Am I a failure?

I don’t often feel compelled to write here anymore. I used to enjoy sharing my parenting failures and having someone else leave a comment or tweet me saying OMG ME TOO, but then the minor failures seemed to get bigger somehow. They became the focal point of my day.

Suddenly forgetting spare clothes on a trip to the beach wasn’t just a laugh-and-facepalm moment but an actual monumental and unfixable error.

Ah, anxiety. Good times.

Anyway, what brings me back to this now somewhat unfamiliar corner of my online world is an event that took place last week.

Parent’s Evening.

Cue menacing music, possibly something akin to the theme from Jaws.

Except I was feeling relatively blasé about the whole thing because, sure, I might not be winning any Mum of the Year awards anytime soon, but I’d never actually had a bad parent’s evening.

You just know how this is going to end, don’t you?

I’ll skip the part where the teacher was pissed because we went to the wrong door – HOW THE FUCK WAS I TO KNOW THAT THE CLASSROOM HAS TWO DOORS? – and N had to leave because we were now running late, but actually I probably should have seen that as a sign of what was to come.

I didn’t, of course, so when I walked into the room and sat down expectantly, I was in for a really nasty surprise.

“Well, academically, he’s doing fine,” Said the teacher. “But he could apply himself a little more.”

“Yes, we’ve been told this before,” I replied, still blissfully unaware that anything was amiss.

“And, to be honest with you, he needs to start listening and doing as he’s told,” She continued, barely pausing for breath. “He thinks he’s in charge. He tells the other children what to do. He tells *me* what to do. Quite frankly, he’s disruptive.”


I have no recollection of my responses after that, although I suspect they could be best described as “monosyllabic”.

So. Here’s the mother who thinks that forgetting spare clothes on a trip to the beach (it happened once, by the way) makes her the epitome of parental failure, and she’s just heard that most loaded of words in the parenting world – “disruptive” – in connection with her own child.

And now you can see where this is going. I reacted badly. I shouted when I got home, which arguably makes me even more of a parenting failure than the fact of the disruptive child or the forgotten beach clothes, but one of my many failings is that I am emotionally driven and impulsive.

After shouting I cried. And after crying I failed to sleep. And after failing to sleep I cried a bit more while I cleaned the kitchen the next morning and then I wrote a letter to O’s teacher.

It was a good letter. It asked all the right questions – “Why didn’t I know about this before?” “Why haven’t you followed through with the school’s disciplinary procedure?” – and was delivered to the school reception before lunch time.

Turns out? Well, maybe the teacher was tired. Maybe she was in a bad mood. Maybe she’d just had a shitty day. Who knows? But my kid has actually only displayed this disruptive behaviour over a short period and he now has a “behaviour book” to chart his progress and encourage him to do as he’s told.

I’m going to be honest here; I would rather not have had to deal with this. In the grand scheme of things, it was absolutely the last thing I needed. No mother wants to be told that their kid is getting up to all manner of fuckery at school, especially on parent’s evening when they weren’t expecting it.


Well, I could have buried my head in the sand, couldn’t I? I didn’t; I dealt with it, despite the fact that I spent most of that first night wondering how I’d managed to fuck up so badly and not even realise and if my kids might actually be better off without me in their lives (I don’t mean dead; I just mean “not here”).

So, I guess what I’m really trying to say is that we can all have a shitty parent’s evening, and we can all go home afterwards and examine the minutiae of everything we might ever have done wrong over the course of our parenting journey and *that is okay*. I’d go so far as to say that it is probably perfectly normal to wonder where the fuck it all went wrong and find yourself wondering if you’ve got the beginnings of a juvenile delinquent living in your house.

Or maybe that’s just me.



Ever since I allowed myself to accept the actuality of my mental illness – I realise I haven’t posted expressly about this, but those of you who have been with me for a while could probably see where the cable car that is my mental health was headed – I’ve had to readjust my expectations of myself.

How did I get here?

Well, that’s a loaded question, because the truth is that it was, in all honesty, a whole witches brew of things which eventually led me to the place I find myself in now, but I could probably break it down to a few starting points.

