“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”
― Jack Kornfield,
I’m finding that hitting the sixth-month mark as a mother is like trying to keep your head above water, that water being the white rapids. My Son is changing so fast that I am having to discover who he is all over again, as is he. It seems as though he got to five and a half months and the world suddenly turned on for him. Everything came to life, colours, sounds, emotions. Food is the new trend, and like the winter solstice the naps are shortening and the demand for entertainment is ever growing. However, because everything is in such a huge transitional phase it’s frustrating for everyone and adding stress to non-stressful situations. He can’t communicate with us and he can’t understand what we are trying to do for him, he’s agitated at the world. Every person I speak to keeps saying to me that it will get better, it gets easier the older they get. But when you are sat in the midst of sleep deprivation with a tired mind, teething screams and dirty nappies, you can’t see that. You can’t see the promise land that all these people speak of. Everyone’s situation is so relevant to them, it makes me wonder will I reach that place of rest and sanity someday or am I doomed for the unforeseeable?
I am not a great sleeper because of my anxiety but I do pray for more than a 4-hour stint which hasn’t happened since birth. My Son is still co-sleeping, we started to transition him but as soon as we did it’s like he knew and the teething took on a life of its own. I am finding right now everything is coming at once in full evolutionary force. Did we not do the right thing as parents when we brought him home? Did we miss some crucial parenting secret where we should have staged all these changes? Or is it that I can’t emotionally and mentally handle all of these things at once with such lack of sleep? When I say everything is coming at once, I’ll define. Teething, weening, sleeping, needy behaviour, constant entertainment. I’m aware that they are all phases and they will pass but it doesn’t stop you feeling like you are failing and totally inadequate to other parents out there who look like they have this all sussed out and life is rosier than ever. Comparison is truly the devil, especially on social media where some parents only choose to showcase the “good times”. I love to see people enjoying parenting but where’s the truth, surely it’s not all rainbows and sunshine 24/7 right? Or am I the only one not coping with this 6-month standoff?
Last Thursday was a real moment of rock bottom when my Son threw a bowl of sweet potato all over the floor. Now he’s a baby, he doesn’t exactly have great hand and eye coordination yet so he doesn’t know what he’s doing, but when that bowl went flying I snapped. I yelled at him in a moment of pure exhaustion and as I saw his little face crumple up and cry, I slumped to the floor and sobbed. I sobbed for everything that wasn’t potato related. I sobbed for my lack of sleep. I sobbed to myself for being so foolish to think parenting was going to be all cuddles and fun. I sobbed at my loss of independence. I sobbed for having to drink cold coffee and change 4 outfits a day. I sobbed for sobbing, the guilt of being so upset and weak. That sobbing is sheer exhaustion taking over, it affects every element of your life. It’s been a gruelling 6 months of learning how to care and cope for someone else, as soon as you think you have it sussed everything changes. It feels like everything you sacrificed and have worked so hard for has been a total waste. Obviously, it’s not because you’ve kept a tiny person alive and healthy but in your mind, at that moment that’s exactly how it feels. Complete and utter failure as a human being. A genuine feeling of drowning and having the walls caving in on you and you can’t catch your breath, no matter how hard you try. It’s truly a scary and terrifying realization when this happens to you when you feel you can’t cope. The feeling of shame and embarrassment that you want to hide away from the world, it’s sad. I didn’t think I would feel this way especially as I am so pro giving yourself a break but realistically you can’t think clearly on an exhausted mind, especially when it is trying to function an exhausted body. Everything changes when you hit that level of tired, no matter how much positivity you try and put on it.
So what’s the answer other than getting a good night’s sleep, which for many of us isn’t an option right now. Is it just to carry on in the trenches and hope for the best that it all blows over and works out? Is it to tell yourself “this too shall pass” in these moments of our deepest, darkest, parenting despair? Do we just sob it out when we need to and ask for help without feeling parental guilt? I think for me it’s so important to remember that it is completely OK not to be OK, (that’s a message I once came across that needs to be continuously spread)! Have compassion for yourself and remember that you’re doing something new, there are learning curves and there always will be. So if all you can manage is to feed your kid and stay in your PJ’s all day, that is OK. If you can’t keep a meetup commitment, that is OK! If all you have done is sobbed into your cold coffee and watched trash TV, that is more than OK. And if you feel you need professional help that is so OK, there should be no shamefulness or stigma attached to this one. It takes a lot of courage to ask for help, especially in these moments where we don’t want people seeing our vulnerabilities. We are so amazing at being parents and looking after these little scamp’s that we forget how exhausting and taxing it is on us mentally and physically. So if you need to cry, scream, sob, drink a big fat wine, eat that 10th biscuit or close the door to a room that contains a screaming time bomb, then DO IT! Anything to get through the day without pouring guilt all over yourself! You have to do what is going to work for you as an individual to get through the hard days, no one will have the same solution because all of our coping techniques are unique to us. But whatever that is going to be, please do not compare yourself to anyone else, as Dr Suess writes “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
Just be comfortable in the knowledge that it is always OK not to feel OK. And if we are all feeling alone, at least we are all alone in it together and that makes this parenting journey a little more bearable.