Parenting and career, mental health and happiness – you can have it all, honest!
I have been a parent for just over three years, and like many I find it challenging trying to maintain the best of both worlds, and by that, I mean spending time with my child and my work. Like many, I also don’t have a choice. I have to work, and while many can argue that I could take a less exhaustive role, I still have a mortgage to pay.
I love being a mother. I always find it entertaining and somewhat intriguing, as to what toy I will next find wedged in a compartment of my car (though not when they are wedged under the car seat playing the same jingle over and over again). It makes me laugh finding stickers on my work phone during a meeting, discovering selfies on my phone, comparing character/novelty plasters with my colleagues who also have children, and generally the things my child comes out with.
While parenting can be a battle of the fittest, I find that my child helps me to help them. I would like to see more of my Monster, of course I would, but I feel it is also a good example for them to see me work. Gone the days where a woman has to stay at home, and while the gender pay gap is still present, we have more flexibility now than we ever have.
Working and parenting is different for everyone. To truly succeed, there has to be compromise, there has to be research, what works best for you will not work for other people. Also, if you are career minded, like many of us, it needs to be remembered that compromising hours, and roles are not forever, when you have given your children the building blocks and the support they need, then they will naturally become more independent. Though, they will always need guidance.
It can be hard when you are tired, and all you want is for your child to go to bed so you can have some ‘me’ time, we all want that, but anxiety in this situation comes from putting unnecessary stress on ourselves. There are many things I have learnt over the last few years, and I think the unnecessary stress stems from the following questions that we either ask ourselves, or get asked:
“What are people thinking of me?” Everyone thinks this about a number of different topics whether they are parents or not. It’s social pressure, and has got worse since the digital age exploded.
“John and Jane don’t have these problems!” John and Jane do, they just hide it better.
“Why am I so tired?” You can’t completely obliterate fatigue, but if you are excessively tired all of the time, check your diet, exercise and your schedule. Are you overdoing it? Again, find out what works for YOU. By all means gather information from other people, but cherry-pick your solution.
“Why don’t I want to be, or can’t I be a parent?” As above. Check your diet, exercise, and your schedule. “Can’t” and “don’t want to” are two different things. It is not compulsory to be a parent; and it is not compulsory to have more than one child. Be a parent because you want to be, not because of social convention or social/family pressure. Also, and as a woman speaking, remember that despite what medical professionals say, I am a firm believer that it is not in every woman’s blueprint to have a baby. While I have had one, I have also had failed pregnancies and I am going through several medical issues now, that have been brought on by those pregnancies. If you are having trouble having a baby, and there is no medical explanation behind it, just try and relax. Many have found that if they just relax and not care, then it naturally happens. Of course, this is way easier said than done.
“Why am I so depressed? Why don’t I love being a parent?” We all have those moments of “What have I done?”. This is natural. The questions to ask yourself are:
“Do I feel like this all of the time?” If so, talk to someone, a friend, family member, health visitor, GP, the family pet etc. I have had some of the most meaningful conversations with myself in the car. I don’t like sharing my problems with people, so I find this is the best therapy. I also prepare for presentations and meeting on car journeys as well (before anyone suggests I might need committing for talking to myself).
“Do I feel like this at certain times of the day (e.g. in the evening before bed).” If so, change your routine. Mix it up, colour outside of the lines, what is the worst that can happen. Find your happy place, and if you have a partner or relative standing in your way, you need to explain the gravity of the situation. You are entitled to monitor your mental health. You need to take care of yourself, and in turn you will be a great parent with happy Monster(s).
“Stress cannot kill me!” Tell that to my mother and a former colleague. The former colleague died of a heart attack, while my mother survived hers, but this was all caused from erratic eating which was caused by workplace stress. Small inconsistencies on the body tend not to be a problem, but continuous is a recipe for disaster. What keeps my stress at bay is swimming (yes, it is my sport, but it helps), drone flying, and things to look forward to. For example, I took my mum to a Cat café recently and it was good therapy as well as helping a worthy charity.
There is a clear focus in this post and that is mental health. Fortunately, and this is excellent news, people are feeling more and more comfortable coming out and speaking about it. It is not a taboo any longer, you have to be the lower end of the ‘decency scale’ to criticise someone who is going through anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. So, don’t fear what others may think. Remember it’s unnecessary stress that you are in control of.
We have seen a number of celebrities take their own lives in recent years, whether accidentally or on purpose, and that is incredibly sad – so I echo the recent message of the Prodigy, don’t suffer in silence, speak up and get the help you need and deserve.
On a final note, regarding depression and anxiety, there are of course different levels, and the most unhelpful things people can say is “What have you got to be depressed about?”. An extended family member also commented to another, who was going through mental health issues and was signed off work, said that they should be ashamed for taking time off work while others were working. People like that normally go on my black list very quickly, while I am not an advocate of wrapping someone up in cotton wool, I certainly will not begrudge someone help when they need it.
It doesn’t solve all problems, and I know we have all heard this before, but look at what you are eating as not all foods agree with people. Research your own body, if you have to, get some blood tests, sugar levels and cholesterol done, there may be something underlying.
Also, try and be active. This does not mean do so much exercise so you can run a marathon (not unless you want to), but just be active. Go for walks, do your 10,000 steps, do yoga, keep fit, anything that moves you. The problem with most people who hate exercise is that they haven’t found one they like doing.
Also, don’t think that you have to exercise with someone. Many fitness programs can be done in the home. For example, I don’t like doing classes, I don’t like exercising with other people, so I have always been a swimmer and I do yoga at home. I thoroughly recommend YogaBurn by the way.
There is normally an answer out there for everyone, it does take research and it does take time, so please do not think you are going to climb a mountain in a few hours, because it could take a few months before you find that answer. But keep going, find out what works for you, if you have barriers, either go around them or knock them down, and remember if you need to talk to someone, do it.
You can have it all, but it does come with compromise and research. Learn about yourself and don’t rely on what you could accomplish 5 years ago. Learn what you can achieve now.