Parenting four children through lockdown, including twin babies, has been testing to put it lightly.
It's that time of day, again, early morning. I adore mornings in our house, the morning breakfast routine gives me comfort and I like the feeling the start of a new day brings. I press the coffee machine button; the familiar whirring noise starts and the fresh smell of coffee fills the kitchen, my two twin baby girls are in their high chairs, full of smiles. My eight-year-old son saunters in with his messy bed head hair and his eyes still glazed with sleepiness, “cereal please mum”. My 3-year-old girl bounces in the door with a cheeky grin and a head full of messy curls, “I want toast”.
So it begins, I set about filling up bowls with cereal, washing baby bottles, filling the washing machine, putting bread in the toaster while stealing sips of my much-needed coffee in between. My eyes sting from tiredness as a result of a broken night’s sleep with the babies; I'm exhausted but in this moment every morning I always feel full of love for my beautiful kids and full of enthusiasm for the day ahead. It has to be better than yesterday, right? Yesterday was a shit show.
Rewind to 11am the previous day and you would have seen me with a lot less optimism.
In fact, at that time I was walking around the streets near our house with my twin babies in their pram trying to get them to sleep , tears streaming down my face uncontrollably. Both babies had screamed at me the whole morning, teething and in pain and nothing I did would soothe them. Guess what, one mummy and two babies and two other kids, it sometimes just doesn't work. I am outnumbered and out of my depth at times and this was one of those times.
I walked and I walked and I walked some more. The babies slept and I sank further and further into my own head. I was spiralling into a negative place but I was so mentally exhausted it was impossible for me to see a way out. "You can't do this", "you're doing a bad job", "you are not spending enough time with the older kids", "you look terrible", “your marriage is suffering”, "you will never find the time to lose the baby weight or have any time for yourself".
I sat down on a bench, looked down at my leggings (the ones I swore I would never wear again after I had the babies) there were white stains on them, probably baby milk or puke or both. If anyone could see me now, what a sad sight, a vastly different picture to the one they often see on my Instagram, where I seem to have my shit together. I look into the pram at my two, now peaceful sleeping babies and I feel my heart ache with overwhelming love. I feel guilty for not being more grateful, I feel immense guilt for my two kids at home who I didn’t spend any time with before I left because I was so stressed and consumed. I take a huge deep breath, wipe my tears away, get up and start making my way home.
I open the front door and I hear the patter of my three year old girls feet thundering towards me "mummy's back!” My eight year old boy comes to greet me too desperate to tell me about something that happened since I was gone.
My husband catches sight of me. "Have you been crying?" I admit it; "Yes, but I'm fine now" and I mean it.
I did feel better after letting it out, letting go of the tears is the release I needed. This is not the first time I have walked and cried, this is not the first time I have felt defeated, this has happened before we went into lockdown and I am certain it will happen again. The babies stayed sleeping in their pram and I made myself a cup of tea and treated myself to a chocolate biscuit (I will worry about getting rid of my baby pooch another day).
All parents need to steal small moments of calm; it’s not selfish, it’s absolutely necessary for our sanity. It just so happened that this day in particular I needed a walk, a cry and a cup of tea undisturbed. I then felt ready to tackle being a parent again. Most days are not like this but every day is demanding and hard work. Some days just break you. They happen, and I know it’s okay to be depleted at times, but in those moments I beat myself up and struggle to see how I can navigate motherhood in a way that works for me and everyone else.
I once spoke with a midwife when I was pregnant with my first baby, and confided that I was worried I wasn't going to be a good parent, I worried that I was not up to the task. She said something to me that has always stayed with me;
“If you are worried about being a good parent, then you are”.
The pressure you can feel as a parent these days is immense; there is a definite shift in our generation to get everything right. I think social media has a lot to do with this strain. The 'perfect parenting snapshots' are lovely and soothing but somewhat unhelpful for someone who is going through a tough day. During the Covid-19 pandemic it can feel like the “super parents” on social media have come out in force. I have fallen into the trap of letting these perfect parents make me feel lousy about myself. I am not doing it anymore.
I can’t promise my kids that every day will be perfect, but I can promise them that every day will start full of love, optimism and coffee.