Capacity has the pleasure of showcasing another 'Parent of the Month'. I am so honoured to introduce this supermum, Rachael. I met Rach a few years ago when we used to work together. I very clearly remember meeting her because she called me Polly for weeks before realising that my name was Penny. Too funny. She has since taken on the role of Mum to three boys under three. Yep! Her eldest is turning three later this year and she also has one-year-old twin boys.
She was quick to come to mind as someone worth interviewing, particularly after her open sharing during the #OwnUpInOctober campaign I ran last year.
Rach has been a big supporter of my message and has openly said she will share anything that is going to help me to help others. So here we are: Rach in her filter-free zone best.
It's multifaceted, for me anyway. It's as simple as eating differently to the kids. At the start [of my parenting gig] I struggled to give myself permission; I was putting too much pressure on myself. If I want to eat my own food, or have a shower or go out with my friends, I can leave my kids with my husband. My husband isn't babysitting, he's parenting. I have had to shift my thinking around that. Around the balance of shared care and changing the mindset from him doing me favours all the time to him being an equal contributor in his family home. My identity is not as a housewife. I work. My job everyday is raising our children. I had to stop thanking him whenever he changed a nappy!
Yoga has become a big part of my life after having kids. The breathing and the practice helps me to stay grounded. I struggle with my body, particularly after having the twins. My body shape has dramatically changed. It’s not even the size - it’s just that accommodating two lives does crazy things to one's body. I have to be OK with that. I'm still learning how to do that. Particularly because as soon as you open up social media, it's very hard to accept your body as beautiful. For me, I see Beyoncé who's also had twins and how different her body looks. There was nothing romantic about having twins. There was certainly no glamorous photoshoot!
On parenting boys.
Yeah, look, I am in a house full of boys, but at least I have a girl dog!!! I've been conscious in raising my boys in ways that aren't gender specific. I want them to have access to a range of toys, activities, role models, emotions, genders. I'm very nurturing with them. If they cry, I don't tell them to suck it up; I'm trying to find that empathic balance. The three of them are already so different in the way they handle challenges. I'm all about Time-In, redirecting, and working out what's going on internally for my boys. And it works for them. But I've seen that it doesn't work for every child. Sometimes my husband talks about consequences and making sure the boys know they're in trouble, but I just gently remind him that we mostly manage without yelling, which we would like to maintain. It'll be interesting when they get older and start asserting their "boy-ness" but at the moment, they don't really know that they're boys as such.
On making educational/care decisions for your child.
We have gone local. Our community is close knit and proximally close. I rely on recommendations from other parents and those who know what's up. So I would recommend parents connecting with other parents wherever possible. But I don't think you can know enough until you're in the thick of it. We've had that with disappointing nannies/carers. You can't be too hard on yourself because you're making your best judgment at the time.
Others have said that I'm quite indulgent with regards to child care. The boys are in care three days per week. I use one day to get the house sorted and do the grocery shopping. The other two days I'm studying, doing laundry, reading, going to yoga, catching up with friends. I can't even remember the last time I did this [catching up over dinner]. But it's really hard to maintain relationships because I'm free during the day and some friends are at work and others are looking after their own kids. Having a play date with your girlfriend and her kids is not a catch up; all you end up doing is being a referee. I don't think I'm being indulgent. I know what I need to do to maintain my mental health.
On mental health.
On that topic, I know what I need to do to and I’m OK with being selfish. Being a parent is meaningful work so I need to be in the right headspace for my kids. This parenting thing is a tough gig, especially when there’s other stuff you’re also dealing with. We all have something we’re dealing with. It it was just (and I say that facetiously) parenting and mumming, it would be tough, but with other “stuff”, it can become impossible.
What do you think needs to change (culturally, socially, politically) for parents to feel more comfortable help-seeking?
Patriarchy. Until women are treated equally, what is currently seen as “women’s work” will be undervalued. Until we stop the rhetoric of the '"just a stay at home mum/dad”, help-seeking will be low on the agenda. How can one feel safe asking for help when the patriarchal system under which we live treats parents as burdens? I believe this sentiment is trumpeted loud and clear in the lack of resources for families.
What will it take for parents to acknowledge openly and honestly that parenting is HARD?!
I think this is a hard one because the buck really stops with the individual and it takes ridiculous courage. When there's a shiny happy mother in front of you, your mother-in-law, or even someone without kids or grown kids, the easy option is to say, ‘Yeah I'm OK! LOVE IT!’ It takes so much courage to say, ‘Yeah today is OK, but goodness, yesterday was very challenging, I wanted to cry and hide and run all at the same time’. Obviously choosing safe people is important. When you are met with blank stares or worse, a look of disdain, after sharing honestly, it’s much harder to be courageous. But in my experience, more often that not, being real and open with the pain and sometimes disappointment of the realities of parenting, builds connection. Vulnerability is part of our human-ness and I've found that it just takes one person in a group, or one person in a family (or even on social media) for others who are struggling or who have struggled to step-up also.
If you are a parent who feels like they could be ready to reach out for some much-needed support, please contact Penny through Capacity Therapeutic Services.