If you’ve got a toddler (or two!), chances are that at some point you’ll find yourself smack bang inside a ‘Mum Life Crisis.’ The first year of parenthood tends to go in a bit of a blur of high highs and low lows magnified by extreme sleep deprivation. But once the basics are sorted and the daily routine is in place, life can start to stretch out before you like a Parenting Groundhog Day. Days that only change with increasing levels of emotion from your toddler as he learns how to be his own very, VERY opinionated little person. That’s when park visits become tear filled meltdowns about which water bottle was brought (the wrong one), what to play on (the swings which are always occupied), a bit of dirt on his top making it totally unwearable (yes my child is the shirtless one over there) and whatever else is the issue of that particular day/hour/minute/second. And you look around and think, ‘is this all there is?’ Or as a friend recently put it ‘I do NOT want to be a mum today.’
If you’re feeling this way, don’t worry, it’s normal. And there is hope for us all! Not just in the long term waiting for them to grow up, but right now. Here are some ideas that may help:
1. Make sure your day is also about you
Sometimes we can think that we need to spend our days entertaining and fulfilling our kids. We need to remember that kids are fulfilled and entertained just by being exposed to the world. Elsewhere in the world, it is totally normal to see children tagging along to work with their mums or grandmas, strapped onto their backs for the day. You pretty much never see them cry or look bored. Yes, it’s good for little ones to go to the park or play with other kids, but they also learn from tagging along with us to the things we want or need to do. So go and do that thing you’ve been putting off. Arm yourself with snacks, toys and books to occupy little hands. And if it all goes pear shaped, giving them your phone for an hour will not be the difference between them getting into Harvard or not
2. Structure your day to spend time with people you like
Over the last 2 years I have collected the most wonderful mum friends who I love to catch up with. The park is less monotonous when you can meet a friend. I’ve only recently started inviting people around to my flat thinking that it’s too small, but it’s actually great having the kids contained. It also means my huge pregnant body can sit on the couch and drink tea with friends rather than push and pull and run at the park! I’m not a super planning person, but I have a rough schedule for my entire Monday – Friday with only a few afternoons unplanned, and all the things we do are fun (or at least not unpleasant!) for everyone.
3. Have an interest
I started my own business, Little Joey Co, because I love using the practical and creative sides of my brain doing something that has nothing to do with little people (or MY little people at least.) I have deliberately chosen something that I can ramp up and slow down as needed. Maybe it’s not business, maybe you want to learn to knit or play the guitar or study to change or enhance your career. Find something to get your head in a different space. What do you do with the kids while you are embracing self fulfillment? They actually need to be able to do things without you and this is something you need to teach them by getting them to play independently. A little sandpit with toys in it will work even on a little balcony, a little craft area indoors, whatever works for you. And if your kids don’t nap, a few cartoons will give them a rest, and buy you a bit of time to do what you like.
4. Volunteer for something you’re interested in
Volunteering helps you meet people, is good fun and gives your kids a great example of giving back to the community. It also helps to give you a sense of fulfillment. Helping others helps us feel good. You can google organisations and charities in your local area – Mummies Paying It Forward is a good one in Sydney. Or just go to the local nursing home and ask if there are any residents who would like a visit.
5. Have a plan and make choices
If you feel like you’re stuck in Groundhog Day, try to get your head out of the details and into the bigger picture. We don’t have to be a victim of our circumstances. We can make choices about what our days will be like, and make plans for the future. We can have goals and excitement outside our kids. You might need to work hard on the weekends and in the evenings (or whenever you get a second!), but that might feel great. Ask a support person to help you, and forget the preconceived ideas about the kind of mum you think you should be. If there’s anything I learned when I became a mum, it’s that everything I thought I knew was great in theory but didn’t work at all in practice!
6. Tell your support person what you need
Your partner can’t read your mind. Neither can your mum or your best friend. Whoever is helping you along this journey needs to know what you need. If you need a night off, negotiate how often and when. Tell them why. Try and help them understand. They may well not, but hopefully they’ll help out anyway. And after awhile, the contentious issue of mum taking time off will turn into the norm and no one will question in it anymore (at least that’s the plan!) As a mum you are constantly pouring yourself out for everyone else. If you don’t take time out once in awhile you will end up empty with nothing left to pour.
7. Ask Around
Ask mums with older kids how they survived their Mum Life Crisis or how they find fulfillment outside of motherhood. You are more than a baby making, bum wiping, milk providing, swing pushing, cooking, cleaning machine. Even if they are a bit lost right now, somewhere inside of you are amazing ideas and hopes and dreams. Sometimes chatting with people in similar situations can help unearth those things that have laid dormant since those two little lines first appeared. And that’s when it starts to get exciting!
8. Make it happen
Whatever it is that needs to change to help you out of your crisis, make it happen. If you think there’s always a way, you’ll find one. If you think it’s impossible, it will be. Brainstorm crazy ideas (like getting an army of robot servants!) and eventually some practical ones will fall out too. When my first bub was about a year old and I was feeling in a bit of a rut, I started a course that I’d always wanted to do. It took some juggling to make it happen. I would travel in with the bub to meet my husband after work, hand over the baby and go to the course, often getting home super late with lots of homework. I used opportunities like the baby being awake in the small hours of the night to do homework (it was in advertising so lots of creative thinking involved.) I was pretty exhausted but my mental health and well being improved dramatically (plus I learned some cool stuff along the way!)
Assess your life, think about what you want, make some choices and find a way. Your Mum Life Crisis could end up being the best thing that ever happened to you!