Fears of Being a ‘Bad’ Mom

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I consider myself an experienced mother now that I have three small children. I don’t freak out when they get sick, I manage to get them to eat a healthy and varied diet, and I’m almost finished with the sleep issues (although Ellie is recently making another valiant effort at trying to cripple me with her recent 1 to 2 hour-long, no-reason, wakeups at 2am — I will prevail!!)

So why do I feel like I am a bad mom? It’s all about that mommy guilt and I am a huge sufferer of it.  I actually do feel that I have several weaknesses that don’t parlay into being a great mothering figure.

First of all, I never really was a baby person so the three plus years of intense baby time that I have experienced has been a complete drudgery to me with the occasional glimpses of humor (like when I had three diapered children screaming bloody hell at the same time because of runny poo all over their legs and I was only able to change one at a time while the other two ran around contaminating everything in the room).

Ok, there is one caveat about babies.  Breastfeeding was truly a special experience and one that still gives me warm fuzzies when I remember it.

Second, I’m selfish.  I miss the days of doing whatever I wanted.  Going out to restaurants and movies, meeting friends at bars, having a career, sitting around and reading a great book, and just tending to my own needs.  This causes me to now seek alone time whenever I can.  When the twins go down for a nap, I feel a strong desire to get on the computer and browse my favorite sites even though I still have my oldest, Will, clamoring for attention from me.  It is so hard for me to muster up some creative energy for him and that is something I really want to change.

Third, I find there are more stresses and unpleasantness than there are joys right now.  I see moms around me and I know moms who say “Oh, I love being a mom!”.  I certainly DON’T love it.  I do find special moments when my heart swells with love and gratefulness for my children, but right now I have to say that the pendulum is swinging to the “Not Fun” side of motherhood.  I keep getting reassured that this will change as they get older.

Finally, let me say I adore my kids and I am fiercely protective of them.  I wouldn’t change my decision to have them but I worry that my issues make me a less than perfect mom.  I strive to improve these weaknesses day by day.  Is there anyone else out there that has similar feelings?  Please share and make me feel less like a failing mom!

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Junior Beds for the Twins: A Three Ring Circus

It’s been a while because I’m swamped with doing three different sets of taxes, two of them terribly late.  But now I have two hours on my own at a car service center waiting for my safety inspection, which is giving me the perfect opportunity to write.

My latest adventure involves the twins’ sleep (upon which most of my well-being and happiness seem to depend).  We have finally had a week of very fine weather which the Brits would call ‘hot’ but I consider very comfortable at about 75/80 degrees during the day.  Our house is an old Victorian house with no air conditioning, like most English houses, and the heat seems to build primarily in the twins’ bedroom which is south-facing.  Because of the heat, I can’t put sleep sacks on them anymore and with this newfound freedom my daughter Ellie  attempts to sling her leg over the side of her crib anytime her feet are unfettered.  She wants to escape but hasn’t grasped that she will go flying head first to the ground if she succeeds, probably breaking her neck.  I did briefly consider restraints but thought the health and safety crew might come after me for breaking rule 12,453 of their code.  No, the best alternative would be eliminating the crib and putting her into a junior bed.

Fortunately, I had already purchased two junior beds for Ellie and Jack.  I was dreading the transition.  We put the beds in the center of the room, moved their cribs against the windows so we could open the windows without worrying about the twins trying to climb out, and lay them in the beds.  Ellie and Jack popped up immediately and started jumping up and down on the beds and then running around the room like Energizer bunnies.  I was sort of at a loss and decided to do the regular night-time routine and then just leave them to it.    We locked the door and then watched the video monitor for the next 3 hours.  Holy SHIT!  It’s like there were two Tasmanian devils wreaking havoc in the room.  They got into EVERYTHING!  First Ellie cried for a while, banging on the door, and then she antagonized her brother a bit, trying to take away his security blanket.  Jack was worse.  He grabbed the monitor and unplugged it before I realized what he had done.  I moved it further out of reach.  He then went after the lamp which I thought was totally out of reach — my mistake.  He pulled it down to the floor and was turning on and off, on and off, until I got there and removed it.  Ellie finally passed out half on and half off  Jack’s bed which Jack found amusing so he kept poking her trying to get her to react.  When he finally managed to wake her after 20 minutes, he passed out on his bed while she wailed.  It was 10pm before both had fallen asleep.

