“I’m really not going to whack him in the face, Mum.”
I almost choked. This line was delivered with smiling, innocent sincerity from my beloved 3-year-old daughter as she demonstrated her capacity for gentle affection for her brand-new 3-week-old brother by stroking his hair with just a touch too much enthusiasm and a slightly mad glint in her eye.
As a mother, what you do not get second time around, I am discovering, is the large vacuum empty of responsibilities in which to devote every waking (and sleeping) minute to the newborn child in your arms. While I was still pregnant I reflected upon the fact that these months were to be the last that my daughter would have her mother as hers alone. My daughter and I discussed the baby frequently and her curiosity was piqued by every aspect of it: the midwife visits where the heartbeat was suddenly audible, the incredible swelling tummy and the idea that she could impart her well earned knowledge to this smaller being. So far, though, the reality of baby brother had proven to be rather underwhelming; life was suddenly nothing more than hastily muttered instructions to “be a bit quieter please” and “you can do it yourself” accompanied with a noticeable decline in explicit adoration from strangers and family members alike when aforementioned baby was in tow.
It’s one thing, as a mother, to be aware of these changes your child is facing and quite another to actually be prepared for it. Most challenging of all can be your own expectations that life should be seamless and painless, especially where your own children are concerned; expecting too much of anyone, including yourself, is bound to end in tears. All too easy is the impulse to push these high ideals of behaviour onto your older child – becoming an intolerable tyrant in the twinkle of an eye.
I’m sure we’ve all read or heard something somewhere about the importance of “being kind to oneself”, this can become a rather abstract concept when the struggle to be reasonable and kind to your own children and others dominates your world. Is there a way to be ultra kind to yourself in a nanosecond so that you are able to cope competently with a moment that pounces out of nowhere requiring a level of piety not often found on the mortal plane? Well, I’m really not sure about that, it sounds rather like a Zen koan, a question designed only to frustrate.
Self-care is more likely to be effective when viewed as a routine requirement and being treated well becomes more comfortable and starts to “fit” and this new level of comfort is rather like a picnic mat that can be instantly whipped out – as large as you like – to accommodate anyone in need of a nourishing moment (including yourself).
One personal practical tip (as I write this I am fully aware of the line I walk between corny and cliché) is to write some loving and understanding letters or, if you’re feeling extravagant, sonnets devoted purely to yourself; relax and let the words sink in. Letters from another are simply divine but can be strangely absent when most are required. Most problems with cruelty and intolerance can be traced back to inner turmoil, so buck the trend – change the world.
Love yourself first.