This is not an exhaustive list.

1. How intrinsically bound my self-worth is to what I perceive as my usefulness. For example, did I work hard, parent well and clean at least two rooms of the house today? If the answer is no then I’m just a hopeless shitshow of a human being and I don’t deserve to feel in any way accomplished about anything. Anything short of a full house is a failure. Go directly to jail, etc, etc.

2. The fact that my position in the world compares unfavourably with the positions of pretty much everyone I considered a friend during my teenage years. My former friends are doctors, teachers, lawyers and architects. And I… well, for a long time I was in retail and now I’m a part-time admin bod. The phrase “could do better” was made for people like me. I’m a classic under-achiever, or so I tell myself, repeatedly, as I compare myself to everyone else and come up wanting.

3. I still don’t know what my place is in either society or the world as a whole. It seems unlikely that I’ll ever do anything noteworthy and, despite my knowledge of the fact that the vast majority of us live and die very quietly without ever changing the world, I nonetheless find the fact of it hard to accept.

4. I struggle financially. There. I said it. I don’t need to elaborate on it; it is what it is, and what it is also happens to be irrevocably tied to my self-worth.

There is more, but all of the channels eventually flow into one another to create the turbulent tides of my mental well-being. Or, I suppose, lack thereof.

So where do you start? Once you’ve sat yourself down and objectively identified the key areas of your struggle, where do you begin the process of unpicking the threads?

Well, one of the main things which feeds my negative self-image – and, therefore, my anxiety – is my lack of confidence in my parenting abilities (See 1). This is not all in my head; despite my best efforts I am not often the mother I always hoped to be.

So, this is where I’m starting. For three days now I have not raised my voice at my children. Because what I’ve realised? Is that shouting doesn’t get me anywhere. They still ignore me when they want to; all shouting does is give me a headache and a sore throat.

I’m also determined to stop scolding myself for not being the perfect homemaker. Am I going to die if the shower doesn’t get cleaned today? Are the children going to contract a deadly disease linked inexplicably to the crumbs under the toaster? Is my husband going to walk out on me for not vacuuming the rug today?

No. No. Possibly, but probably not.

If I choose to accept that I’m tired instead of fighting against it and I sit down and I read a book whilst my children play outside, this is not neglect. It is not neglect of my home and it is not neglect of my children. It is simply the recognition that, while sometimes inconvenient, my needs and self-care are also important.

Something else I’ve done is sign out of my Twitter account with the intention of not signing back in again until October. Not because I find that Twitter is particularly detrimental to my mental health – although at times, it certainly can be -, but because I feel that it’s important, at this juncture, to disconnect somewhat from the online world. Just for a while. Of course, part of me – specifically the anxious, perpetually terrified part of me – is afraid that once I log back in, my notifications will be clogged with trolls and negativity and bile, but I’m not in control of that and, as such, can’t do anything about it.

The problematic part of this process is the guilt. People – particularly, but not exclusively, women – feel a lot of guilt. Guilt is toxic. It is poison. And it breeds at an exponential rate inside us if we let it and eventually eclipses everything else. I know this because guilt and I have been on first name terms for quite some time now and we have a very intimate knowledge of one another. We are constant companions. Without my daily self-torture of guilt, I doubt that I’d have any idea who I am, but what I am willing to bet is that I would be happier. Healthier. Less of the individual elements that make up my daily struggle and more of myself.

All of this is not to say that at any point in the future I will ever be fixed. Mental illness requires a constant process of recovery and there is no specific end. It is transient. It goes through dormant periods and it goes through active periods. It has triggers and it has treatments, but it will never be gone. All of that being said, I believe that setting aside our guilt about everything we haven’t done, said or achieved and learning to forgive ourselves for not always being the best version of ourselves, even if we can’t do it all the time, can definitely do a lot to help during the times when our mental health battles feel especially overwhelming.

“I don’t want a haircut, mummy!”