Needless to say, they haven’t taken any naps in the two days since we brought out the beds.  How the hell am I going to get them to sleep??  I welcome your suggestions.

Why are you staring? — Am I a spectacle?

I am getting really sick and tired of being stared at when I am out with my kids. Does anyone else have this problem or is this just an English thing? Here is an example:

I decide to go to the coffee shop with the kids which is one of the only places I can go around here with the kids that is indoors without going to a full-fledged restaurant. It’s pretty pathetic actually — that’s my little outing for the morning when I am really stretched for ideas with the kids and I am on my own. For those of you who wonder why I can’t take them to playgroups alone, you have to imagine trying to monitor my three kids under 4 in a room full of little kids and play equipment. It’s nearly impossible without one of my kids hurting themselves or someone else. So I usually have to stay at home on the days my nanny doesn’t work or go somewhere like the coffee shop where I can buckle the little ones into the high chairs and hope like hell my eldest, Will, behaves. Now back to my point…

I wheel my double stroller and pre-schooler into the coffee shop with some difficulty, navigating the door and a step with Will struggling to push the door open and no one coming over to help but lots of them watching (including another mum with a baby of her own — COME ON!!! Where is your mum solidarity??) So I finally get inside, get in line trying to push the stroller as close to the counter as possible so that people can get by while trying to rein Will in from bumping into people, grabbing the treats on display, and chattering away at full volume. Uh-oh, and now the twins start fussing because we’ve stopped moving and we’re in a stuffy room. I finally get my order and I scan the room for a table with space around it, and navigate around people’s tables to get to our spot. It takes me about 5 minutes to get everyone set up. Jackets off, two high chairs, push the stroller to the side, get snacks out for the little ones, get Will seated and eating his snack, and finally I get to sit down with my coffee. Ahhhhh. The three children are momentarily occupied so I scan the room. Right next to me I see an elderly couple and the man is openly staring at me. I glance away and a minute later look back again. He’s still staring at me and not averting his eyes!! I get distracted by fussing at the table, fighting among the children about snacks, the usual chaos, and I know my time is getting short. I try to drink my coffee quickly. I feel the stare on me still. I look again and this time I don’t break my gaze. How obnoxious — he won’t stop staring with a slight smirk this time!   I have to look away because the kids are getting restless so I get them ready for leaving — faces wiped, picking up food off the floor, coats on, into the stroller for the twins and Ellie starts to scream because she doesn’t want to get into the stroller. Right about this time, the old man who hasn’t stopped staring has the nerve to say, “It is only going to get harder” with that damn smirk on his face. I’m about to lose it because I am already feeling self-conscious and I’ve been desperately trying to keep everyone calm the entire time just so I could enjoy one fucking cup of coffee outside my house. Instead of snapping at him, which would probably play right into his condescension, I hold everything in and give him a sunny smile and say, “Oh really? I don’t find them any trouble at all. They are wonderful lively children and I love every minute with them.”  I feel really proud of myself for not giving him the upper hand.  Who would say that to a mom who is clearly struggling and trying to not create a scene.  Is that supposed to make me feel better?  What an asshole!! I pack them all up and stroll out of the coffee shop.

This is just one isolated incident but basically this happens to me all the time.  Usually without the comments thank goodness.  But everywhere I go people are staring and it usually is the elderly who are the worst.  Is having three young children so unusual?  My twins are not even identical!  Maybe there is something flamboyant about how I go about my business — who knows?  I just get sick and tired of feeling like I stick out like a sore thumb over here.

