Molly is due to start nursery soon when she turns 3, and I can safely say we are both ready for it. Even though she’ll only be going for 15 hours per week, the time is definitely right now. She is a bright, bubbly, energetic and friendly little girl who constantly asks me when she can go to nursery and play with the other children. The rate at which she’s learning different things now is astonishing, and I know that the new environment will be just the stimulation she needs. I’ll also get a much needed break, because, after 3 years of being on call 24 hours a day, every day, I’ve most certainly earned it.
Like every other new parent on the planet, I was thrown in at the deep end with absolutely no idea what I was doing. I had the added pressure of suffering with post natal anxiety, intrusive thoughts, my family living miles away, and my partner working shifts, which meant I had to learn to cope on my own, and quickly. But I got there, and dare I say, I’ve done a bloody good job. Molly is thriving, her diet is as good as it can get, she’s intelligent, energetic, funny, and she goes to bed with a smile on her face every night. And me? Well I’m in the best place I’ve ever been in my entire life, mentally and physically. I’ve started my own business in the middle of it all, and I’ve pretty much got my anxiety under control. Motherhood just suits me I guess…I was made for this.
Going on a bear hunt in the woods!
It’s been an uphill struggle though, and there’s been days, especially when she was constantly ill, where I’ve been that tired and stressed that I didn’t think I could carry on. But through every ear infection, virus, high temperature, bump & scrape, being sick with worry, all the sleep regressions (she’s hit every single one), and every maddening moment in between, I still awoke each morning with a smile on my face and got us up and out of the house. I somehow found the confidence to go to local playgroups when I didn’t know anyone and when I was having horrendous panic attacks. That was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but I’m so glad I did because the girls I met there are now some of my best friends. If it wasn’t for them I think I would have been very depressed actually.
But being a stay at home mum isn’t all about going out on lovely day trips, meeting up with your mates & drinking coffee or even lying on the sofa all day watching tv as some people see it (I wish!)…it is, without a doubt, the hardest job I have ever had. It is lonely, mundane and relentless. Non stop. So you’ve had 2 hours sleep after being up all night with a poorly baby? Tough…now get dressed, the house is a mess, the shopping needs to be done, oh and you’ve got to entertain a grumpy toddler all day with only a fiver to your name. Just think of it as character building. After all, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (a sleep deprived parent most definitely came up with that saying)!
So while I’m still relatively new to this motherhood malarkey, I think I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. Not only have I managed to keep a tiny human alive for nearly three whole years, I’ve done it more or less on my own and with very little money. Molly has had some fantastic experiences (her favourite being the family rave), visited a whole array of exciting places and has never once been bored. In Birmingham we are lucky to have such a diverse array of cultures on our doorstep, with so many different activities/groups/clubs to join in with. Not to mention the amount of green spaces the city has to offer. We very rarely have days just in the house, as we tend to go stir crazy if we haven’t been outside at least once a day. If it’s not raining then we are in the park, even in the winter. Soft play centres drive me absolutely crazy, but they are a necessary evil when the weather is shite. So, if you’re a new mum or dad and are wondering what the actual f**k you’re supposed to do for the next year or so with not much money, then here are my tips on survival:
- Routine. It sounds boring but having a bit of a schedule has saved my sanity. I always used to plan my day around Molly’s naps (easier said than done sometimes), but knowing that we could go out in the morning and she would sleep from about 1.30pm meant that I knew I could have a nap too. This is especially useful if you’ve been up all night as the day doesn’t seem as long if you know you only have to survive until the afternoon. All that went out of the window when she dropped her daytime naps though.
- Join a playgroup. Why on earth it took me over 6 months to join my local stay and play group is beyond me. I suppose I never really though they were very useful, and of course I didn’t know anyone. When I did pluck up the courage though everyone was so welcoming and friendly, and they just got it. If you’re really nervous about meeting new people and don’t know what to say then you have the perfect conversation starter…your baby! You only have to mutter the words “I’m so bloody tired, baby was up all night”, and you will instantly have a roomful of new best friends. Everyone is in the same boat. Don’t be put off if this doesn’t happen though and no one talks to you….I decided to try a different playgroup one week and the only person who spoke to me was the girl running it. The rest were teenage mums who were clearly in one big clique while their feral children ran around unsupervised and knocked my baby over. There are good ones and bad ones…but you’ll find one. And when you do, you’ll look forward to it. You can have a nice hot drink and cake while your baby plays and
learns social skillsfights over the toys with all the other kids.