Until I became a mother, I never realised how intrinsically linked a child's hair is to their gender identity. I had no idea that a boy wouldn't know he was a boy if he had long hair. It never occurred to me that not forcing a regular haircut on a boy could be somehow fundamentally damaging to him/cause him to grow up to be gay.

In case you were wondering, I'm being sarcastic.

Back story:

I have two children. They are both boys. They both like to get dirty, play with cars, beat seven shades of shit out of each other and watch superhero cartoons. They are both free to choose their own clothing (they usually choose dinosaurs and other such "boy" things) and pick out their own shoes. There is only one proviso to this arrangement: They must be happy and comfortable wearing whatever they choose.

The big one, O, likes to keep his hair short. He asks for a haircut about every six weeks or so. The little one, F, will not entertain the idea of having his hair cut and, as a result, it is quite long. Long enough to tie back.

And that seems to be a massive problem for some people.

We go to the park and something like this happens:

Stranger: "Oh, what a beautiful little girl! What's her name?"
Me: "He's a boy and his name is Finnegan."
Stranger: (to F) "When is your mummy going to get your hair cut?"
F: "No! I don't want a hair cut!"
Me: "He doesn't want to have his hair cut right now. I'm waiting until he tells me he's ready."
Stranger: "Oh… But… But…"
Me: *walks away*

Okay, so I come across as kinda rude here, but just imagine if this happened to you multiple times every week. Imagine how fed up you'd get with having the same conversation and standing under the same cloud of judgement. Can you imagine that? Yeah. You'd probably be pretty rude too.

With the way some strangers have reacted to my son's hair, you'd think they were accusing me of negligence or abuse. But it is not child abuse. I could argue that something pretty close to child abuse might be forcing your child into something they don't want and haven't consented to, to which there is no benefit outside of the cosmetic. But then most parents have this romanticised vision of their child's first haircut and I certainly wouldn't want to accuse them of abusing their children. At worst, they conform to a patented parenting script which many others have read before them, and that's fine. There is no malicious intent to be found in that and I have never suggested otherwise. I've just taken a different approach with my children and I feel like that should be okay too.

There's an alternative version of this conversation, of course, which happens far less frequently:

Stranger: "Oh, what a beautiful little girl! What's her name?"
Me: "He's a boy and his name is Finnegan."
Stranger: (to F) "Oh, I'm so sorry! He has such a pretty face, and I love his little ponytail!"
Me: "Thank you. So does he!"

I like these people. Not because they agree with the way I've chosen to raise my children; because they respect my son's right to make his own decisions.

Of course, I can't bring this up without giving a special mention to the hypocrisy of it all. You see, as boys grow up, they are encouraged to view the likes of footballers as role models (although I can't for the life of me imagine why when you consider how often some of them end up in the news for unpleasant reasons). Have you watched football lately? Have you noticed the growing trend that is the Man Bun? A trend which nobody under the age of 60 sees as being remotely odd in any way. It's just the fashion right now and it looks kinda cool, right?

So, hold on a second… a grown man can shave half his hair off, stick the rest up in a topknot and give it a special little name like "man bun" and that's totally fine, yet my son can't wear his hair in a ponytail without my entire approach to parenting being called into question?

Can somebody please explain this to me? Because I just don't get it.

I shouldn't have to defend my parenting while I stand up for my son and his god given right to have autonomy over what happens to his body. Amidst all this feminist ranting we are surrounded by on social media, it's interesting to me that very few people have looked at the other side of this. I'm not going to argue that there isn't still some gender inequality going on – hello, BBC wage gap -, but what's interesting to me is that a little girl can wear her hair however she chooses. She can have it long or short, braided or loose and nobody gives a shit. But when a little boy walks into the park with his hair tied up in a ponytail, the pointing and the whispering starts up. And it's not the kids; it's the parents. The kids couldn't care less. It doesn't even occur to them that they should see anything odd in a little boy wearing his hair in a ponytail.

