Mary and Eleanor (1 year on)

Name: Mary  

Child: Eleanor, 2 years 

Location: Heaton Norris, Stockport
Previous blog entry 1 year ago (click)

Life since the last blog post: I’ve now finished uni for the time-being (I was a term into an FdSc in Ecology and Conservation Management when I got pregnant and carried on part time once I’d had her). I finished with the highest grade in the year group which I’m massively proud of considering how hard I worked for it and how hard earned that work time was. 

I’ll go back in a few years when I have fewer demands on my time, but right now I’m being a full-time mum and totally loving it. It’s a mix between immensely hard work and a social whirl, as we have to plan one social activity each day to stop me going stir-crazy and give Eleanor some companionship with other children. Now she’s a bit older we can do things at home, like baking, arty stuff, gardening, etc which I enjoy too. I think the secret to being a happy mum is to enjoy the things you’re doing with your child. Otherwise you get disconnected from each other in your separate activities and I think disconnection is where behavioural problems start.

Motherhood since last being on the blog: The second year has been much easier than the first. After the first year most of my friends from antenatal class went back to work and I found myself a bit bereft. I needed adults to be with and I felt Eleanor needed the company of other children. It was probably a hidden blessing though because it got me out and about, trying to find like-minded mums. Sometime in those few months I discovered La Leche League, who were wonderful because they were totally on board with my parenting approach. Through La Leche League I’ve met some good friends and discovered a whole host of associated activities and groups.

Has motherhood changed you? I think it takes a year before you can assimilate all the changes that take place at the start of motherhood. It totally changes your relationship with your partner, I think because rather than looking towards each other all the time (figuratively speaking) you’re side by side looking towards your child. It takes a while before you can accept that I think. I’m massively lucky that my husband and I agree so well on our parenting approach. He doesn’t just say it, he uncomplainingly has her in bed with us to sleep, never implies he finds my breastfeeding a toddler bothersome, and goes along with a gentle approach to discipline. 

It also changes your attitude towards the news, the future, your friends – you find yourself thinking of the parents, family background and upbringing of sportspeople, politicians, comedians… You want to tell the man in the stationary van that’s had its engine running for the last half hour that he’s contributing to climate change our children will be left to deal with. You cry when you see images of starving children and orphans on the news. Being a stay-at-home-mum means my whole life is about Eleanor, my work, my play, my interests, so it can sometimes take a while to find a non-child related subject of conversation. You can tell who your real friends are because they persist in trying to find a new common ground when the old ones similarities have shifted!

Having a child is so life changing it creates an instant bond between you and anyone else who’s ever had one. It’s an instant conversation starter as you compare notes, commiserate and reassure. I’ve never been particularly outgoing and have always looked in awe at my own mum who makes friends wherever she goes, but since having Eleanor I’ve become a lot more confident in myself and hence with other people.

Hardest parts of being a mother: The days when I wake up feeling like the walking dead. I can’t think properly and just want to curl up on my own and sleep. Inevitably she keeps me on a short leash all day (“Mum-my! MUM-my!” “Mummy look! Mummy look! Mummy look!”) which drains my powers of organisation even more. Heaven forbid we’ve got to be somewhere on time on a day like that – my powers of negotiation rely on quick thinking so instead I just sort of drag her along behind me all day. On those days I go to bed that night feeling like a terrible mother.

Before we realised she wanted to drop her daytime sleep we’d fight to get her to sleep every day at a reasonable time and it meant the entire day had to be geared up to be as exhausting as possible so she’d go down earlier. Usually I got exhausted before her and that didn’t make for happy pair! Having her still up at 4pm, but having invested so much energy into getting her to sleep and needing some time to myself… not good times!

Best parts of being a mother: When she does something that surprises me into feeling proud. When she shows she’s come on in leaps and bounds somehow when I wasn’t looking. When she shows altruism despite all my expectations.

When we do something together that just turns out hilariously; our eyes meet and we both burst out laughing. Simultaneously. When she shows interest in something I’m interested in, like when she saw a lavender bush, pinched off a leaf, smelt it and said something that sounded like lavender, or when she planted a little fleet of plant markers in the flowerbed after watching me planting out seedlings. When she tells me where lost things are: “Have you seen my phone?” “Upstairs. On the bed.”

I’m so glad I’m still breastfeeding her. I think of breastmilk as liquid love. When I see her face, the anticipation as she goes to latch on, the look of utter bliss as she tastes the first milk, the concentrated sucking followed by sleepy contentment, I feel I’m giving her the best gift I could. And she looks like that every time, as though something she has multiple times a day is a rare and special treat!

What you wish you’d known before having children: I wish I’d known that accepted norms are meaningless and that the real way to be a good mum is to work out what’s right for you and your child. I saw people doing things and heard advice and judgments, and for a long time struggled with not fitting in. I’ve never bothered to fit in when I don’t feel it’s right, but I’ve still felt the pain of failure. Now I just do whatever works and through my friends I see a wide enough range of parenting to realise that’s really what everyone does once they get comfortable. Motherhood isn’t about fitting in because it’s about a relationship between you and your child, not society.

Any more advice for mothers and expectant mums: I wish I’d done a bit more research before having her. It was all about me – my pregnancy, my birth, but I didn’t have much interest beyond that till I had her. 

A friend, Toni ( lent me The Continuum Concept when El was three months old and it had a massive impact on my whole parenting approach. Until then I’d just been cobbling together bits of advice I’d heard, none of which added up or worked. I think I only twigged after a few months that you can do things the way you want, there is no prescribed way. 

Here are websites I’ve found really useful:

Manchester Slingmeet – if your baby doesn’t let you put him or her down it’s time to get a sling. Manchester Slingmeet have a hire library so you can try out different babycarriers till you find the right one.

La Leche League – I wish I’d met these guys earlier. Meetings are just friendly discussions on a theme and you get to meet lots of other breastfeeding mums. They’re also good on attachment parenting. 

Mary and Eleanor’s previous post:

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