want to deal with it. I already have enough on my plate.
However, when I take a break, go to work or go dancing, I return with new energy... I sweep up the crumbs and throw the muddy jacket into a washer.
When I get a break, the whole world feels brighter. :)
Every day now, Filip and I get to have our own time, and we are actually looking forward to seeing each other again. And my bucket is full again, so I can give to my husband and my son.
If you're worried they’re not going to love you anymore, try this at first
I know it’s not always easy. Not all grandmothers are willing to help or live close by, it certainly is not easy to find a reliable babysitter, and a family budget can only stretch so far. Just start with the little things:
Sit down once a day and drink your coffee while it’s hot. Or why not leave bedtime up to daddy sometimes and treat yourself to a relaxing bubble bath? Even little things can brighten up the day! Most importantly, you aren’t doing this just for yourself, but also for your child.
You don’t have to worry that they will stop loving you for putting yourself first. When you are rested and happy, your mood and energy are contagious. And people like happy people. Even if all they get for dinner is PB&J. ;)
Later means never... What can you do now?
Summer break is here, and there's no better time than now (even if you're reading this in the fall). ;-) I suggest creating a new tradition of radiant and happy parents who care about their own needs as much as they care about their children’s needs. Here it is: Do one little thing each day just for yourself
And if you're still not sure if it's actually okay to think about your own needs, let Unparenting support you the same way it supported me. It truly is worth it.