There are hashtags such as #letclothesbeclothes and #lettoysbetoys which seek to remove the boy/girl divide when it comes to clothing and toys. Brilliant idea. But it has to go both ways. I see a lot of tweets using these hashtags which point out how uncool it is that apparently girls aren't supposed to like dinosaurs or want to be astronauts, and they are absolutely correct. Totally uncool. However, I see far less bemoaning the fact that none of the T-shirts in the "boy" section have unicorns on them or that all of the princess colouring books are with the "girly" stuff.

It just seems to lack… balance.

I'm not saying that all boys should dress up in unicorns and glitter and aspire to be princesses. I'm just saying that it should be perfectly fine if they do. It's not going to damage them or "make them gay" (just DON'T).

And as for long hair? If it bothers you so much that a little boy wants to grow his hair long, well… maybe that says more about you than it does about him or his parents.

While you think about that, I'll be over here playing cars and dollies with my boys.

This is a true story

It’s been a long time since I talked about this. For so long, my recollection of these events has felt like someone else’s life. But the truth is that for about a year between the ages of 16 and 18, I was in an abusive relationship. I was pushed into walls, door frames and, once, the side of a bus. I was held so tightly by my wrists that they were bruised. I was thrown to the floor in the middle of screaming arguments. And one August morning, I was shoved so hard against my bedroom wall that my left collarbone snapped clean in two.

Still, I didn’t see it for what it was until one night when he pushed me in front of a room full of people. Only when I saw the looks on their faces as he was dragged away from me did I realise what was really going on here. Only on that night, when I felt so ashamed of those looks, did I have the guts and conviction to finally walk away.

11 years later, my memories are blurred. Perhaps with subconscious intent. I’ll ask myself some days, “Did it really happen?” Yes. Yes, it really happened. I have the badly healed bone to prove it. But the point is that I have recovered and I have forgiven. I have accepted that sometimes people just bring out the worst in each other. I am not making excuses for him – he and I both know very well what he did. But I cannot be angry about it anymore. I cannot say that I am still a victim, or that I have let those experiences colour my perceptions of men in general.

What do I hope for him now, so many years later? I hope that he has healed from the experiences that led him to be that person in the first place. I hope that he has grabbed hold of the good inside him and made himself out of that. I hope that he is well.

I will not lie to you; it has taken me a long, long time to feel that way. But I have healed. I have forgotten that I was ever afraid, that I ever had a reason to be scared of hearing the front door slam.

N is much bigger than I am. Much stronger too. Easily capable of hurting me if he wanted to. But have I ever for one moment been afraid of him? No. Not for a second. I know who he is. For me to look at him with the same eyes I once looked at that other man would do him a gross injustice. No matter what I say or do – and I can be a long way from innocent myself – I know with absolute certainty that I never, ever have to be afraid of my husband.

There have been times in my life when I have been afraid of men as a whole. When I have had to remind myself that there are only a few bad apples on the tree. But that’s the point; I have trained my brain to self-correct. I refuse to live my life under the misapprehension that all men are bastards.

I don’t know if I will tell my sons about my experiences when they are older. I don’t know if I want them to think of me that way. I do know that I don’t ever want them to feel sorry for me, even retrospectively.

What I will do is raise them to respect other people. To understand the notion of consent. To never, ever intentionally harm another person. And to always speak up if they find themselves in the position of being abused.

It’s not our job as parents to teach our children to be afraid of each other; it’s our job to teach them how to look after one another.

This is what I will teach my children. And I hope that they never, ever find themselves in the same position that I once did.

I need to take a break

If you follow me on twitter or Instagram, you probably already know what this post is about. You’ve probably seen me agonising over making the “right” choice, wondering aloud if I should take a step back. Turn my back on this for a while. Regroup and maybe come back when I am stronger.

There are a lot of reasons why I’ve enjoyed blogging over the last two years, the most notable of which being the connections I’ve made along the way. The moments when someone has reached out and said, “me too”. And I don’t set out to make anyone cry when I write, but when you tell me that one of my posts choked you up, well… that’s a powerful thing.

Those things have made my blogging journey worthwhile.

