The importance of finding ‘mum time’
In a world that is spinning and changing every moment, the job of mothering seems to be getting more and more complex. Trying to ‘get it right’ is a pressure that women are feeling more and more intensely every year and we see the impact of this in rising rates of anxiety and other perinatal mental health issues. One of the constant challenges is the way in which we can remain in balance between the needs of our family and our own personal needs. Having time to ourselves, mum time, can mean so many different things to different people and depending on where you set the bar, can be quite hard to get.
At a basic level, everyone needs time to sleep and attend to personal hygiene. These are aspects that really cannot be achieved by anyone else in your life. As a new mother, in the very early days, even this basic level can be difficult to achieve. The new mother often takes their baby into the toilet and the shower, they often count and measure sleep. These things can be used as a badge of honour, to demonstrate how hard it all is and to show how one is, or is not, coping. These feelings are completely normal. We need to recognise that this is a stage, a phase and a part of life. It is not going to last. It is unlikely that your 10 year old will still sleep with you and wake you every night, and even less likely that your 18 year old will want to share your bed, rather than the bed of the cute girl down the road.
Still in the early period of mothering this vision into the future is not likely to help you cope with a ‘normal’ newborn sleep pattern which can include very little to no sleep in the first few weeks of life. Coping strategies will include the support of a village – either small or large – those who have willing arms to hold a scratchy newborn whilst you sleep, that you trust to walk baby around the block or even through the house. In our growing levels of anxiety the trust aspect can be hard to achieve, but is essential for any semblance of balance. Partners and family members are the first people to work on, trusting them to stay awake and comfort a newborn, or to provide an opportunity for you to rest during the day by having a newborn by their sides for short period. Anxiety and sleep have a destructive inter-relationship – anxiety making it hard to sleep and lack of sleep making anxiety levels heightened. It is important to recognise, and to not count the hours and minutes, but to count the people you have in your team, and that you will trust and allow to assist.
As the days turn into weeks and the weeks into months, patterns will change. Mum time may, or may not evolve. Sometimes all we want is small things, restful sleep, time to wash our hair. But sometimes it is more than this, weekends away, date nights, daily time at the gym. We can be pragmatic, or we can use this as leverage. It can be glass half full or half empty. This doesn’t mean that you have to always be positive, and that things are never difficult. It is tough! But it is about asking for what you need, and doing your best to create space and trust for others to help and for seeking out more help when this isn’t working. No one can say what is ‘enough’ time alone and there is no one right way of doing anything. You are concurrently enough for your baby but feeling like you can never do enough. Additionally – it is never ‘fair’ – mothering and parenting are two different things. Generally in heterosexual and even in many same sex families workloads will rarely balance. Work outside the home and work inside the home don’t cancel each other out. Is any of what I have just said reasonable? Probably not, but like most of life it is how you look at it and in most instances just by looking at things differently you may be able to change how impacted you are.
Of course, there are limits. Sometimes health aspects, mental or physical, can impact either mother or baby and create challenges in how you cope. Sometimes social circumstances or life just mean that there is little to no help. Sometimes you cannot improve things yourself and you need to seek help to create space for your time alone, and your ability to cope. As with most instances in the early days your midwife, child health nurse or GP are the best places to start. Later your GP again will be a reference point to consider your psycho-social wellbeing. In the early days rostering time to sleep where someone else can be fully responsible for caring for baby is most useful. This may involve expressing if baby is breastfed. As baby gets older strategies like engaging your partner or family in sharing baby and childcare loads, gathering a mothers group who help each other out by exchanging child care or considering options for exercise outside the home that may include a creche may be helpful. The simplest strategy is the hardest and this is acknowledging having young babies and children is a time where you don’t have much opportunity for time to yourself and lowering your expectations around what mum time looks like.
What is bearable in terms of alone time and space is very different for every individual. It is critical that you consider this, discuss it with your partner or support network and review and recalibrate regularly in your first years of parenting. Your mental, and physical, health is dependent upon honest consideration of your own personal needs.
Liz Wilkes, My Midwives