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How to be a parent (when you don’t want to)

By Renee Shaw IN Discover

There’s a joke told to new mothers that if I had a dollar for every time I heard it, I’d be typing this on a much nicer keyboard. “I bet you wish you could Google “How to be a parent!” Ha..ha..ha.

Or my personal favourite, “Babies! They don’t come with a manual!” Thanks, Aunty Maureen – bloody enlightening tidbit. These cliched old lines are well-meaning and meant to comfort, but they don’t help much at the witching hour with a cluster feeding 3-month-old.

I’ve been there before. For quite a few months on end. Not wanting to be a mum, crying on the phone in the afternoons to my parents, wondering what was wrong with me.

When others couldn’t have children, why was I being so selfish and so ungrateful?

(And looking back, so judgemental of myself!)

Not wanting to parent (postpartum depression)

There was a time when I wouldn’t even dare whisper it but internally I was screaming “why did we even HAVE a baby?!”

I felt that all my daughter did was cry, rarely slept, she didn’t seem like a “happy baby”.

I felt this was a reflection on my parenting. Somehow, I was doing wrong, somehow, I wasn’t supposed to be a mother.

Someone had made a mistake. At the hospital when she was born, surely they were supposed to realise this?

But how do you be a parent when you don’t want to? How do you mother?

Each time my daughter woke in the night to breastfeed, I felt the immense pressure weighing on me, I was on the clock.

During the day, I knew what I was “supposed” to do. You only have to type in ” motherhood” on Instagram and you are smacked in the face with a possible 18.6 million posts under the tag.

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I knew I was supposed to engage with my child, play with her, feed her, encourage tummy time, play brain developing music, do sensory activities, make our own playdoh, get outside every day, make sure she has a baby group, take her to baby swimming, only feed her home-cooked food and make sure she was reaching her “milestones”.

exhausting

How I look just thinking about it 

I knew all the contradictory information too.

Not to mention the actual parenting philosophies that my husband and I wanted to explore when raising our child.

There’s little wondering why the birth of a new life often leaves some mothers feeling completely stripped of themselves.

I felt I had given myself completely, physically and emotionally over to my daughter and at the developmental age where she couldn’t speak or move much; she wasn’t in a position to give much back to me.

Ashamed at myself I sunk lower into post-partum depression until a breaking point where I attempted to take my life.

That’s what I don’t want for any other parents.

Sometimes, in the darkest days of our mental health, we have no choice but to be parents.

Here’s a list of things I’ve learned can help.

Parent yourself, think of your needs

Looking back, I can see that a large part of my undoing was a lack of physical support in those months after my daughter came home from the NICU.

Think about when you feel physically ill, maybe you have the sniffles, you’re getting a sore throat. If you have had a non-traumatic upbringing, you may, by default – think of your mother or father and how they’d soothe your cold when you were a child.

I know that personally, even as an adult, when I’m sick I just want mum to make it better.

This is about applying that same loving warmth but to yourself.

Grab a keep cup and take a coffee to the park with your small person, or babywear them and stroll along your favourite path or beach.

It’s about compromise instead of sacrificing every piece of yourself for the sake of being “a great mum”.

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How to get rid of guilt?

This is absolutely the hardest tip on the list. I

‘m not going to sugarcoat it. I judge myself 50,000 times a day (on a good day).

There’s nothing like sitting on the couch Googling “how to stop feeling guilty” and browsing Pinterest “mum guilt” pins to really show you how bad it’s gotten.

I believe the key to this is just noting. Noting is a technique used in mindfulness where you simply observe what your brain is telling you and “note” it. Then you let it go.

Sounds simple enough but it’s a tough one to crack if you’re a worrier like me. If you’re looking to dip your toes into mindfulness and need some help, being guided is probably the way to go. Check out the many masterclasses in The Sanctuary.

Take a mum break

If things are already at their tipping point, you’ve probably already thought of asking for help. Now is the time to do it. Partners, husbands, grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbours.

In Australia, take advantage of the child care subsidy. There are playgroups that can be just as much a catch up for mums as for kids. Local churches often run playgroups as well as community groups. If you can’t get outside?

Feeling like crap and can’t get on top of the cleaning and whatever else?

Sit on the couch in your knickers if you need to while your baby watches Sesame Street. I DO NOT CARE what Cindy Lou Who says about recommended guidelines. Whatever it takes to get through the day, a rough patch is better than a rough life, and frankly, a few hours of television (or even a whole day) is better than a parent who isn’t there permanently*.

Lean on your online friends. Join Facebook groups, Instagram can be great for connecting if you use it wisely and don’t fall into comparison traps.

*It should go without saying that I am not a healthcare professional and I am recommending what has worked for me, not in a time of crisis but during a low point of my depression. If you find yourself in a crisis please seek out your mental health crisis team or head to emergency.

Talk to another parent or expert

The GP.

In Australia, a mental health care plan will allow up to 10 subsided sessions with a psychologist per calendar year, if you have co-morbidities I believe it can be reviewed.

There are also publicly run services that have psychological services and counsellors available free of charge. Mother peer support services may be available in your area also which can majorly benefit feelings of loneliness and isolation.

And that’s how to be a parent.

Most days now, I really do want to.

This Anxious Mum

Renee Shaw

Renee balances her time between raising her daughter and writing over at This Anxious Mum. She is passionate about teaching through her lived experience and helping women heal through words

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