Motherhood Where's the Manual?

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Congratulations! You got the job.  It’s the one you’ve been after for a while and it sounds great.  Your parents were so pleased when you told them.  You’ll be working from home, with flexible hours and no commute.  Today is your first day, and it’s quite exciting, but you’re a little unsure where to start.  You’re supposed to have colleagues to talk things over with, but you don’t know where they are.  You began your day unexpectedly early when your new boss yelled for you at 4am, sounding cranky, with some fairly urgent demands.  Now you’re tired and hardly know what to do first. 

As the new mum on the block, helpful and not-so-helpful advice is likely to come at you left, right and centre.It’s time to check the job description; was there something you missed in the small print? It’s a caring role, that’s fine, but you didn’t realise it would involve so much heaving lifting.  Your back is starting to ache.  And the flexible hours…oh…they’re quite long. 

You start work the instant you wake up and your boss will decide, apparently on a whim, when you finish each day.  There is no holiday allowance.  You’re on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  And that’s for the rest of your life.  You didn’t really agree to that, did you?

Your boss doesn’t want you wasting time on your hair and make-up before work; you may find yourself looking a little less glam than you did in the office.  You may or may not get a lunch break.  You’ve got huge responsibilities.  And there’s no training (instead, you must make do with the unsolicited commentary that random strangers will pass on to you in the street).  And the salary? Don’t you remember? This is an unpaid position.

Motherhood Alice - At the dinner tableAnd so your job as a mum begins! Now, before you hand in your notice on day one, don’t despair.  I didn’t mention in the job spec above that the rewards of this role may not be financial, but they are plentiful.  You will get countless moments of joy interspersed with a lot of laughs and enormous pride in what you will achieve.  Your boss is very forgiving of your initial mistakes, and while they may not always show it, they think you’re the bee’s knees! Those other mums – the workmates that you couldn’t find at first - start to appear and are soon your friends and confidantes.  With any luck, you’ll have the support of your family and will start to revel in your new life and the opportunities it brings.

I still haven’t found that flipping training manual for new mums.  I hear that mothers have been trying for centuries to write one, but the rules for parenting keep changing, and nobody can agree on what’s best.  In the end, I decided to write my own notes on bringing up a baby.  I’ve kept them brief (I know, there are other things you’re supposed to be doing right now) and here they are:

Accept help

Sleep deprivation and coping with the endless needs of a baby can leave new mums hanging by a thread.  And yet, we women of the modern world have been brought up to cherish our independence.  Saying “Help me!” goes against our instincts, but honestly, accepting assistance makes you the smartest mum in town.  If friends or family offer to make you a cup of tea, bring you dinner, or – that holy grail – babysit…your answer should be yes, yes and yes please!

Motherhood Alice - Baby on chestNurture your support network

Apparently, it takes a village to raise a child.  I didn’t have a village handy, so I trekked around various babes and toddler groups and found friendship and support there. 

I indulged in detailed discussions about teething, feeding, sleep…all of this would have bored me to tears before I hit parenthood, but suddenly these conversations felt like a lifeline.  I wasn’t the only one trying to figure things out, and it was a comfort to share our mistakes and discoveries over the biscuit tin.

“Enjoy every minute!”

You will hear this a LOT in the early days.  Resist the temptation to thump whoever has uttered these words – they are always said with kindness and, usually, nostalgia.  But don’t expect to enjoy every moment of motherhood, or you will find yourself harbouring unrealistic expectations and suffering inevitable disappointment.  Some moments are, quite frankly, the pits.  Make sure you savour the great times (that warm little body snuggled sleepily against your heartbeat) and try not to dwell on the calamities (baby spew in your hair). 

Give up the guilt

Parenthood is great for setting you off on a big long guilt-trip with no comfort break in sight.  Going back to work? How can you leave your baby! Giving up work? You’re ruining your career! My Facebook homepage keeps telling me to abandon the housework and play with my child because “he’s only little for such a little while”.  Of course I’m happy to do so, and now Lego and dust compete for space on every surface.  If I cook or clean, my son howls “Pla-ay with meee!” from the next room.  You can’t be in two places at once, pick one and stick to your guns.


Mum knows best

As the new mum on the block, helpful and not-so-helpful advice is likely to come at you left, right and centre.  Remember to trust your instincts and do things your own way, even if it raises some eyebrows.  I know my child down to every freckle and frown.  I know if he’s hot or cold, hungry or tired, hurt or simply making a fuss.  You’ll be amazed how much you just ‘know’ your baby right from the start.

I just did a little online research regarding ‘tips for new mums’ and it seems that you should ignore advice from anyone whose child is over 2.  Their advice is bewildering, annoying and they probably can’t remember being a new mum.  My little boy is nearly 4 now, so I think that’s my cue to finish and simply wish you the best of luck in your new role.  You’re going to be great!

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