Motherhood occurs to me like a mystery, unravelling as I think, feel and fumble my way through it. Through my mistakes and missteps, I unveiled for myself the masks of motherhood that were holding me back. This is the reference guide I wish someone had given to me when I first became a mum.
1. Motherhood is not a competition where the best mummy martyr wins. For some reason, my generation got it into their heads that the ‘best’ kind of mother sacrifices all of her own needs, identity and interests in order to parent well. If you don’t continue to be your own wonderful, interesting self – post babies – and make time for yourself as an individual, you put yourself at risk of depression and disempowerment.
2. With so many other parents (and grandmas, usually at supermarkets) judging your parenting prowess, remember you’ve got to back yourself. Don’t ever stop thinking, ‘I’m doing it my way, thanks very much’.
3. Having a baby can change what you value, however, if you don’t feel that being a full-time, stay-at-home mum is you, don’t do it. And vice versa. You need to be who you are, all the time.
4. If you choose not to breastfeed, or you can’t breastfeed for whatever reason, you’re no less of a mother. Ditto for your childbirth experience, baby’s sleeping arrangements and how much you enjoy playing Thomas the Tank Engine, again.
5. Your time becomes precious and limited when you’re a mum. Spend time on things you absolutely LOVE doing and only ever with people who absolutely LOVE you.
6. Do little, thoughtful things to maintain your marriage and work hard on your communication – it gets trickier to resolve even the smallest issues with less time and energy. Once the kids are old enough, put Dora on TV and have a lovely lie in.
7. Ignore every person who judges your child. They have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. They don’t know your child, or you, or your family. They can often disguise themselves as baby and childhood ‘experts’, however, no one will ever know your child like you. Back your instincts about your children, always.
8. It’s normal for motherhood to be both yin and yang…the most amazing highs of love, laughter, traditions, milestones and celebrations, buffered by the overwhelming lows of loneliness, frustration, anger, confusion and unrelenting exhaustion.
9. Your children will survive if they miss out on a prize in pass the parcel, play outside in the mud and rain, and eat tinned spaghetti when you’re too tired to cook.
10. Don’t waste precious time worrying about whether you’re getting parenting right. You’re not. But no one else is either. There’s no such thing as ‘right’ or perfect in parenting. In any moment, on any day, you are everything you need to be.
Photograph: Sue Stubbs