Official Motherwell Cheshire Blog
It’s difficult being a parent, nobody ever really prepares you for what is about to happen. When Max was born, things were brilliant. When he was 8 months old, I went back to work, and Jay and I worked separate shifts, so we didn’t have to pay for a nursery or a pre-school or anything like that.
Max started nursery when he was 2 so he could socialise and see other children, and that was when he brought home a stomach bug. That started a very rapid decline in my mental health, as well as my psychical health. The stomach bug left my anxiety really dreadful and I was off work for over 3 months. It was during these 3 months that I decided I wanted to move home and be closer to my parents. We looked at all our options, and Jay managed to get a job there so we moved home.
When we came back, instead of us both working part time, Jay got a full time job so I could be at home with Max, which was brilliant, because l love being with him. He’s my whole world, but I kinda got stuck in a rut, and all I did was change nappies and do load after never ending load of washing, and I became just “mummy”. I wasn’t me anymore. I didn’t really have much adult conversation outside of Jay and my parents, and I didn’t really have any friends around here, because most of the people I knew before I moved away, didn’t have children.
When you have kids you don’t tend to see those people who don’t have kids as much, because all your free time is spent looking after your children, and when you go out somewhere it has to be appropriate for the children, and your friends without kids don’t want to go and hang out at soft play centres for 2 hours, with what feels like hundreds of screaming kids, when they don’t have to and they could go to Costa or Starbucks and have a nice relaxing cup of coffee. Unfortunately as a parent that’s not always an option.
I found I was slipping into the daily grind of being a mum, and that the only reason I was here was to be a mum and to look after this tiny human. My anxiety had got really bad, to the point that I didn’t want to go to those busy places, I didn’t want to go to soft play or anywhere where there was a high risk of germs. I was very lucky that my Health Visitor got me in touch with a charity called Home Start (who are an amazing resource), and I had a volunteer called Hazel, who would come and visit me for about 2 hours each week. She would help me get out and navigate my anxiety over soft play centres, and provide me with some adult conversation. Just for those 2 hours each week, I was me again. It was about me and not just “mummy”. Eventually those services dropped off, and I’d developed much more confidence to to be able to go to some of these places alone.
Then Max started school, and I found myself thinking that I really wanted to do something, and make a difference, but it was difficult because I still needed to be around for Max after school, and my Crohn’s wasn’t completely under control so I worried about getting a job and childcare and with my Crohn’s and whether I’d need time off work. I mentioned in passing to a friend from Max’s class that I wanted to do something and she mentioned a charity called Motherwell, that helps mothers with their mental health, were looking for volunteers, and I thought to myself how brilliant it would be because it’s the 2 things that I am most passionate about and that dominate the majority of my life.
I got in touch with Kate who founded Motherwell, and the job was to help with Marketing and Social Media, which I could do in the office or at home. I had been helping with the the school PTA and got their Facebook page off the ground and had been making images to grab attention, so the position seemed perfect. With the PTA work, it is fab, but it all stems back to being a mum and mum duties, this opportunity would allow me to help someone else outside of my family unit. I went and had an interview/informal chat and it worked out brill. She was happy for me to come on board and I’ve been there 9 months now and I feel more like me again, and not just here to be a mum for Max. I have a purpose. The job I do is a volunteer role, it’s not something I’m paid for, and I do it just for a few hours each week, and that allows me to be that other person.
My role with Motherwell has led me to meet other people who’ve been in similar situations to me who have suffered with mental health conditions and who have had issues with losing their identity as a person and that they felt like they’d become just a mother. They’ve come out of the other side of it though, they’ve come out of the young family stage and are facing new challenges with the menopause, and with this, they want to pass on help to young mothers and families using their own experiences. It is brilliant because there is always such a diverse group of people and someone has been through what you’re going through and can reassure you that you will come out of the other side.
It made me realise that the only stigma related to Mental health is because we don’t talk about it enough, and once you start talking others will too, and you will find more people have been through it that you can ever imagine. For example, over the summer holidays, Max and I met with one of his friends, and I don’t know the mum overly well, but we had time to chat, and she disclosed that she had suffered with PND, and it came as quite a shock to me, because this person is so well put together, she is a very successful business woman and always seems to juggle work and family like this is what she was born to do. Some people are just better at hiding it than others.
People can lose their identity of who they are, especially mothers who aren’t working, and there are so many things that you can do to claim that identity back. You could go and volunteer somewhere for a couple of hours, whether you use skills you already have, or if you want to get out for a walk and deliver some leaflets or volunteer with an RSPCA shelter or kennels and walk the dogs or help clean them out. There are loads of charities that you can help out with like baking cakes for a bake sale, this also gives you the opportunity to go and meet new people as well by heading to the event.