I miss America

I just watched the film Blindside the other day and it really made me miss America. Let me preface this by letting you know I have spent a lot of my life living and travelling abroad, so I am not one of these people who has never truly experienced diverse cultures. I have lived in Europe, Canada, and Africa for several years each. But never have I missed my home more than now, living in England with my young family.  I feel like I am living in a cocoon over here separate from everything and everyone that is important to me.  My children are growing up without any relatives close by and with less than a handful of friends.  I actually miss the culture of America and everything Americans stand for.  I know that lots of people will have negative things to say about American culture but once you have children and live abroad you realize all the good things that your kids are missing out on — things that you took for granted growing up in America.  Let me list a few important things that I miss:

1.  The sports/activity mentality – At home kids are always playing an active game of some sort, whether organized or not.  Softball/baseball, swimming, soccer, tag, red light/green light, hockey (in an ice rink or on the pond out back with neighborhood kids), sledding, snowball fights with well built snow forts, basketball, throwing a football around, and the list just goes on and on.  That’s what kids do.  If the weather is at all passable, they go outside and play something.  My whole childhood was spent outside with friends.  Here in England, kids are just not encouraged to go outside and play as much.  There are lots of organized playgroups or visits to museums and such but not just free playing outside.  Maybe the weather is a main issue since it basically rains all winter long.  Or maybe there just isn’t as much free space around.  And don’t get me started on ‘Elf and Safety.  I don’t know but I miss carefree America.

2.  Team sports in school – this is somewhat related to #1 but after seeing Blindside I was jones-ing for an American football game.  The adrenaline of cheering your team on to win a tight game, especially if your child is playing, is an amazing natural high.  Winning is great!  Losing sucks but is a necessary part of learning about life.  I have no patience with games in school where “everyone wins”.  That’s ridiculous and unhealthy.  I see a lot of that over here in England.  Hopefully, that trend isn’t starting in America as well.

The sports over here are just not as exciting to me.  And there seems to be less of them to choose from especially for girls.

3.  Moms being friendly and connecting with you because you both have kids – this seems strange but lately as I have been taking Will to pre-school and waiting to pick him up, I have had some disappointing interactions with the British mums as we wait to be let into the school at noon.  Here is a gist of what happens:  I walk up to the gate where there are three or four other mums.  I say a friendly, “Hello!” and smile.  I get small grins and murmured, “Hello” back.  Then everyone shifts their eyes elsewhere.  We stand in silence.  So I try again.  “We finally got some sun today”.  I direct this to the nearest mum.  She smiles, says, “Yes” and we stand there quietly again.  Nervously waiting, shifting feet, staring at the door, uncomfortable….. silent.  It’s ridiculous!  I just know at home, there would be a hum of conversation and just a smile at one of the moms would get a conversation started.  I never thought I was a social butterfly but I miss socializing.

4.  The sun – Boy, am I sun deprived here!  I am used to being drenched in sun, having spent a good majority of my life in a southern state.  The perpetual darkness in this country actually depresses me.  Don’t underestimate the power of bad weather on your long-term psyche.  I can understand why the early English left England and tried to conquer the world. The weather had to be better anywhere else.   If it was my fate to live permanently on this windy, rainy island I would do my damnedest to find a nice, warm, sunny island to take-over.

So that’s all I have time for.  Kids are up and clamouring for my attention.  I have no idea what we are going to do — it’s raining again.

Sleep training follow up and a rant about British mums!

