Tick Tock: The countdown to baby no 2 is on

Why did you decide to have a baby? Was it because you had got married and it seemed like the next thing to do? Have you always dreamed about having children and just waited for the right time? Was it an accident and hopefully a pleasant surprise?

I’ve always known I wanted to have kids. But after we got married I felt a lot of pressure to have a child. Mainly because it seems to be the only thing people ask you once you have tied the knot. But in the end, the reason we started a family was all down to broodiness. I don’t get broody around other people’s children. In fact, pre-kids I was one of those people who frowned at your children running around the restaurant and thought they should be better behaved. Don’t get me wrong, I loved cuddles with my friends’ babies, but I was more than happy to give them back. [Aside: what makes me broody now is looking at pics and videos of the J as a baby – she was so cute!!]

So why did we have kids, you might ask? I had been on the pill for a good 10 years and decided to take a break (with a view to maybe have children in the next few years). Then, a few months later I went through my first period of broodiness. It was a weird primal feeling that I just really wanted to have a baby. It was like my body was telling me you should be having a baby now. But I ignore it and it went away. Then a few months later it came back again. The third time that it returned, I realised that I couldn’t ignore it any longer. So we decided to tentatively start trying and two months later we were pregnant. By then it was too late and we couldn’t change our minds!

Fast-forward to the present day and we have an almost three year old. I knew I didn’t want to have a small gap between kids, at least two years if not three. The thought of 2 kids under 2 fills me with dread. We decided that the J would benefit from having a sibling as she loves her younger cousin and is so sweet with babies. So, we would start trying for a baby last summer – that was the plan. But then my brother decided he wanted to get married in Fiji in the October. As I had terrible morning sickness for the first 4 months of my first pregnancy, I decided I didn’t want to risk having morning sickness on a long flight.

We changed our plan and decide to start trying while on holiday – only a few more months to wait. Luckily, a chance conversation with a friend about our trip and perhaps some joke about shagging in Fiji, I mentioned our baby-making plans and she brought up the Zika virus. After a trip to the doctors (who was no help and simply looked on the World Health Organization website!) and a fair amount of my own online research – much of which was misleading – we realised we would have to wait for 6 months after our trip to start trying to get pregnant.

There’s conflicting advice about Zika virus and conception. If you are pregnant, the advice is clear – do not go to places with a high or moderate risk of Zika. The risk of what can happen to your unborn child if you contract Zika is unthinkable and just not worth the risk. I was surprised that Princess Meghan went to Fiji (around the same time as us) while she was preggers.

But if you want to have a baby, the advice is a bit murkier: some sites say that if you show no symptoms you should wait 2 months, others say that you can have Zika with no symptoms, if you are a single person its 2 months but a couple is 6 months as there is a small risk that it can be sexually transmitted. Surely, if you’ve both waited 2 months then the disease has gone??? It doesn’t make sense to me, but to be sure we are waiting for 6 months.

The only problem with having that long to think about making a baby, you start to question your choices! Do we want to go back to the sleepless nights? Am I ready to give my body over to another human for 9 months plus? And so on. I tend to prefer spontaneous decisions that you can choose to regret later.

So the countdown is on – we are almost three months in to the six month ‘no unprotected sex’ period. I have to say, I am pretty desperate to get cracking, with very frequent broody periods yet again, but patience is a virtue. Perhaps we should see it as a blessing in disguise. By the time we potentially have the baby, the J will be 4 years old and on her way to school the following summer. She’ll be old enough to help out with her younger brother or sister and should understand what’s going on. Grump says that he clearly remembers his sister being born when he was 3 years, 10 months and that it was very special. While I was under 2 when my brother was born and have no memories of it.

As a final note: I’ve been doing dry January this month and have been offered FREE prosecco twice that I have turned down. It has been a tough time. I didn’t drink any alcohol in my last pregnancy and don’t plan on doing it with the next one. That means I’ve got Feb-April to get my booze on… perhaps my next blog post will be about mum hangovers!

Christmas traditions…is it time to break them?

What are your Christmas traditions? For Grump and I, who have been together for a looooooong time, we always go for a curry on Christmas Eve. Pre-kids we used to go to the pub with our friends and then off for a drunken curry at 10pm (not ideal for digestion or the hangover the next day, I know!). Since having the J, we have still had our Xmas Eve curry, but as a relaxed takeaway at home, once she had gone to bed. She is now coming up to 3 years old and I feel that this is the first year she really understands Christmas. So it got me thinking about traditions and what we could start with her.