Be who you are. Be more than mummy. You are a person in your own right and it’s time we claim ourselves back, however that may be. Speak to friends, see what they do, see if they need help and if you can do something together.
If you can find something you’re passionate about that can make all the difference. I don’t regret for a second doing my volunteer work, and I’ve even taken on more tasks and responsibilities since I began because I love it so much and I’ve gained so much of my identity back.
Don’t get me wrong, my mental health is still my biggest challenge, every single day, but I fight it because I have to. I’m not just “mummy” anymore, I’m me and I do things to help myself and other people. When I discover someone I’ve been in contact with has managed to get some help because of me, that sense of satisfaction can turn my bad day to a brilliant day for me.
If you’re starting to feel like you’ve lost your identity, you can do something about it. Go out there and grab the opportunity, and don’t ever feel alone.
August is upon us, which means it’s almost time for lots of little ones to make the transition to primary school! It can be scary and emotional time for everyone, I want to help with some reassurance if your kids are due to start soon! It is extremely normal for both parents and children to be upset on the first day, it is a huge transition, physically and emotionally. No matter if your child has been in a nursery for eight hours a day for the last three years, or they’ve done a couple of days term time since they turned three, it is still a huge thing for them starting school. I will admit that I shed a tear, but it is also a really incredible journey that they are about to begin!
If your child is upset when it is time to go in, again, it is really common. I know some parents then go home and worry that they will spend the whole time crying. Reception teachers and staff are a different breed of teacher, and are incredible at dealing with this confusing time. They have lots of tricks up their sleeve to be able to calm and distract them. Most schools will offer shorter days for the first week or so, which makes it a bit easier. If there are any concerns, the school will be in contact.
One thing I think we will always worry about, is whether our child has any friends, or if they’re all alone. Staff will be keeping an eye on all of them and will encourage them to play with others. You may find that their friendship groups change on a day-to-day basis. This is fantastic, and can be helpful over having just one friend. If that friend was to be off one day, they have other options are friends to play with. You can also expect to hear these friends described rather than named. Max would come and tell us about his new ‘friend with the curly hair’. It took time before he found out his name (that was only because I approached his mum and asked her). It also doesn’t matter if 0 or 10 children came from the same nursery or preschool as they did, as they will all be encouraged to play with others.
The majority of children will have been toilet trained for a while before they start school, but the changes can cause a regression. This can be for a number of reasons. It could be because they’re not sure where to go, or are worried to ask, or it could just be that there so engrossed in what they’re doing that they forget, or they’re worried they will miss something that’s happening. Max had a number of accidents over the first few weeks, for a mixture of the above reasons. Staff were fantastic though and they constantly remind them what to do if they need to go. If this does happen often, it may be worth having a chat with the teacher, and packing some spare uniform and pants from home. Reassure them that they’re not in trouble, and remind them of the toilet rules. After the first few weeks, Max stopped having accidents.
Tired and Cranky can be managed!
Reception is a fantastic year for children! There isn’t as much sitting down at tables all day, and the majority of work is done via structured play. Even so, this workload can be mentally draining, and after getting home from school, routine may go out of the window for that first term. We discovered the best way to keep things calm was to allow around one hours down time after we got home. This could be watching a favourite TV show or going on his tablet. Allowing him time to process all that happened during the day helped stop his tiredness from making him so cranky. I like to think of the fizzy pop analogy. If you were to send them to school with a bottle of fizzy pop, every time something happened that made them anxious or put them out of their comfort zone, they could shake the bottle, and at the end of the day when you get home and you’re asking what they’ve been doing all day, you’re opening that bottle in the safe space where they were let off all of that anxiety. By allowing them time to process those things at their own pace, slowly releasing the pressure and making it easier on everyone then. Some schools may send out a weekly letter of what they’ve been up to, or your child may just tell you in their own time, when they’re in the bath, eating their tea or getting into bed. The only thing I now ask is what he’s eaten for lunch. It is a good idea to utilise the school website, they often have class pages where you can see upcoming topics and events and lots of useful information.
Homework very much varies from one school to the next. We found it was mainly tasks we could incorporate into our daily lives like letter recognition and phonics. You will probably have already met your teacher before the summer, but there may be an opportunity in the first few weeks to go into the class room and learn more about the work they will be covering for at least the first term.
What to do if you’re worried..
