Tag Archives: motherhood

The Thief of Joy

Comparison is the thief of joy. A friend of mine used that quote (from Theodore Roosevelt) as part of her response when I asked for her views on ‘Sharenting’ for the article I re-posted last month. I think about that quote a lot. About how so many of the things that filter through into the little reflective moments when you try to work out what’s bothering you, what’s brought this little cloud of darkness to the corner of your brain, what’s made you snappy, shouty, sad… so much of it can be traced back to comparison. The Someone Else who is doing the Something You Care About so much better than you.

My friend’s example was about social media. And that does play a huge part in the mental-fuckery, particularly for a new author. It’s hard not to feel a bit battered by this joy-thief when your profession relies on using these busy, self-congratulatory platforms to market your work because, of course, they are the very same platforms that everyone else is using to make ALL THE NOISE about how much better they are at writing books, selling books, marketing books, harnessing the very beast of social media itself… It’s hard not to feel a little defeated when confronted with a 17-year-old BookTok pro who churns out bestsellers for a hobby, has lovely skin and, you know, might not even end up DOING this for an actual career because perhaps they’ll go to medical school or become a marine biologist… they are but a child after all. Meanwhile here I am deleting yet another draft video post whilst muttering darkly about the point of having a bloody broadcasting degree but being unable to fathom how to use two audio tracks, stitch drafts together and why, why must all the edits get deleted when I go back to the recording page?! I swear, grappling with TikTok makes turning my kid’s eyes digitally green for my book trailer video a damn doddle.

Here I am, looking suitably unhinged (and oddly angry, which I really wasn’t) in the name of BookTok. This particular video about different reader impressions features me quite obviously not knowing how to cut the beginning and end where I press record/stop. I do rather like the automatic airbrushing though.

Comparison can do strange things to you and it can be a sneaky, insidious foe. Coming via a screen is bad enough, but at least it’s obvious – you can click onto social media knowing you’re fairly likely to come across something that’ll make you pang. Photos of someone’s glorious holiday on Instagram, someone else’s adorable baby/puppy spamming up Facebook, notification of a job promotion on LinkedIn, a smug tweet about a brand new dream car, etc… The noise of it all is deafening but you can at least SEE why you’re jealous. But then there are the other times. Times where you’re not guarded or expecting it… and the comparison, that slippery little joy-thief, will shiver under your skin and encroach into the very core of all your deepest-most insecurities. The things you care the most about. For me, I sometimes find myself thinking that other people are automatically better parents than I am because they planned their kids and we (mostly) didn’t. It’s an utterly ridiculous – not to mention illogical – line of thinking because of course ticking certain boxes (married, thirties, own house, stable career) does not make anyone better-qualified at knowing what the fuck what to do with a baby. I know this because I ticked those boxes myself with my second-born and the only thing that made me better at parenting was the fact that I’d done it before.

Unfortunately comparison does not account for irony or, you know, actually making any damn sense because as much as I know all of the above, I will still rock up at school stressed, disheveled and on the brink (and often past it) of being late, and I see so-and-so’s mum on her way out looking so nice and put-together and in it creeps, that strange, irrational insistence that because she did things the right way however many years ago, that’s why she’s got her shit together in the morning. Comparison isn’t just the thief of joy, it’s an illogical cow and really, it’s got absolutely nothing to do with so-and-so’s mum or some adolescent prettily flogging their books on TikTok. So what can you do about it? Whatever you bloody can. I set my alarm 15 minutes earlier and get the kids dressed before breakfast instead of after (we are still late but not quite so regularly). I try not to listen to the noise of social media and view it more as a business tool. I take the deepest, darkest feelings of parental insecurity and I write fiction about a mother who secretly believes she should never have become a parent in the first place.

And I try to remember that there will always be someone else out there doing The Thing I Really Care About better than I am. But that there is still enough joy for us both.


To Share or Not to Share

*As recently featured by marie claire*

Do our kids deserve anonymity online until they’re old enough to decide for themselves?