But blogging has a murky underbelly, and I’ve seen that too.

I’d like to tell you that I haven’t kept half an eye on my stats, but that would be a lie. At times, I have been unhealthily obsessed with them, and when they’ve fallen below a certain daily number I have felt something close to bereft. Which is stupid, because who gives a shit? I didn’t start doing this for anybody other than myself.

I did this for me.

But my inner critic is a dickhead, and she doesn’t think I should be here anymore. She’s seen other bloggers amass a huge following in a matter of months. She’s watched those other bloggers win awards and accolades and she feels… irrelevant.

Which is to say that I feel irrelevant.

Then there’s this:

Whatever mettle I’m made of is probably more of a kittens and rainbows composition than it is rhinos and sass. I’d like to pretend that your words don’t hurt me, but the truth is that sometimes they do and I can’t control that. When you tell me to pull myself together and stop being so negative, it stings. Because here I am, baring my soul, trusting strangers with my words and having it thrown back in my face.

Here I am being told that my feelings on any particular subject are not legitimate. They don’t matter; I just need to stop whining about it.

I don’t want to care about this. I don’t want to lie awake, wondering how I could have phrased things differently to avoid this reaction. I don’t want to be angry with myself for giving anything approaching a flying fuck about what anyone else thinks.

But I’ll tell you this for nothing: more than once I have opened a notification from WordPress or Twitter and I have read the words of a stranger with a pounding heart and shaking hands. I have felt diminished. I have cried over words written by people I’ll never meet, who don’t know me and don’t give a shit about how those words have made me feel.

And the inconvenient truth is that I’m just not strong enough for that right now. I’m not brave enough to read those words and face seeing myself through those eyes.

Certainly I was naive to believe that I could put my thoughts and feelings up for public scrutiny and get away with it, but I just wanted to write.

And write I will.

Just not on this platform for a while.

For my sons 

Dear O and F,

Lately I’ve realised that I didn’t bring you into the world that I thought I had. I had so much hope when you were both born, but then things seemed to change. Or maybe the changes were already happening and I hadn’t noticed. Either way, I want you to know that I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that there is so much hatred and division in the world. I’m sorry that most of the stories you see glimpses of on the news are stories of war and misery. I’m sorry that the sea levels are rising and the ice caps are melting. Most of all, I’m sorry that the burden of fixing our broken society – and planet – is going to fall upon the shoulders of your generation.

But there is still a little glimmer of hope alive inside me, and that is because of you. Because I am going to do the very best I can to raise you to be tolerant and inclusive and brave. You are both surrounded by people of different colours and faiths and that is a wonderful thing. You are already learning that those people have exactly the same value as you do in the world, without even being taught. And why should you need to be taught? The only thing you need to know is this: That under our clothes and beneath our skin, no matter which god we answer to – or don’t – we are all the same inside.

Gandhi said that we must be the change we wish to see in the world, but as your mother I have a unique opportunity to go beyond that. I have the opportunity to raise you to also be that change. To teach you to challenge inequality and discrimination. To show you how to make better choices for our planet. To help you to find your voices and use them to speak up for those who have no voice of their own.

I look at you, I see your innocence and your joy and I feel afraid for you. And more than that, I feel guilt. Because there will come a day when I can no longer protect you from the storm happening around you, when I will have to let you see the extent of the damage. I don’t know what the world will look like when you are grown up, but as it stands there is a man in the White House who doesn’t believe in climate change and our own country is on the brink of leaving the European Union. Neither of these facts makes me feel encouraged about the shape of things to come.

But when I look at you, I also see how strong you are. I see how fiercely you love your family and your friends – and, perhaps most importantly, each other -, and I know that you have so much to give to the world. Being with you is exhausting, but it is also healing and rejuvenating. And I know that’s not just because you are children and you are predisposed to be wonderful; it is because of who you are. It’s because you’re funny and smart and kind, and you make me feel hopeful about the future.

So I’m sorry that the world you will inherit is a bit of a mess, but I know that it will be safe in your hands and I’m not going to stop trying to tidy it up in the meantime.

