I am not alone in believing that Nature never intended for women to raise their babies on their own. There are modern day accounts of African women who were brought up in a tribe-like environment and breastfed by one of several lactating women within their extended family. I believe that we were meant to share all parts of child rearing.
Modern day mothers can often feel exhausted by the daily exertions of bringing up one or more children. They can experience trouble with breastfeeding and find it hard to juggle all areas of their lives. Why is child-rearing so much more stressful for us than our mammalian relatives? The Gorilla, the closest to us, lives in closely-knit communities who work together in a family unit. It is the same with most animals, and yet the human being, who is meant to be at the top of the food chain, often thinks that if they can’t manage on their own, they are a failure. In fact this is a new phenomena mainly concentrated in the big cities. If we look at our history, the importance of the family unit has been very strong. The advent of easily accessible, affordable methods of transport, and careers for women outside of the home, however, have changed this for a lot of people. With women’s need to feel self-fulfilled and financially independent, many of us have moved away from home and cut ourselves off from our most important resource of support and security: family. I envy those of my friends whose parents are at hand to babysit on demand, and love having their grandchildren to stay. To have the odd night of uninterrupted sleep, and the freedom to explore your own interests without having to fork out money every time you leave the house, would be so liberating.
However, I think modern day perception has become distorted. It seems fine to have grandma over every day to look after the kids, all the way up to teenage years, but a nanny? Well, that can be seen as an unnecessary extravagance. Unless parents go to work, surely they are more than capable? And yet working parents have time to themselves every day, on their commute to and from work, at lunch, or just time at their desk, without being demanded upon by their kids. So when are stay-at-home parents, whose families aren’t at hand, meant to have some time to themselves? Luckily it is very acceptable to send your child to nursery school. This is perhaps because children enjoy the companionship of other kids their age, learn simple skills and are introduced to learning, away from their parents in a safe and happy environment. Yet this ‘acceptability’ does not sit comfortably with me.
There is nothing wrong with a parent wanting to look after their children on their own. In fact I embrace it 100%, and do it myself. But I need a bit of time for me, as well, and I don’t have family around the corner who I can call upon – I know I am not alone. Being a full-time mum is wonderful but it is also exhausting, and we have no holidays. What people without kids consider a holiday, parents see as great fun but relentless, because without school or nursery we get no time off. What doesn’t help is that we can also be martyrs, insisting on doing everything ourselves; and of course there are the financial restrictions, which means paid help is not an option for everyone. The result can be that we can forget about what’s important to us.
Once women have children, especially if family members or willing close friends are not around to offer help, their own interests can go by the wayside. They forget about what they used to love doing, and do not prioritise their intimate relationships because it all costs too much money in childcare. It can be hard to justify expensive help to sit on the sofa and read a book, have a snooze, go swimming or watch your favourite film. Many people would feel guilty and most of their friends would probably frown upon it (weirdly, especially those who are also mothers). It is so wrong.
If you were asked, “Who do you think is the happier and healthier person: someone who looks after themselves, works hard but also makes sure they relax and does something for themselves at least twice a week; or someone who works hard, is always tired, never has a moment to themselves and feels guilty because they have a short temper?” which one would you choose? So many mothers I know would put themselves in the latter category, and yet, you write it on paper and pose the question in this way, and you’d think you were working for some tyrannical boss!
Ladies, (or gentlemen!) if you are the main carer of your child, TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF AT LEAST TWICE A WEEK. If you are reading this as pregnant mother-to-be, mentally decide NOW to do this. We are NOT MEANT TO DO THIS ALL ON OUR OWN! Weeks or even months can go by before you suddenly realise how frazzled you are, from tiredness and a sudden lack of personal identity. People would probably advise that if you even start to feel this way, make time for yourself immediately. I say, make time for yourself, BEFORE you feel this way! Don’t forget the impact hormone imbalance will have on you when you give birth. If you feel happy in yourself, emotionally you’ll be more balanced, and balance is one thing which everyone strives daily to achieve. Parents find it particularly difficult because they are always putting their children first. As a pregnant woman, you can mentally prepare for this and promise yourself, that for the good of you, your child and your partner, you will endeavour to keep up with the things you really enjoy. If you don’t have family at hand, and financial restrictions mean you can’t pay for help, try asking friends, you might be surprised how many of them would love to look after your baby. If that is not an option for you, talk to your local health advisor or social worker. The Community is there to help you, you don’t have to be alone.
You can also do a surprising amount with your baby. Newborns are very mobile and sleep a lot. As they get a bit older, it can be a bit more tricky to take them out and about, depending on how good they are at sleeping ‘on the run’. So make the most of it while you can, if this is something which is important to you. My husband and I are quite sociable people and love to travel. So, when our first was tiny, we travelled a lot and accepted invitations whenever we could take him with us (breastfeeding does tie you to baby!). By getting him ear-protectors we could even take him to gigs or music events which allowed children. A lot of people like to slow down and not socialise as much when they have kids, which is fantastic if that suits you, but if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.
Live your life and be happy. Your kids will be happy just to be with you.
And remember: if you do feel lonely, isolated or frustrated, reach out for help. We are not meant to do this alone and isolation with a newborn baby can bring on depression. It is important to acknowledge how you are really feeling rather than putting on a brave face, because if you don’t, eventually the whole deck of cards will come tumbling down. Look after yourself, do things for yourself, and remember, every now and again, to put yourself first.
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