Being a parent has always involved a minefield of choices, and the digital age has only raised the stakes. We are faced with decisions our own parents wouldn’t even have fathomed back in the days of screechy dial-up modems and not-so-Instant Messenger. From the moment you find out you’re expecting a child, the pressure is on to decide what kind of parent you’re going to be. There are the questions which divided our NCT group back in the summer of 2013: will you breastfeed or use formula? Will you use a dummy? And there are the questions which divide the expectant masses of today: have you announced your pregnancy on Instagram? How much of an online presence will your child have? Will you sharent?

When I wrote my novel The Girl with the Green Eyes three years ago, I found the inclusion of social media a useful plot device leading to the main character Bella and her daughter Ariana going on the run. It was only too easy to imagine how difficult monitoring a curious preteen and keeping her off the social media running rampant through the demographic back in 2018 might be. And now… with the rise of TikTok and the increase of family-centric content on YouTube complete with snappy, click-bait titles and cutesy thumbnails… now it would be even harder. There’s a huge, ongoing debate rumbling through the internet: how much privacy should our children be entitled to? Should they be banned from appearing on social media completely until a certain age? For Bella, it’s not so much about protecting her daughter’s privacy as it is concealing her entire identity. For others, of course, things are far less clear-cut, though palpable from all those I spoke to who do sharent was a sense of guilt. And if we’re feeling guilty about it, can it be entirely right?

I have been a parent – and, to an extent, a sharent – for eight years now. I never set out to be a mum blogger and still consider it a hobby more than anything. I was fairly young when I had my eldest and what started out as a dazed, what-the-hell-am-I-doing-now flurry of posts has, I hope, evolved into a parenting journey containing nuggets of experience-based advice which may be helpful to others. That is why, when I had a big wobble over whether I was over-sharing and almost deleted the whole thing a few years ago, I decided to keep it going, albeit with identifying details abridged. And I believe that this kind of sharenting can help others, particularly when you chronicle things in an honest way.

‘When I had twins I started a blog on Facebook,’ explains mum-of-three Natalie. ‘I used it as a coping mechanism as it was a very hard time. I felt socially isolated on maternity leave and having an outlet helped me. I also hate the “perfect mums” on social media as there is so much pressure on parents anyway, when we see those posts it can affect us really negatively. When I shared, I’d try to really show the reality of life with twins and this seemed to go down well, with a lot of people thanking me.’

Is it always helpful, though? I spoke to another mum, Emily, who came off all social media before having her first child. ‘I just don’t see it as positive for anyone,’ she says, ‘let alone those already facing challenges in life. Roosevelt said, “comparison is the thief of joy”, and I believe that really applies here… My daughter is not a pet or a new pair of shoes. She’s a human being. I respect her and wouldn’t feel comfortable using her to impress distant acquaintances or strangers. Either through a straight up “nice show-off photo” or through an ironic or self-deprecatingly comic one. She’s not old enough to agree to be used in this way. And as a shy child who dislikes being the centre of attention, I can guarantee if she was old enough she’d be against the idea.’

Dad-of-two Mark also has concerns over the issue of consent when it comes to sharenting, and says he has become a lot stricter with the amount he shares of his children since his second was born. ‘Once things are online, it’s very difficult to fully remove them. How might [my son] feel when he’s older and wants to present himself in a certain way, but he’s partially defined by loads of pictures of videos of him as a five-year-old? It doesn’t seem fair. That said, I do understand the compulsion to share pictures of your children online. You love your kids and want to share that with the world. [My son] sometimes says or does things that I’d love to share, but I always stop and think about how he might feel about it in future before I do.’

For some, the choice to sharent is tied to obligation. ‘A lot of [what I share] is so my in-laws can see what [their granddaughter] is up to as they don’t use messaging like WhatsApp, etc, and we haven’t seen them since August 2020,’ says mum-of-one Hayley. ‘During the various lockdowns I definitely started to share more. I sometimes feel a bit guilty about sharing because I don’t want to be seen as one of “those” mums who shares too much and feel like I have to qualify it by saying, “it’s so my in-laws can see!”’

