As an older mum who thought it wise to have not one, two… but three children – the youngest at an age when really I should have been thinking about getting a poodle, knitting jumpers or having an affair in stead, I’ve learned a few lessons along the way.
If I could write a letter to my younger self about to have her first baby at the age of 32, I would force her to sit down with a cup of tea or even a glass of chardonnay and take some notes from someone who’s made an awful lot of mistakes along the way.
The first piece of advice would be to never, NEVER let your husband (or any other man for that matter) decide whether you need gas or air or other forms of pain relief while giving birth. My husband declined the nurse’s offer for gas and air on my behalf when I was about to have our first child, but backed off after I threatened loudly to disfigure him for life.
Although I did get my gas and air in the end, I was not quite strong enough to say NO when my husband suggested cheerfully that we move with a 10-day old baby to a country where I didn’t speak the language to further his career.
Naturally, he sugar-coated it with promises of romantic evenings under the Eiffel Tower and made me feel that this was in the “interest of the family”. My inner voice was going ballistic at the time, but I looked lovingly into my hubby’s eyes, trusted him blindly and flashed two fingers at my inner voice behind his back.
What followed was two very testing years as an expat mum in Paris trying to make ends meet in a one-roomed apartment on my husband’s non-expat salary, struggling to make myself understood at doctor’s appointments, in supermarkets and unsuccessfully attempting to strike up conversations with nannies looking after designer-clad French babies around Parisian sand pits. I tried desperately to come to terms with my overnight loss of independence and figure out where I fitted into this new order of things and at the same time do justice to the little baby I had not the foggiest idea what to do with.
At this point, I would stress quite strongly to my younger self-perhaps even stamping my fist on the kitchen table for effect: NEVER, and I mean NEVER assume that your husband (or ANY man for that matter) knows what’s best for you or has your best interests at heart. ALWAYS listen to what your own inner voice is telling you. It is trying to tell you something for a reason. Ignore it at your peril. It is the only voice you should ever fully trust – whatever the consequences.
And if my younger self was prepared to hear me out a little longer, I would tell her to take another swig of chardonnay and listen carefully: Don’t EVER listen to anyone who even suggests that you’re selfish just because you refuse to become obsessed with your children’s bowel movements, school marks, sports achievements, friends or lack of friends.
Don’t become a mummy martyr who sacrifices her own hopes, dreams and ambitions on the altar of motherhood. You’ll only regret it and no-one will thank you for it. That doesn’t necessarily mean rushing out to work or completely abandoning your kids, but do make time for yourself and your own dreams, whatever it takes. Get someone to clean the house, pay a babysitter so you can do the line-dancing class you always wanted to do. Do the course or see a career councillor to get your career back on track – you’re worth it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Your children will be fine and might even thank you for not hovering around them like a helicopter mum. Allow them to breathe, make their own mistakes – while you get your nails done, read a novel or paint a landscape.
We can certainly learn a lot from men in this regard – no matter how hands-on they are as dads, they seldom allow their own lives to go to pot as a result of parenting. Somehow, they always manage to fit in the late night ‘networking’ meeting, justify a night out with the blokes, play a round of golf or my personal favourite – suffer the ‘terrible’ business trip to an exotic destination staying in a five-star hotel, while you stay at home looking after the kids.
Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself, confront when you need to confront, don’t take NO for an answer, believe in yourself and certainly don’t let anyone else (male or female) decide for you what you should and should not want from life.