Real mums' stories
If you're not happy, they won't be either'
Sarah Emms, 31, has two sons, Jake, 3 and Finn, 8 months. She lives in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, with husband Shawn, 32, a graphic designer.
Before Jake was born I was working as a human resources manager. I'd taken the statutory six months maternity leave but when he was 5 months old the money had run out and we knew we couldn't survive on Shawn's wages alone.
I felt guilty about returning to work so soon after Jake's birth, but I knew I had to. As well as the money, there was also the fact that I've always worked and that's part of my identity. I needed to go back to work for me-but that didn't make it easier. Whatever choices we make, all mothers worry if it's the right thing.
I was lucky that when my mum heard I was going back she offered to look after Jake. So for the first few months she had him three days a week. But I wanted Jake to experience a wide social environment, too, so I started to look for a nursery. After visiting a few, I found one that felt right. The staff seemed so friendly and open.
We decided to split the childcare between mum and the nursery and it worked really well. I felt Jake was getting the best of both worlds. Obviously my mum loves him as only a grandmother can, while the nursery provides lots of stimulation.
But although I was happy with the way Jake was being looked after, I felt I was missing out. I only had two days a week with him, after having him solidly for five months. But then I'd try to rationalise it. This was just the way it was and Jake wasn't suffering. If anything, he was thriving.
Yet the niggling doubts don't really go away. I'd made a couple of friends who had babies the same age and both of them stayed at home. I'd catch myself watching their kids, and if they were interacting nicely and Jake wasn't, then I'd blame myself. Stupid, I know. Especially as I'm not the type to enjoy being at home all day.'
Ironically, I was made redundant from my job when I was eight months pregnant with Finn. But I've now got a job working from home and I'm seeing this as a chance to get a better work/life balance with the boys. I'll be there for them, but at the same time, I'll still have my own identity.'
I feel better knowing she's fine without me'
Debbie Parker, 35, has three children: Daniel, 14, Rhiannon, 5, and Ellie, 3. She lives in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, with husband Lee, 35, an engineer. She works part-time as a cleaner and also at a supermarket and her youngest child, Ellie has just started pre-school.
Ellie is my youngest and she's definitely my baby, and until recently she's always been with me. I only work in the evenings and at weekends, so I've pretty much been a stay-at-home mum.
I had tried to prepare Ellie for starting pre-school, and I thought I'd done a pretty good job. She's pretty forward for her age and can count up to ten, knows all her colours and draws lovely pictures.
For her birthday recently, I got my dad and his partner to buy her books as I've really wanted to encourage her reading and get her as ready as possible. No one wants their child to be behind when they go to pre-school and I think every mum tends to worry and feel guilty about whether they've done enough to prepare them. Also, I was worrying about whether she'd make friends easily. You'd hate your child to be lonely or bullied.
What I wasn't at all prepared for was Ellie's reaction at leaving me. When Dan and Rhiannon started pre-school they quite literally skipped through the nursery gates, barely giving me a second glance. I don't know why, but I just assumed Ellie would be the same.
How wrong I was! On the first day she did seem to be excited and couldn't wait to get there and be a "big girl". But the moment we arrived she started clinging to me and wouldn't let me out of her sight.
Since then, it's just been downhill all the way. She says she doesn't like pre-school and doesn't want to go. It's become a complete nightmare. She won't get ready, she refuses to put her shoes on in the morning and starts crying about half an hour before we're due to leave.
By the time we get to pre-school she's screaming. It's horrendous for both of us and obviously, I feel absolutely guilt-ridden leaving her there. I had wondered if perhaps she's still too young for it all, but then I know there are other children there who are much younger than Ellie.
I found out the other day from the staff that the hysterics stop five minutes after I leave, and that makes me feel much better. I used to feel like the worst mum in the world when I turned and walked away.
Sometimes, to take my mind off things a bit, I go shopping. It's amazing what a bit of retail therapy can do for you.'
I'm doing the best I can'
Julia Price, 35, has three daughters: Natasha, 7, Ella nearly 4 and Georgia, 10 months. She lives in Reading, Berkshire, with her husband, David, 35, a tax manager, and works several evenings a week at various part-time jobs.