You already are and are going to be amazing.

I love you,


Standing there alone

Dear dads in the playground,

I see you standing there and I know by your body language that you feel a bit awkward and out of place. Like you don’t really belong, because all around you is a sea of mums. We’ve had some kind of progress over the last ten years, but you’re still a minority here.

Don’t stand there on your own, though. Come and talk to me. Because you might feel like an outsider, but I feel like an imposter.

Sure, I’m the same gender as most of the other parents here, but I don’t think of myself as one of them. We have the same credentials on paper, which is to say that we are mothers and we are here to collect our children. But I look at these other women and I don’t feel like I’m part of the clan.

It’s hard to explain why that is, really. I could say it’s because I’m a “young mum”, but I’m not far off turning 30 now and I don’t really think that applies anymore. Maybe it’s because I perceive these other women to be more successful than I am, both as mothers and in their working lives. It could even simply be the fact that they look like they’ve got their shit together and I don’t feel like I ever will.

Or it might just be the difference between their expensive Ugg boots and my battered Converse.

But the thing is, you dads make me feel at ease. I don’t struggle to make conversation with you. When you’re having a shit time and you’re tired and running out of patience, you don’t grit your teeth and pretend everything’s fine. You own it. You’re not in competition with anybody, but I feel like us mums always are. We are always trying to be better than the mum next to us.

I mean, that’s not the case once you’ve scratched the surface and cultivated a proper friendship with a fellow mum. Then the warts-and-all of motherhood comes out and I feel like it’s okay to admit that some days I struggle. But when you’re just chatting in the playground, you laugh off the fact that your toddler has scribbled all over your linoleum floor, even though you feel like you’re dying a little bit inside every time you look at it. You don’t admit that you’ve ever lost your shit and shouted, or wondered for just a fleeting second if it was such a good idea to have children after all.

But you dads do, and I admire you so much for that. Here are three recent conversations I’ve had with dads:

Dad 1: “I’m so tired I feel like my eyelids are turning inside out. When is he ever going to just sleep through the night?!”

Dad 2: “How was your summer? Ours was looooooonnnngggg.”

Dad 3: “I know all of the parenting books tell you that you shouldn’t do it and it doesn’t work and it’s the worst parenting fail ever… but the only time he listens to me is when I shout at him!”

I’ve never heard any of the mums in the playground say any of those things to each other. And it’s not that I don’t think they ever do, it’s just that they do it in the evening over dinner with their partners or during a rare outing for drinks with their trusted mum confidantes. But I’m not like them; I’m more like you. I don’t see the point in pretending, because I don’t understand why we perpetuate this competitive culture.

So come and talk to me. Tell me you’re tired and struggling and your kids drove you to despair last night when they flatly refused to get out of the bath and go to bed. I won’t judge you; I’ll empathise completely. I love my children. I love them so much that when they hug me, I never want to let them go. I look forward to seeing their faces and hearing their little voices every single morning when I wake up.

But I am not sailing through this and I can’t be bothered to try and keep up the facade that I am.

You’re all brilliant dads, and I can see that you love your children just as fiercely as I do my own. I can see it in their faces when they are so delighted that daddy is picking them up today, and in your own when you sweep them up into your arms. But your honesty comforts me, and I hate to see you standing there alone.

And if you’re reading this as a fellow mum and you feel like you don’t belong, it’s not just you; I’m right there with you. I’ll be the awkward to your uncomfortable, if you like.

We’re all in this together, aren’t we?



The Alternative Motherhood Challenge

Does everybody remember the Motherhood Challenge? That whole thing where you got tagged by a fellow mother (I never did, by the way) and had to post a certain number of photos to social media showing why you loved being a mother? You were then supposed to nominate a bunch of your “awesome mummy friends” to take part as some kind of dubious accolade. Suffice it to say that I didn’t really get it. For me, the real challenge of Motherhood is not found in posed photographs of my offspring (although it is a challenge to get them to stay still), but in the other myriad shit that comes along with the job title. 