- Prioritise. I used to be such a clean freak (I still am sort of). Pre baby I would spend a couple of hours every Saturday blitzing the housework, there was never any washing in the wash basket and my oven was always clean. My, how times change! Even being at home every day I still dont have time to do all the housework, and to be honest, I don’t care. Spending time with Molly is much more important and it’s not fair on her if she sees me constantly cleaning, washing and vacuuming. There hasn’t been a single instance since she’s been born that every room in my house has been clean at the same time. Everything gets done eventually. Pick what desperately needs to be done first and the rest can wait. Just don’t come round and look in my oven!
- Get outside. We’ve got a rule – if it’s not raining then we’re outside, even if it’s freezing. Just wrap up warm and get out there. This is especially true if you’ve hardly had any sleep. I know it seems like the last thing you might feel like doing if you’ve been up all night, but if you’re on your own and know that you’ve got to last the day, then fresh air (and coffee) is your best friend. It will wake you up and give you a much needed dose of vitamin D. Also, parks are free!
- Find local free stuff to do. Most days if we’re not in the park then we either go the ‘zoo’ (Pets At Home), browse round all the charity shops (Molly absolutely loves this), visit the library or sometimes we go up to the local woods. There’s actually a free ‘little explorers’ group that meets every week to do different activities with pre-schoolers, like looking for fairies, making mud pies and building dens. On rainy days we’ll do activities at home like painting, colouring or making play doh. Luckily she’s getting to that age now where she’ll actually sit down for a longer period of time to watch a movie, which means I can get a cheeky 5 minute nap if I’m lucky!
- Avoid soft play centres wherever possible. I know these places are unavoidable at times (we’ve been to every single one at some point within a 10 mile radius), but they are such a drain on your wallet. It’s not just the entrance fee, it’s the snacks, drinks, lunch and whatever extortionate rides/machines they’ve got dotted around the place. Not to mention they are germ infested cess pits. The last one we went to I discovered actual mould in Molly’s cheese sandwich. Safe to say we haven’t been back.
- Have regular clear outs and sell it online. Kids outgrow stuff so quickly…clothes, shoes, toys, books. By the time you’ve bought it for them it doesn’t fit anymore. Our house is so small I just can’t stand the clutter, so I donate a lot of stuff to charity shops. The good stuff I sell on either Shpock (I am addicted to that app) or EBay. Not only do you keep on top of everything but you also make a few quid which is always a bonus.
- Find a hobby or work for yourself. After a while of being a stay at home mum I actually began to miss going to work. I missed using my brain, talking to adults about adult things, and having wages in my bank account every month. I have never been without a job since I was 15, and I was starting to get so bored. But realistically I only wanted to work part time which wouldn’t even cover the nursery costs. So I came up with a business idea, went to the Job Centre for help, and a few months later it became a reality. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the next Richard Branson, but I tick along quite nicely, I can work when I want, and I can bring Molly with me. She loves it, it’s an adventure for her and I get a bit of extra income. But most importantly, I set it all up on my own. It felt so great to actually think about something other than toilet habits, dinner or cleaning. On top of my business I also started this blog around the same time, and I feel like it’s given me my life back. Not only has writing been a form of therapy, I have met some lovely people in the blogging community. When you have no opportunity for a social life whatsoever, it’s amazing to find friends while not having to leave your living room!
- Find out what you’re entitled to. It’s worth having a check on the government website to see if you’re entitled to any benefits. I was able to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance for 6 months as I had worked in the last 2 tax years, so had therefore paid enough national insurance contributions. This was regardless of my partner’s income. It worked out at nearly £80 per week so it’s definitely worth having a look. As mentioned previously, they also helped me to set up my business.
- Ask for help if you need it. Finally, and most importantly, if you’re feeling knackered, stressed, or just need a break, then call for help. I try and see my family & friends in Wales as often as I can. Either we go down there or they’ll come and visit, giving John and I a much needed night off. I also make sure I’ve got stuff planned with my mates whether it be nights out or festivals, as it gives me something to look forward to.
Free toddler session at the library!
I’m sure I’ll miss her when she starts nursery, but I must admit I am looking forward to having some down time, I’ve forgotten what that’s like!