I never realised just how different it would be when I had three children instead of just two. Just on a practical level, I have the school run, the nursery run and the baby's routine to juggle, and that doesn't even take into account any other activities, like ballet. I don't think I've ever felt so shattered.
On the whole the girls get on very well together, although they do fight sometimes, especially when it comes to sharing their toys! I can't really fault them though-
even the baby's been sleeping through the night since she was a few months old.
It's me that feels at fault. I'm constantly struggling to meet all their needs at once and I feel like I'm failing badly at it.
On the days when Ella doesn't go to nursery, I'd like to do things with her, but I haven't got time. I'm so busy feeding Georgia and doing the housework. If I get a spare moment, I'll sit and read a book with her. With Natasha, I've started letting her go to bed a bit later so we can have a bit of time together, doing more grown-up things.
David is very good with the girls but sometimes I feel a bit resentful. While I'm rushing around doing all the boring household chores, he's playing with them, having all the fun. I work a few nights a week, and the other day Ella asked, "When are you
going out again, Mummy?" When I asked her why, she said, "When you go out we have fun." Well, you can imagine how that made me feel! I worry that I'm not doing a good job as a mum. But then I think I'm doing the best I can and what's the point of
constantly beating yourself up?'
They have TV breakfasts'
Rather than go through the palaver of getting the kids in their chairs for breakfast, I plonk them in front of the TV. I put on one of their favourite DVDs and then spoon-feed them. It's fast, it's clean and it saves me a good 20 minutes. But it's wrong! They should feed themselves and be interacting with me, not sitting there goggle-eyed watching Dumbo for the 58th time! Bad, bad Mummy!'
Claudia Saris, 34, has two sons, Callum, 3 and Ivo, 16 months
I still love my sleep'
Anna's not a bad sleeper, but often whimpers at night before settling herself. As I have super-sensitive mummy hearing, I wake up and find it hard to get back to sleep. I'm ashamed of it, but recently, at the first sound, I stuff my head under the pillow. That way, if it is just a minor disturbance, we all go back to sleep. But I do feel bad. What if she really did need me and I didn't hear her?'
Leah Thompson, has a daughter Anna, 8 months
Top mum worries
Child psychologist Dr Pat Spungin, founder of the parenting website, raisingkids.co.uk, explores the things that make mums feel guilty:
- I feel so bad about working.' All mums seem to feel guilty about work. Put guilt to one side and focus on your needs and the needs of your family.
- Sometimes I get very impatient and angry.' When your child is moaning and crying and won't settle down, it's natural to feel a bit fraught. But the moment soon passes. Don't dwell on it.
- I'm worried they're not eating healthily.' Most mums fret about what does or doesn't go in their children's tummies. Firstly, remember that children will eat when they're hungry, and secondly, the odd fish finger or plate of chips isn't going to do any lasting damage.
- We don't do enough activities.' Bringing up children has become so competitive. Just because your neighbour's child goes to Tumble Tots and is learning elementary French, it doesn't mean yours has to. Don't beat yourself up if he prefers watching Tellytubbies.
- I'm a bad mother.' We put too much emphasis on what mums do, rather than what they feel. You feel that your child is the most precious thing in the whole world, and because of that, it makes you the best possible mother your child could have.
- I'm a single mum.' Children need love more than anything else, and you're supremely qualified to give that, so don't forget it.
For support and advice on parenting log on to www.raisingkids.co.uk.
Happy mum, happy kids
Debbie Lewis, a qualified parenting consultant and coach, gives you advice on how to balance your needs with those of being a mum
- You don't have to be supermum-remember your best's good enough.
- Accept that you don't have to be great at everything
- Keep your standards realistic and don't set your expectations too high.
- It's okay to make mistakes-this teaches our children that it's fine to mess up, too.
- Let go of the guilt. We all make the best decisions we can based on what we know at the time.
- Look at what you're good at, not always at what's wrong.
- Celebrate when something goes well-this also shows our children to value their achievements.
For more information about Debbie Lewis's consultancy and coaching work, call 01273 530259 or visit www.curveparenting.com