That sense of guilt, of needing to justify our sharenting, is not a novel one. Mum-of-two Georgina, who frequently shares on Facebook and Instagram, admits, ‘I do worry sometimes about what I share, whether it’s too much. But I don’t have a huge number of followers/friends on social media and those I do have are all people I know or have met. My accounts are private for a reason.’

But what of those whose accounts are anything but private? What of the countless family-centric accounts depicting seemingly-ordinary families doing seemingly-ordinary things, just broadcast to thousands, sometimes millions. There are toddlers out there with followings I, as a fledgling author, can only dream about. One clear benefit is that they’re already set up with the foundations of a following, should they decide on a public-facing career in future. On the other hand, of course, they may find the whole thing mortifying in a year or ten and, consideringly nothing on the internet can be permanently deleted, who are they going to blame for putting them in such a position? I suppose it comes back to the question: are your sharenting choices setting your kids up for the future, whether that’s as simple as a relationship with family who wouldn’t see so much of them otherwise, or as complicated as a career which includes a ready-made audience, or are you just setting them up? I suppose the best we can hope for is that our kids see it as the former.

The Girl with the Green Eyes, part one of Take Her Back trilogy, is available now in all good bookshops or on Amazon: http://getbook.at/GirlWithTheGreenEyes.

Want to hear more? Follow me on Twitter @jm_briscoe or like my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JMBriscoeWriter


… a small sidebar…

……on why I haven’t blogged since September.

It’s not that I haven’t drafted any posts. I have. I think *should really blog something*, then an idea comes along and I start drafting it out. And then, usually mid-draft, I realise that it’s boring or irrelevant AF and it ends up languishing half-finished in my blog folder. A few months ago I wrote an epic four-pager about the peculiarities of trying to get a novel published via traditional literary agents/publishers. It was quite a cathartic exercise but the finished article never made it online because I suspect it would’ve been mind-thumpingly dull to anyone other than fellow aspiring authors. And it had bugger all to do with parenting.

A few weeks later another draft also wound up languishing on an open-ended sentence, but this one for reasons which ultimately completely changed my morning routine. It started off as a bit of a tirade about how I was spending most of my mornings in a beanbag on the living room floor due to B3’s clinginess. Halfway through the draft I realised the problem wasn’t him, it was me – I’d become stuck on ‘survival mode’ and was using it as an excuse to be a bit lazy and shit. Long story short, we now spend more of our mornings after the school-run either at the playground or on the hunt for Really Interesting Leaves That We Love and Must Not Ever Be Parted From or inside, doing something invariably messy. We are both happier and the clinginess tirade has become unnecessary*.

Kinetic sand: a cure for clinginess with the unexpected bonus of turning your tiled floor into a slip-n-slide for weeks afterwards!

Another reason why I haven’t blogged is because I’m trying to become a published novelist. That’s what I spend most of my child-free hours on. I’m not there yet, nor am I particularly close to being there yet, but I’ve had just enough professional encouragement to justify plugging away at it. Plus I can’t imagine ever wanting to do anything else quite so much.

*I suppose I could have turned it around into a thing about how doing more stuff with your kid is generally better than plonking them in front of Peppa Pig 24/7, but I’m pretty sure most parents know this and I’ve already had to edit the crap out of this paragraph in an attempt not to come across as a preachy try-harder. Which I am definitely not. I wouldn’t be able to recite pretty much the entirety of seasons 1 -3 if I was.