If you do you have any concerns though, don’t keep them bottled up. The teachers are there to help. There are a few ways you could contact them, and this would all depend on exactly what your concerns are. You could try and speak to the teacher at morning drop-off or again when you collect them. This can seem difficult at times as 30 parents could all be trying to do the same, is also not the most discreet way if the matter is quite personal. Alternatively you could speak to the school office by phone or email and request to pass a message to the teacher, or for the teacher to call you when possible. Some School office staff may have a bad reputation like doctors receptionist, but they are at the heart of the school and have a lot of information if you don’t need specifics from the teacher.
How to get involved
If you want to get more involved with your school, the PTA is a fantastic way to do that they may have a meet and greet in the first few weeks to let you know more about them. There are a lot of fun ways that you can get involved. Ask your school office or check the website for more information.
There may also be opportunities to volunteer by chaperoning swimming lessons, reading in school with other classes and children who require extra help, or other activities. If this is something that you’re interested in, then ask at the school office for any vacancies or help they need.
Meeting other parents!
One of the big things we all worry about is the playground politics of meeting all the parents. Parents were probably as nervous as you are! There will be plenty of opportunities to meet them at the dozens of class birthday parties that will take place over the next year!
So try not to worry, it’s okay if you cry - don’t forget the obligatory photo in front of the door on that first morning.
We’re on countdown here until the summer holidays begin next week. I imagine that for the most part, parents are looking forward to 6 weeks filled hour by hour of activities for all the family. For
some of us though, there is a feeling of dread, and that is a perfectly reasonable and valid feeling. There is a sense of shame to not look forward to 6 weeks of uninterrupted time with your kids. There are so many different reasons why, and not one of those
means you love your children any less, or that means you don’t have enjoyable time together.
For me, it is a mix of triggers that stir up a feeling of dread and uncertainty. I have Borderline Personality Disorder, as well as other mental health conditions and chronic pain thrown in as well. Sometimes the chronic pain means I can’t leave the house, that I need my painkillers and my hot water bottle to save me from crying all day long in pain. Trying to keep a very active boy occupied all day at home seems impossible. When he is in school, that gives him 6 1/2 hours of his day to be with friends and run around on the field outside. Trying to find a full day of at home activities can be hard work, and often our movie subscription is well used on these days!
Jay works full time, as do both of my parents, so even having someone else to look after Max on these days is impossible. I dread it because I feel like I’m failing him (hello mum guilt!) and that he will resent me for not being able to do all these things. Even on a lower pain day, there are still things that I cannot do, things his friends and their families are able to do. I’ll try and get some play dates booked in, so not only does he get some fun with his friends, but because I may actually get some adult conversation with someone other than the postman or the Amazon delivery driver. Unfortunately, my amazing friends are all super organised and all have their plans for weeks booked well in advance, packed with lots of days out to different places and different activities (that make me tired just thinking about it all). All of these places are totally and completely chockablock during the holidays. There are no preschools, or regular clubs operating over the holidays, so every family descends upon these places. They must make an absolute killing as a lot of them are also very expensive. (Money has a lot to answer for, especially when you don’t have much of it.) You need to take out a bank loan just to get into some of these places. If you have more than one child, it gets even worse and even more unaffordable. When these attractions become so full it can cause havoc for people with mental health issues, panic attacks over the sheer volume of people, sensory overload with the noise, negative self deprecating thoughts on your body image, fear of peoples opinions on you, and on your parenting and any decision you make. All of these things, combined or alone, can cause someone to dread the school holidays. My advice to you?
* Let go of the guilt, if your kids are fed, clothed and have a roof over their head, a few days at home won’t matter
* Yes, we’re told all the time we should restrict the amount of screen time that our kids get, but a movie day is a great way to keep them entertained and help to regain some of your sanity.
* If you can afford to, it may be a good idea to try and put your child/ren in the local holiday club, even just for one day a week. This lets you know that they’ve had time with their peers, and is a day of activities you don’t have to plan, and can allow you time to rest/clean/tidy/work or recharge
* Finally, don’t worry if you don’t have a plan. Download a weather app, take each day as it comes, and do what you need to do.
Regardless of how many days have been out and about or at home, you will still have made lots of memories with your children, so be kind to yourself, know you’re not alone. Take off the pressure and enjoy what you can.
I once gave a piece of advice to a friend who was in this situation before Max began school, and I told her that while she wasn’t out with them all the time, her boys were learning compassion, care and patience. Sometimes we need to be reminded of these things, even when we can’t see it. Max’s school report came home this week, and he was called a role model to his peers, and a really hard worker. Despite all of my issues, I must be doing something right to have raised such an incredible little boy.