This past week I hit a few bumps in my parenting road. Lockdown is definitely partly to blame, but also I’ve just been feeling the sheer exhaustion that is parenthood. I’ve hit a point where my energy is pretty consistently low, which isn’t a surprise really, being a single Mum to an almost 5 month old is basically having a 24 hour job, of course I’m going to be tired.
This one was a hard one to post, because it’s admitting that I don’t always feel like the perfect parent, and what parent wants to admit that?
On top of this extreme exhaustion, I found myself suffering from a little cabin fever over the last week. I spend the majority of my time in my relatively small 1 bed flat with my daughter, doing the same things over and over again. Feeding baby, changing baby, entertaining baby, squeezing in meals for me, sleeping (or trying to), and starting all over again. I adore my daughter, my daughter is my absolute world, but I struggle to believe that anyone would not start feeling a little stir crazy living life on repeat.
One particular day I also found myself feeling a real loss of self, and grieving for the ‘old me’. I’m told that every new parent will experience this at some point or another. If this is you right now, you seriously have my sympathy because it is hard. It’s such a tough thing to feel like you don’t know who you are because you suddenly have this being that is entirely, 100% dependent on you.
Things change when you become a parent. It’s as if all of your own needs, and who you are, gets tossed up into the air in a million tiny pieces. Everything but your absolute basic needs become second to this tiny human, and the rest of those pieces? You have to try to catch them and piece them back together however fits. It’s hard to try and juggle it all, and naturally there are times where this adjustment is overwhelming.
And to top it off this adjustment is seriously sudden. There’s no integration period where you get to build up to it. You can’t just go ‘oh dear, I need a couple of days off, let me just pause this parenting thing’. It’s sudden and it’s full time.
It’s been months since I’ve had a day to myself. Sometimes I seriously crave the idea of not getting dressed, collapsing on the sofa, sticking my feet up, and binging all day on a good (or even awful) Netflix series. But I can’t, because I am a full-time Mum. In fact, I’ve given up even trying to watch anything for weeks now, because I could never watch more than 5-10 minutes of a film or TV programme at a time, and it got frustrating.
I spent months unable to see friends because of lockdown. Now when I do see them, our conversations consist of 10% conversation and 90% talking to and playing with my daughter. Which is wonderful but as I’ve just learnt, can be really unhelpful when you’re feeling a loss of self. You can almost start to feel like you’re not important, even though you know this isn’t true.
I spend 99% of my time trying (and mostly succeeding) to entertain my daughter, she’s fantastic and so exciting. It’s a wonderful journey watching her babble, and laugh and learn. Still, I think it’s really easy to underestimate just how hard it is to try and entertain a small human, who can’t yet speak. I’m a natural with her but it’s still so damn hard.
I don’t count the times that she’s napping as time to myself. My daughter is not really a fan of sleep (I think she inherited this from me, oops). She has two 15 minute naps a day and she’s set to go. The rest of the time she’s full of energy and excitement, ready to play and learn. Those 15 minutes get desperately filled with trying to get a meal down my neck, or do a bit of housework that must be done.
When she finally settles at bedtime and I get time to myself, I find myself staying up too late doing anything that makes me feel a little like me again instead of Mum. I browse my phone, check social media, reply to my friends. I start online window shopping (even though I know I have no money and it’s totally pointless). I start writing some of my book. I find myself doing anything that I can because I kind of need it. The problem with this? I know I should be sleeping. So even now I’m not really resting, or getting me time, because I can’t get away from the niggling little voice in the back of my head that says ‘psst, you know you should be sleeping’.
I know that what I’m doing is totally normal. I once chatted to a midwife at a street party whose kids were older than my daughter by years. She still found herself staying up too late doing all the things she shouldn’t be doing because that’s when she got time for herself. She knew full well it wasn’t what she should be doing. Regardless of her profession, she’s still a parent.
I feel guilty admitting that sometimes I find myself envious of parents who aren’t single parents. The idea of having a partner who comes home at the end of the day and takes over so I can put my feet up, even for just 1 hour, sounds wonderful. And I must be honest I do find myself daydreaming about how amazing it would be to have a partner who could take the baby whilst I lie in on a weekend, or just have a shower of an evening without my baby on the floor with me.
I now realise how easy it is to feel guilty or to give myself a hard time as a new parent. Guilty for having moments where I wish I could stop and put my feet up. Guilty for not being able to think of something exciting to do or say to my daughter for a small period of time, even though I’m fuzzy-headed from exhaustion. Guilty for staying up late when I know I should sleep. Guilty for ever being at all envious of my friends who have partners. Honestly, there are endless ways to feel guilty as a parent.
The biggest thing? I find myself feeling guilty if I try to talk to friends about not feeling ok as a parent. It’s so easy to feel like I’m a failure because I’m saying that I’m not always 100% great. I know that’s ridiculous but it doesn’t make it any easier to talk about it.
I know it’s absurd to be aiming to be superhuman, but I’m sure I speak for plenty of other parents when I say that I feel like subconsciously that’s what I aim for. My little one is my world, and I want to find some way to reciprocate that for her, I want to give her the world and everything in it.
My experiences are definitely impacted by lockdown, and my feelings are no doubt exacerbated by it. As if parenting isn’t hard enough without a pandemic, huh?
It seems that finding the balance of being you and parent is a seriously tricky one to find. Hopefully i’ll find it one day. But for now here’s to all the other parents who are pulling their hair out, feeling guilty or like they’re a failure for normal human thoughts and feelings. You all deserve a gigantic pat on the back. Hang in there Mums and Dads, you’re all heroes.