The J is old enough to get excited about Father Christmas (FC) and receiving presents, but young enough to not really understand or question the mechanics of how it all works. This year, I plan for us to write a letter to FC and leave him a mince pie, a glass of sherry and a carrot for Rudolph (as I did as a child). FC will bring her a stocking on Xmas day (full of Pound Shop goodies) and then all of the other bigger presents will be from family members/friends. Why should a fictional character get all the credit for the lovely presents that other people have bought her?!

I’m not convinced on Christmas Eve boxes, as it is giving yet more presents and the J got very overwhelmed with the level of presents last year. This year we have cut back massively. For me, the magic of Christmas is spending time with people you love – and eating an obscene amount of roast potatoes. Perhaps in the future, we could watch a Christmas film together as a family on Christmas Eve? And when the J is a bit older, we can get her properly into eating curry! Annabel Karmel’s microwave chicken tikka just doesn’t cut it.

I know that FC is about creating Christmas magic, but all of this lying is very stressful as a parent. I’d be interested to know what you tell your kids about FC and also which presents are from him? To make things worse, everywhere we go we’ve seen an FC with a very fake beard. Even in Sainsbury’s! Do you say it is a regional representative of FC? The lies are spiralling. But, I’m not going to be that parent who tells their child the truth and ruins Christmas for everyone else.

So this year we are breaking our tradition as a couple and all going for an early dinner at a local pub with my parents, as we won’t see them on Christmas Day. The plus point is that we can walk there in under 5 minutes and they serve delicious food (and wine…)! While it isn’t curry, the world isn’t going to end because we have broken tradition. I’m pretty sure that Tom’s family will thank us on Christmas Day when we aren’t doing smelly curry farts all day, too!

While I am keen to start a family tradition with the J, I also don’t want to be tied down to having to follow through with something elaborate and expensive every year. Don’t even get me started on Elf on the Shelf – that little sod is not welcome in our house.

As a final note: don’t forget to explain to your little ones that they can’t open presents sitting under the tree. Last night, I heard rustling and caught the J opening one of the presents (ironically it was for her). I did tell her off, but she was a bit confused as to what she had done wrong. I might have forgotten that we hid the presents last year and had not made it clear that we don’t open anything until Christmas Day. Bless her heart!

Happy Christmas to you all, whatever your traditions are.

The mental load: what is it and why is it causing parents stress?

 

Recently, I read an article about the mental load and how often many mothers take this on. So what is the mental load? In basic terms, it is when one member of a household is the manager of things, such as chores, and has to constantly ask their partner to do things. While they may share the chores/childcare etc, one person takes on the bulk of the mental load. I found the article (link at the bottom) slightly biased and bit a ‘man bashing’, but it did resonate with me. I think it’s something that we as parents haven’t really considered as being a stressor in our lives.

I’ve always liked having a busy life. Ever since I was a child, I got bored easily and have always liked to keep my mind occupied, whether it was reading, drawing, chatting or watching TV. With my work, I really enjoy being freelance, as it involves juggling lots of clients and deadlines. As a part-time worker and mum to a toddler, managing my work-life balance has often been a challenge over the past couple of years, but I thought I had it sorted-ish. However, since September we added pre-school into the mix and it has thrown me off course!

I’ve struggled with being organised, getting anywhere on time and just the extra things I now have to think about: suitable items for show and tell, correct lunchbox options (yes, I have already been told off for this), labelling clothes, hats, gloves and wellies, cake sales, nativity costumes… the list goes on! This is all linked to the mental load.

I think the reason the article resonated with me is because in our marriage I take on the lion’s share of the mental load. Now, I’m not saying that Grump doesn’t pull his weight or help out with the J or at home – he is what my mum calls a ‘hands-on’ father, which actually means he just does his fair share of parenting. But, I am the one who is in charge of organising things. I ‘run the house’ and coordinate most of the drudgery-type chores. More often than not, I ask my husband to do things; sometimes because he will walk past the dry washing seven times and not think to put it away. Other times, he just needs a reminder to do something because he also has a busy life and a lot on his mind.

I have to admit that we have a cleaner who comes twice a month, because I hate cleaning with a passion. I feel slightly ashamed that I don’t do my own cleaning, but one thing I’ve learned as a parent is that my time is precious and if I have any free time I don’t want to spend it cleaning. But I organise when the cleaner will come, tidy the house in preparation for her to clean, get cash out for her and write her a note.