The night is dark and full of nappies…

Seven weeks on, and there are so many things I could say about having a second child. I’ve drafted and re-drafted this blog post over the last few weeks and every time it’s run three or four pages long… What is the most important thing to talk about? The difficulties? The exhaustion? The new struggle of getting two little ones out of the door on time in the mornings? The unprecedented joys and crushing lows? It’s all there. It’s all relevant. But, for me, I guess the most significant revelation since the big arrival of number two is how much of the following I didn’t know, realise or had simply just forgotten…

  • Labour fucking hurts. I knew this the first time around. Then when Baby 1 got to about 18 months old those sneaky, broody hormones snuck in and slowly wiped out the memories of the screaming-bad contractions, the long hours of pain so extreme I could not bear to stay still. It wasn’t that bad, I thought, It can’t have been that bad if I’m willing to do it again… Seven and a half weeks ago it occurred to me – with crashing immediacy – just how very much I had forgotten how very bad it had been. And although my labour this time around was a lot less traumatic because it wasn’t so long and there weren’t the complications or interventions of the first time around, it still really fucking hurt.
  • On TV a woman will give birth (after about 13 seconds of pushing and not nearly enough mooing) and out pops a squeaky clean, wide-eyed, cooing six-week-old giant. Real newborns do not look like this. My firstborn looked like a small, red, angry little frog when she was born. My second-born resembled a puce, incandescently furious old man complete with nose furrow and milk spots. I say this with all the love in the world – beauty comes later. Eyelashes form, the eyes open properly and then they start to fill out in all their cute, squishy glory. It’s all a work in progress…
  • Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. With baby one we settled into a fairly consistent routine of three hourly wakings and feedings from day one. Baby two had her days and nights the wrong way round for at least the first week, meaning she was up sometimes every 40 minutes at night. Some people can function well with as little as three or four hours of fractured sleep at night. I am not one of those people. In my working days I’d be sluggish if I got less than seven. It’s not just a case of being tired; it’s feeling that soul-sapping exhaustion that sinks through your limbs and into your core, making everything so heavy, so dull and sad that you struggle to see the good bits of the day. Fortunately, with number two I knew – know – it won’t last for long in the grand scheme of things. Just knowing that makes all the difference.
  • Having 13 months of breastfeeding experience does not a breeze feeding number two make. Sure, she got the hang of it faster than Baby 1 did – 10 minutes after birth as opposed to two days – but the exhaustion of trying to feed any which way I could in the first few nights lead to a poor latch, which resulted in a cracked nipple. A graze on one of the body’s most sensitive parts which was then relentlessly agitated by a baby’s mouth every hour or so did not make for a quick, easy healing process. But, barring that little complication, breastfeeding has been easier, on the whole, this time around. There haven’t been any bruises or stretch-marks. Expressing is easier. Supply is better. The process is altogether much quicker far earlier on. It’s like my boobs have settled, with not so much joy as resignation, back into their former roles.

    bfeeding

    No one will ever stare at your boobs with the same intense adoration as a breastfeeding infant. The feeling will not be reciprocated.

  • Small babies are not always consistent. Some nights she will sleep up to 6 hours in one go and not need a nappy change at all. Other nights we’re up every 2-3, nappy bulging, smells emanating. It’s a nocturnal, foul-smelling, eye-rubbing adventure.
  • The jiggly-shuffle. It still works on the evening grumps, although now it hurts my back. This baby is slightly larger than my last one, I’m *sure* that’s all it is.
  • Times can be dark. There are some days – especially in the first week – when people say “congratulations” and a part of you thinks “why?” On the flip-side, there are other days when you want to stop life just as it is because you can’t imagine it getting any better. The lows may be unprecedented, but so are the joys. Watching my firstborn flourish into her new role as big sister. Receiving those first gummy smiles. Having my nappy changing technique described as “like those pitstop trucks in Cars.
    It’s hard. It’s exhausting. It’s flabby. It’s new. It’s unprecedented, in wonderful ways. It’s Baby 2. She’s here.

A tiny person who thinks and farts

When last I blogged it was about being nine weeks pregnant and, funnily enough, here I am at another nine week juncture. Nine weeks and three days, to be precise, since I stopped caring about my unplucked eyebrows. Nine weeks and three days since blearily singing misremembered pop songs while smeared with vomit at 3am took on a whole new meaning. Nine weeks and three days since my world fell to the mercy of a tiny, yowling, brand new person who thinks and farts and devastates a room with her smiles.