So! Without further ado, this is a collection of photographs from my Alternative Motherhood Challenge.

Dry-wipe pens: These bastard things. I know they’re washable, but they don’t come out of the fucking carpet. Believe me. And I can’t even take them away because they are part of a very useful educational tool. Fuck these things. This is why kids in my day only had pencils.
Potties: You wouldn’t think there’d be anything more gag-worthy than a shitty nappy, would you? Especially one of those really sticky, smeary ones. But then there’s the potty, in the bottom of which sits a freshly dropped turd that you are going to have to now watch slide gracelessly into the toilet, leaving a nice, long skid mark. So now you have to wipe the potty and wash it out. Not a whole lot different from wiping caked-on crap off your kid’s bum, really. Even worse when your curious toddler decides to fill it with toys and present it to you like a particularly horrible and unsanitary gift.

Sippy cup valves: You know that moment when your kid tips up the sippy cup, waterboards himself and then sits blinking, spluttering and glaring at you with an impressive degree of loathing? That’s the precise moment when you realise you forgot to put that clever little valve back in the lid of the cup after you spent three hours mucking it out with a pipe cleaner. Just three seconds later than you probably should have remembered.

The Favourite Cuddly: Its bedtime and your kid’s favourite snuggly creature/blanket is nowhere to be found. You’ve looked behind the curtains, under the sofa and in the washing machine. You’ve even gingerly lifted the lid and peered into the toilet, just in case. But the thing has completely fucking vanished. It has left planet Earth. It will never be seen again and your child will never, ever stop crying about it. You’re actually crying yourself as you sink onto the sofa after spending two and a half hours rocking your bereft baby to sleep. Wait, why is this seat so lumpy? Is that…? Ah. There it is. It was behind the bloody cushion all along. Attachment objects are, of course, an absolute essential for any child, but can they just remember where they’ve put them every once in a while? I’m so sick of wandering around the house at 9pm muttering “where the actual fuck is the bloody fucking bunny?!” to myself on repeat every other night. Oh, and don’t even think about washing it. Just accept the fact that your child is dragging a germ-rag around and tell yourself it’s good for their immune system.

Of course, there’re also stickers, tantrums, hidden shoes and when the car seat straps get twisted and you have to take the whole buggering thing apart to fix it, but the four things I’ve chosen here are the ones that get on my tits the most.

It’s a good job they’re cute, isn’t it?

I’d love to hear about your Alternative Motherhood Challenge, so feel free to get in touch on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, or leave me a comment on this post.

This is real life

I can’t quite believe that it is November already. It doesn’t feel like more than five minutes have passed since we were last here, gearing up for Christmas and hiding the Argos catalogue from our children.

Our year has passed in a blur of breakthroughs and setbacks, from the triumph of watching O settle gradually into school after a rocky start, to the misery of seeing F continue with his food struggles. This is the nature of family life, of parenting children with different personalities and issues. O can suffer from social anxiety. F may well feel the reverberations of his battle with reflux for the rest of his life. But we do the best we can. As parents, I believe we all repeat the same mantra to ourselves at irregular intervals: It will get better. We tell ourselves that nothing can be challenging or worrying or downright shit forever.

When O clung to me, sobbing, as we walked through the school gates at the beginning of his third week, his anxiety and sadness unchanged from the previous two, I told myself: It will get better. And it did. Now he runs to join his friends with barely a backward glance. He’s part of a trio of boys who are all mischievous, buoyant and sharp as tacks. He is learning to read and write, he brings home artwork and stories of the games he has played and new skills he has learnt. He is happy and settled in his new school, and I am content to have become a background character in this chapter of his life.

It got better.

When I finally realised that F was vomiting during mealtimes not because he couldn’t stop himself, but because he didn’t want the food I had put in front of him, I told myself – through my horror that a child would do such a thing to himself – It will get better. And it has. Ish. Mealtimes are still a battleground and my victories are few, but that there are any victories at all is progress itself. Once there was nothing I could do to persuade him that food was not his enemy. Now he will try new things. Last week he finally started eating porridge and I felt elated. At last, a good start to the day! It was such a small thing. It was the biggest thing in the world.