So back to the mental load. This isn’t just organising yourself at work, this is thinking about everything from which clothes need washing to meal planning, packing lunch boxes and bags, doing drops offs, organising childcare or booking in the car for a service. Not to mention planning and organising our social life and the J’s social engagements! All of the jobs add up to a huge amount of information that needs to be processed. No wonder I have trouble switching off before bed.

I think my recent problems with feeling overwhelmed by life are due to the pressures of running a house, organising a family and running my own business. I can’t say that this is true for every family and I don’t think it’s fair to say that this is always the woman’s problem, but for us, I certainly feel that I take on the majority of the mental load. Perhaps I need to simplify and get a 9-to-5 job at the same place each week or have fewer people looking after the J (there’s currently a rota of pre-school, childminder and two sets of grandparents). However, there’s one mum at my pre-school who has three kids at three different schools – so who am I to moan!

The aim of this blog post is to highlight that the mental load is an often overlooked stress of being a busy parent, whether you are a stay-at-home mum, part-time worker of a full-time worker. So maybe it is just about finding a balance. My brain is so full that I’ve reverted to that newborn baby stage of having ‘baby brain’ and I’ve started doing silly things like going out and leaving the kitchen tap on. Or completely forgetting important engagements. Something has to give.

I now tell people that if they text me and ask me to do something, they need to be very aggressive or remind me over and over until I do it. In fact, I’m trying to do things straight away to prevent me from forgetting. I’ve also started pinning emails in Hotmail, so they are at the top of my inbox when I open it. Currently, I’ve got a bill for the house alarm company to pay, a bill for the pre-school, a work lead to follow up, a music class to book for the J next term, and that’s not including the three different work projects that I need to crack on with. There are probably more things that I’ve forgotten, too.

So if you are feeling overwhelmed with life, then the mental load could be part of it. I don’t have an answer, but perhaps chatting about it with your partner or friends might help. One of my friends has synced her phone calendar with her husband’s (not great for me as I still use a paper diary), but perhaps asking your partner for help might ease the load or making firm agreements on who is responsible for what. I am certainly going to try sitting down once a week and going through all of the chores/jobs to see how we can share them out a bit more evenly. And if that fails… maybe hire a virtual assistant/nanny/housekeeper? If only I was rich.

To read the article that was my source of inspiration, click here.

And she’s back…

With a background in magazine journalism, I’ve always loved writing, but for the most part, my words have always been for work. I started this blog in 2016 because I had a baby and it was (and still is) hard and everything was different and huge, and I realised I had loads of things to talk about. It grew from conversations with my new NCT and mummy group friends about how we’re all going through similar things and we have similar worries and concerns, particularly measuring ourselves against other people and thinking we aren’t good enough parents or aren’t doing it ‘right’. I wanted to share some of my feelings about becoming a mum and I also wanted to make other people feel better by knowing that they’re not going through these things alone – many of us feel like this and we certainly aren’t all perfect parents.

So, on maternity leave and aching to get back to a bit of normality, I started my blog and wrote my little heart out for a good six months. My friends and family said they enjoyed my blog posts and then a few people I didn’t know started reading my blog. At this point, I had decided to go freelance rather than go back to my old job on an interiors magazine and I was in a mild panic about getting gainful employment, so I started thinking that I should try to make money out of my blog. But the more research I did and FB groups I joined about mummy blogging, the more insecure I got. Why wasn’t my blog as successful as other people’s blogs? There are hundreds and hundreds of parenting blogs out there and everyone seems to have endless hours to promote their blog on social media and write regular blog posts (and parent/work, too. Maybe they can afford a nanny?). I don’t have time for that shite! If I’ve got a spare five minutes then I will be Insta stalking or looking at pics of Tom Hardy (preferably semi-naked, cuddling a cute dog).

I was losing confidence in my blog and I started to write less and less, and feel less inspired. Being a parent, working part-time and just life, in general, made me feel overwhelmed. I had taken on too much freelance work and was working most evening and some weekends, as well as day-time shifts and looking after a full-on toddler. I only wrote a post every couple of months and then I just stopped. I have not written a blog post for probably nearly a year and the longer I left it, the longer I thought I couldn’t go back to it.

Then something happened the other night that changed my mind. My friend asked me: “Why don’t you write your blog anymore? I used to really enjoy it.” And I thought, why don’t I write my blog anymore? Do I not have anything to talk about? Well, it turns out, I’ve still got plenty of things to talk about as a ‘not-so-new’ mum. I may not be breastfeeding or weaning, the J mostly sleeps through the night now and we’ve almost mastered potty training, so many of the ‘big hurdles’ are finished, but there are loads more things to come.