Some things you come to expect from motherhood during those long, rotund weeks of pregnancy spent reading books, Yahoo Answers and Mumsnet. Other things you are told to expect, from NCT leaders, your family, every woman over the age of 40 and Babycentre.co.uk. But for the most part, a lot of first time mums have no f*cking clue until they are thrown right in there, covered in poo and vomit in the wee hours, desperately trying to remember all 12 days of Christmas their true love gave to them while their offspring gazes up at them from the changing mat with a faintly appalled expression.

The business of 3am.

Yes, they told me I’d be sleep-deprived. Yes, they told me to get as much shut-eye during those first baby-free weeks of maternity leave as possible. And I listened and took it all on board with an ambivalent laissez faire, que sera sera and yeah-it’ll-be-hard-but-it’s-easy-if-you-love-them kind of ideology shared by many a knocked up 13-year-old. On this side of the 40-hour push-fest I can reply that yes, you love your baby but boy, that does not make the transition from the eight-hour-plus unbroken paddocks of slumber to sporadic 1-3 hour sleep grasps any easier. Especially when your body is a wreak after two days of pushing out a 6lb 9oz human (3lbs of which I’m sure was her head) and you can’t sit down or shuffle up a bed without pulling stitches in an area that should NEVER have contact with a needle and thread.

“But I’m a night owl/ insomniac/ one of those slightly mad-eyed people who function on less than four hours of sleep a night,” you cry. Ok, well I’m guessing that you don’t spend those wakeful hours up, out of bed and traipsing to the kitchen with a squalling infant to make up a bottle, or attaching said squalling infant to one of two very sore nipples who don’t know what they ever did to offend anybody. All the while moving twice as slow and three times as bandy-legged as usual. So if you’re pregnant, sleep. If you’re not pregnant, sleep. It’s the best friend you never appreciated until they confessed they weren’t a baby person and turned their back on you forever.

The poo/sick debacle.

I never thought of myself as particularly squeamish but wow. How does such a little digestive system create so much weird-looking, evil-smelling gunk? And the sick – it may be white and milky but it still has that vomit stench which, even though it has come from a pure, innocent little baby and I haven’t been on a raging night out in a pathetically long time, still elicits feelings of nauseated shame and the nagging sensation I’ve spoken out of turn.

Raging against the parent.

They tell you that sometimes a baby just cries for no discernable reason. Week three and we discovered just what that meant, and no amount of back-patting, swaddling, nursing, increasingly shrill singing, rocking, shushing, bouncing or jostling made the slightest bit of difference. Babies are humans, humans are weird and each one is different, even when they are 50-something centimetres long and weigh less than 7lbs. Our particular little character likes to lie on her back on a changing mat, preferably bare-bottomed, while the mat is jiggled back and forth by a parent talking in a high-pitched voice. It’s a bit weird, yes, but it shuts her up after four hours of relentless wailing, so who gives a sh*t?

The magic 6 week barrier of it-all-getting-easier.

That’s what we’re told, isn’t it? Six weeks post-partum the tiredness, the pooping, vomming and colicky rages all magically improve? Well, this is an interesting one. For me, life at nine weeks is still exhausting, full of surprises and doubt, but everyday brings more joyful, shining moments I want to record so I can play them back over and over in 20, 30, 50 years time. And yes, it is easier than it was in the early weeks. But that’s not just because the baby sleeps more and eats well and seems to be past the worst of the colic, it’s because we’re all a little more used to each other. Motherhood didn’t get easier, I just got used to it. That, and the moments when, out of the blue, she will stop wailing, lock eyes with me and give me the biggest stunner of a smile that shines right up into her eyes… And suddenly all the poo, vomit, tiredness and screaming matters as little as these increasingly bushy eyebrows of mine.


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