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New baby turned your life upside down? Roll with it! Mum-of-three Lizzi Hosking shares her tips on how to de-stress your day & ignore the pressure to be perfect
Broccoli purée on your best top? Check. Eye bags so big they should come with a 5p price tag? Welcome to the club. There’s not a mum out there who hasn’t watched as their once-tidy house disappears under an avalanche of brightly coloured plastic, while the mountain of washing grows so big you can barely open the door. And don’t get me started on personal grooming – I don’t think my legs saw a razor for the best part of a year (it was a cold summer, OK?).
The bottom line is it can be hard work – and pretty unglamorous, too. Yet shocking statistics show that a whopping nine in 10 mums feel pressure to be perfect, thanks to the images they see every day on social media. And the press and advertising industries are no better. Almost 70% of parents say there is way too much stereotyping in advertising and that brands usually gloss over the difficult parts of parenting.
Ignore the pressure to be perfect
So why do we feel this pressure to keep up appearances… "New mums are highly motivated to present to family and friends that they’re doing fine," says clinical psychologist and parenting expert Dr Claire Halsey. "Often it’s the sense that they’ve had a ‘bundle of joy’ and have probably been told they’ll be a ‘great’ mum. It’s exceptionally difficult to admit you’re struggling after that. Then there’s the added expectation to post photos and updates on social media, which is simply not the forum to share deeper concerns."
In short, no one else is showing their struggles so we don’t either – but that doesn’t mean we’re not having them. "The need to appear ‘perfect’ can be very strong when everyone else seems to have parenthood under control," agrees Claire. "It’s useful to know that no parent is perfect, and often those you think are doing very well are as uncertain as you are."
Remember that all babies cry
There’s definitely something in that. One friend of mine told me she used to dread her baby’s screaming fits, until she realised that all babies cry. Another confessed that she felt much warmer towards a mum from her old baby group – whose family life had appeared, on the surface, to be the picture of perfection (including a baby who slept through the night from birth) – when she spotted her looking frazzled in the supermarket with a tantrum-ing toddler. "It was a relief to realise that – just like me – she wasn’t Superwoman after all."
But it’s not just about realising that behind every #smugmum picture on Facebook is a baby waiting to fling spag bol at the wall. There are things you can do to boost your own confidence, too. First up, ditch the idea of perfection. "Once you start being more honest about how you’re coping, you’ll be surprised at the offers of help that come in," says Claire. You won’t believe the relief when you tell someone that, actually, you don’t know your papaya from your butternut squash, your baby missed the memo about crawling and you cried for two hours while trying to get her to sleep and they say, "Me too". That’s how support networks are formed – not over conversations about who’s lost the most weight.
Mum-of-two Kirsten Lester found that bonding over the more challenging aspects of parenting gave her invaluable perspective. "My friend Emilie and I had ‘Jaffa Cake Friday’, where we ate Jaffa Cakes and relived trials and traumas – it was wonderful!" she says.
De-stress your day
Next, ask yourself: What is the one thing, on top of caring for my baby, that’s causing me the most stresses? Whether it’s the shopping, ironing or cooking, you’ll be focused enough to answer next time someone asks if you need anything.
Even when there’s no one around to help, there are still ways to make your day-to-day life easier. Ysella Jago, mum to Erin, seven months, found a baby sling a lifesaver as it meant she could actually get a few things done once her hands were free. "It’s been hands-down the best investment, as Erin hated being put down."
Once you’ve "de-stressed" the day, you need to figure out your feel-good wardrobe. "Invest in a great coat, which will pull any look together in a nano-second," advises mum-of-two and founder of the-edited.com, Erica Davies. "I also recommend a bright red lipstick. It’s a tip from Alexa Chung, who claims it’s perfect for disguising tiredness. It distracts from other issues like eye bags and, even though you’re wearing mismatched socks, and trousers encrusted with baby rice, it’ll make you look – to the outside world at least – pulled together and chic."
Finally, remember this: We all struggle. If it’s not over sleep, it’ll be over weaning. If it’s not over weaning, it’ll be over teething. The list goes on… We should give ourselves a break. As my wise grandma used to say, "You women today are like whirlwinds. When we had babies, our only job for the first six months was to put our feet up and breastfeed. You’re all out there spinning dozens of different plates. It’s no wonder you’re tired." She’s got a point. High fives all round.
Our GP says...
Dr Ellie Cannon, Parenting Club GP, says "Learn to trust your own instincts. We all have parental instinct. But these days we’re bombarded with images of what motherhood should look like (your best friend’s homemade birthday cake or Hollywood actors breastfeeding babies on set) – and this, plus the sheer amount of advice out there, has diluted how naturally instinctive we are."
"Weaning, for example, is a simple process that’s been made overly complicated: 1) Give your baby a variety of foods and try them out in a relatively scientific order – it doesn’t matter if they have carrot or butternut squash first! 2) Work up with a range of textures – from mush, to bits, to solids."
"The main thing is to relax and enjoy feeding your baby, and let them enjoy it, too. And you don’t always have to make it all from scratch. It’s OK to use pouches from time to time!"
Did you know?
The average parent has a whopping 22 household tasks to complete each day before they leave the house!