Life is so overwhelming with a toddler, I constantly feel like I’m losing at something, be it work, juggling childcare, preschool or motherhood. So I’m going to start writing again. I’m not going to promise it’ll be every week, I’m not going to promise to be every month, but I’m going to start somewhere and that’s with this post.

I didn’t even write this blog initially. I dictated it onto the notes in my iPhone, because I didn’t have time to sit and write out a first draft. Inspiration struck when I was tidying up the kitchen and getting ready to take the J to pre-school. So my plan is to just see where it goes and fit it in when I’m feeling creative. It is not about making money or getting likes. It is just about me enjoying writing again and hopefully saying something that is vaguely helpful to other parents who are ‘muddling through’. Thanks to Steph for inspiring me and getting me out of my writing funk.

Women at work: SAHP or ‘working in the home’

Rebecca is my cousin and, since writing this post, she has had another daughter. She answered my questions last year about her decision not to go back to “work” (she feels strongly about the fact that most people do not see staying home and caring for your children as proper work) and I totally forgot about them (sorry Becky!), But, I want to publish them now in the hope that when she writes another guest blog about how things have changed since having two daughters you can see the difference in her answers!

Name

Rebecca Norburn

Current profession

Stay-at-home parent (SAHP) or ‘working in the home’

Town or county you live in

Sevenoaks, Kent

What was your profession before you had children?

Fundraising Consultant

Why did you decide not to return to work?

I didn’t have a job to return to! I was working on a fixed-term contract when I became pregnant with my first child, which in hindsight was great as it enabled me to work flexibly up until my daughter was born and then enjoy being at home with her without the pressure of a “return to work” deadline looming. Once she arrived, my husband and I looked at the cost and logistics of me returning to paid employment and decided that I would stay at home to care for her during her early years and look at setting up my own business in the meantime.

Briefly describe a typical day…

At the moment I’m six months’ pregnant, so trying to get periods of rest during the day is quite important. Luckily my daughter is a late riser and happy to come into my bed for cuddles and breakfast first thing, so I’m making the most of that before she starts preschool in September! We have certain classes and activities we attend during the week to socialise with other children and I’m fortunate enough to have most of my family living close by, so try to visit them frequently. She’s also at a childminder for a few hours a week, which gives me time to get important chores done and also, occasionally, a bit of me time. But I try to keep my daughter at home for her lunchtime nap to give her some consistency, and we’re usually at home for her suppertime at 6pm, followed by going to meet Daddy on his way home from the train station if it’s a nice evening!

What is the best part of being a SAHP?

Undoubtedly getting to spend so much time with my daughter and watch her grow up! I feel so lucky to be able to spend this precious time with her and I do try to appreciate it every day, even during the challenging bits. It’s a big advantage not having to juggle employment with childcare – I can take my daughter to the dentist or keep her at home whilst sick without having to worry about taking time off, for example. I know I’d find this incredibly stressful and am in awe of parents who have to manage this.

And the worst?

How little SAHPs are valued by our society in general. As someone who has always taken my independence for granted, it came as a huge shock to suddenly feel so disempowered – I can’t apply for credit or even to open certain bank accounts, for example, as I have no income. And it’s disheartening to be constantly asked when I’m “going back to work”, as though what I do now isn’t valuable or important enough to be fulfilling. Most of my friends are now back working full-time outside the home, and it can be very isolating when it’s just you and a small person day, in day out. Sometimes I feel guilty having a moan when I’ve had a tough day, especially when I know so many parents who would love to be in my position and can’t be. I do also worry about the impact taking this time out will have when I return to the workplace, and I definitely miss adult conversation and after-work drinks!

How many children do you have?

One daughter aged two and a half, and another child due in November. [NB: since writing this blog post, Rebecca has given birth to a second daughter. Her eldest is now 3 and her youngest is 4 months!]

What advice would you give to mums on maternity leave?

Start keeping a journal for your child – noting down my memories of those precious first years, my daughter’s milestones etc is the best thing I’ve done, as the stages pass so quickly!

Do you have any tips for other stay-at-home mums or dads?

Definitely be kind to yourself! Some days it may feel like all you’ve done is fed and soothed your child… and actually, that’s ok. I also try to get out for some of each day, to get some interaction with others and fresh air for us both!