Just to update everyone regarding my last post, it’s now been two weeks of the sleep training and it has been much less painful than I expected. Ellie wakes once or twice before midnight but afterwards sleeps through until about 5:30 a.m. My strategy was to let her cry for 5 minutes before checking on her and then leaving right away. Then I let her cry 10 minutes, etc. I never had to go past the 10 minute cry point, thank goodness! And amazingly, her twin brother didn’t wake up once during this process. Getting up at 5:30 a.m is another issue. With the days getting longer I have a feeling that 5 a.m. is going to be a regular wake up time for me, ugh! Additionally, my oldest child has been waking in the night a lot lately due to night terrors/nightmares so I am still not well rested. Can anyone tell me when a mum gets back to some regular sleep? How many years must I wait?

So, we all went to a birthday party last weekend for a 5-year-old friend of Will’s. It was held in a church hall and had about 15 kids. When my husband and I arrived the first thing we noticed was all the mums (weirdly, there were only mums there and this was on a Saturday) were sitting on the stage at the one end of the hall lined up like a bunch of birds on a wire, watching their kids playing different games with the host and hostess at the other end of the hall. Naturally, Jason and I walked our kids over to the other kids and then we participated in, helped with, and sat nearby the activities. I kept glancing over to the mums and they just kept sitting there even when a pinata was brought out and the kids lined up to take their turn with it. Let me emphasize that this hall was rather long so they were quite far away. I just don’t get it! Why wouldn’t you come over, take some pictures, talk to the hostess who invited you, and be involved with your kid? Apologies to my British readers but this is just another typical example of British coolness and disinterest. I couldn’t believe it! Then it was lunch time and all the kids were to sit down at these little tables and not one mum got up to either assist her child or to offer the hostess any help. Correction, there was one mother who came a little later and did help and socialize, but she was Nigerian! So the Nigerian and the Americans helped the Mexican hostess while the 8 British mums did not once remove their asses from the stage during a two-hour party. Typical.

Tonight’s the Night!

I have just had the two worst weeks in a long time. Now I am going to sound like a spoiled brat but here goes — my nanny was sick all last week (did I mention that I have a nanny who works from 9 – 3pm every weekday)?  That was the kicker to a monumentally bad week that made me feel like a worthless, inept, and totally alone mum.

Then add the following:

  • having to start a school run in the morning and trying to get the three kids fed, dressed, and out of the house by 8am on my own,
  • my husband working late every night and having to go away on business Friday through Sunday,
  • getting a major snowstorm in the middle of the week so that I was stuck at home entertaining the kids for a couple of days on my own (school was not cancelled amazingly)
  • still getting woken up at a minimum of 3 times a night but up to 10 times a night by mainly my 17 month old daughter and sometimes the other two.

I was completely miserable and despite having lived here almost five years, I had no one I could talk to.  Now some of this is definitely my fault.  Being shy by nature, it is hard for me to initiate and sustain conversations with the already reticent Brits.  Also, every year we have lived here, we have moved house due to various circumstances so that we have not had the time to really get to know people in an area.  I even broke down sobbing to William’s headmistress who I barely know although she was terribly sweet to me.  So life sucks right now because I have no close friends to talk to besides my husband (who is my best friend but works long hours in order to support his brood).

I started this blog a couple of weeks ago thinking that the worst was over.  It’s now February and I’m more exhausted than ever because my nights have been so bad with my daughter Ellie.  So I have decided that tonight is the night I am going to start sleep training a la Ferber method.  I know everyone has an opinion on this but when you are getting up 8 times a night or more, letting your child cry feels a little like payback.  Yes, I know that isn’t a nice thing to say but  I have no qualms about that.  However, I am feeling a little guilty about letting her twin brother suffer however long this takes.  I could move him out of the room but I don’t feel like it will be good for him OR her.  He won’t like the new environment and she won’t learn to sleep in her normal situation.  So tonight, I’m going to let her cry 5, 10, and then 15 minutes and see how it goes.  She is terribly stubborn (gets it from both sides unfortunately) but I’m motivated even though I am already feeling like the walking dead.  Can’t get much worse.  Will let you know how it goes once I am able to raise my head out of the chaos of crying and sleeplessness.