It is getting better.

Life with children is a kaleidoscope; colourful and changeable in equal measure. There are blissful moments, snapshots of our expectations as parents. A Sunday morning cuddle in bed with both kids, both cats and nobody fighting. A walk through the woods, kicking up the Autumn leaves and collecting conkers to be preserved in a jar as a physical reminder of a magical afternoon. A peaceful hour as my children play happily together while I claw back some time to put the house in order or catch up on laundry. In these moments, we could be a family from a photograph in a magazine. In these moments, we are the family I always imagined I would have.

Our autumn adventures

Then there are the other moments, far less blissful and, currently, much more numerous. My kids rolling around on the floor, beating the shit out of each other as my attempts to referee fall on deaf ears. An epic tantrum in the middle of Sainsbury’s over who gets to carry the receipt back to the car. The flooded bathroom floor. Again. These moments often happen all in the same day and leave me exhausted and wondering if I’m really cut out for this whole motherhood thing. But these moments are also totally eclipsed by the love I feel for and joy I find in my children.

The truth is that I probably recite my mantra at least a few times a day, every single day. Sometimes it is not easy. Sometimes as I close their bedroom doors at the end of a long day, I breathe a sigh of relief. Sometimes I just wish they would stop fucking winding each other up all the time.

But they are still so little. Their emotions and ability to handle life’s complications are still developing. For them right now, being given something different for breakfast than what they were expecting is a big deal. For them, it’s not unreasonable to throw a blistering wobbly because they got Rice Crispies when they blatantly asked for Coco Pops.

This is life with young children.

There will be bad days.

It will get – and is getting – better.

In which F turns two

Tomorrow is a big day.

Tomorrow my little one, my baby, turns two.

There are two things about this that I find strange.

The first is directly linked to how very, painfully clearly I remember the first few days and months after we brought him home. I suffered hard with the “baby blues” about three days after he was born. The sleep deprivation was catching up with me and I was just so fucking tired. I couldn’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t be just exhausted.

Then the other stuff came. The reflux. The flat refusal to feed at 1am. The vomit-soaked sheets at 3am. The endless crying through the night. By the time F was two months old I was bewilderedly wondering what the fuck I’d done to my life by deciding to have a second child.

It felt like it would never, ever end.

You know the story. We got help. We got it via A&E on a dismal Sunday afternoon and we left without our son in the early hours of the following morning, but we got help. Things got better, slowly at first and then with gathering momentum. The cute, heart-melting moments gradually began to outstrip the moments of panic and strangulating fear.

By F’s first birthday, I was more in love with him than I could ever have imagined in those early, awful months.

That love has only grown as I’ve watched him change and develop. He has a cheeky wit and a fierce stubbornness that both amuses and infuriates me in equal measure. I love him. I love the life out of him, the very bones of him, every little thing that makes him who he is.

But a part of me also feels sad tonight, which brings me to the other strange thing:

The fact that my youngest child is now two.

By this milestone in his brother’s life, I was halfway through my second pregnancy. And I know that I’m not going to have any more babies. Which means that all of the cute things that F is doing now, all of the first times, the hilariously mispronounced words, the post-nap snuggles… all of those things are gradually going to stop. And then I’ll have to navigate life with older boys, who don’t want to cuddle me so much, who don’t need me to reassure them when they go someplace new, and who won’t tell me, “I yoooooooove yoooooo!” with reckless abandon.

And I know I can’t stop them from growing up. I don’t want to stop them; I want them to go ahead and become whoever it is that they’re going to be, because they will be brilliant no matter what.


Can we just stop? Just for a tiny, little while? Can we keep these moments for just a little longer?

My mom used to tell me, “I wish that I could pickle these cuddles and keep them in a jar.” I always thought she was so weird when she said that.

Now I know exactly what she meant.

Happy birthday, F. You wonderful, brave, strong and very special little boy, you.