Happy mum, happy child. We’ve all heard it a hundred times… that we need to take care of ourselves if we want to effectively take care of our children. And I agree… to a degree.
But there’s something about the blanket statement that makes me feel a little uneasy. Like the ‘breast is best‘ mantra that seems innocent enough at first glance, but delve deeper and it hosts a whole world of pain for mums on both sides of the breastfeeding debate.
I don’t think happy mum, happy child is quite as divisive as THAT though, and it is a good mantra if taken in the context it is meant:
- Give yourself a break from time to time and restore your energy levels so you can parent beyond just keeping the children alive.
- Invest some time into making yourself feel happy, and that positive energy will help you have fun and meaningful connections with your children.
What’s my issue with happy mum, happy child then?
Well, like most blanket statements, it’s missing the nuances and accuracy that help you keep it in context.
We can’t be happy all the time, that’s part of the human condition. And just because we are happy, doesn’t automatically mean our child is happy. Conversely, just because we’re not happy doesn’t necessarily mean our child won’t be. Whatever their age.
We don’t have to kill ourselves in pursuit of ultimate happiness for both mum and child. Sometimes just getting on with it is OK.
In the early days, (weeks, months…) I would have given my right arm to leave my family to spend a night on my own in a hotel. I was exhausted and in pain from carrying my velcro baby around all day and feeding all night in awkward positions.
I felt touched out and mentally drained.
Well meaning friends suggested training her to be OK with being away from me. But Dee was still a tiny, new baby, and exclusively breastfed, and that was how I wanted it to stay. She wouldn’t take bottles and got distressed if I was away for too long, plus my breasts would get full and uncomfortable after a few hours away from her and I didn’t enjoy expressing.
Besides all of that, I was and am her mother, and never want to cause my child distress unless it’s vital – I would never have been able to relax knowing she was distraught and my presence could have made it OK again.
So I stayed, and she was happy, mostly, and I was up and down, and desperate for sleep, but it got easier.
‘Happy mum’ doesn’t give mums free reign to do whatever makes them happy. We still need to take our families into account, and I think
for the most part we do. But it can be hard when well meaning people tell you to put yourself first in ways that would make you feel uncomfortable. We all have our own measure of how far we will go to sacrifice our family time in pursuit of our own fulfillment, but that’s a judgement call only we ourselves can make.
For me, staying away from my newborn for more than couple of hours was beyond my limit. Yes, I was making sacrifices for my child, but no, being away from her wasn’t going to make either of us happy, really, no
matter how much I dreamed of it.
My ‘happy mum‘ moments came in the form of having a shower while my husband looked after the baby downstairs, or going to my mother in law’s for a change of scenery and adult conversation while Dee bounced on Grandma’s knee.
Self care is important
After all of this though, I do firmly believe that as mums, we need to take genuine steps to practice self care.
It’s easy to burn out and endlessly put your family first, leaving yourself at the bottom of the priority list. I’ve been a soggy heap of tears on the floor more than once and had to be mopped up by my husband and sent to bed to catch up on sleep.
Those times were not my best parenting moments. They’re the times I’ve snapped at Dee and been most impatient. I don’t enjoy parenting when I feel like that.
We need to at least take care of our basic needs, like sleep, food, hygiene and a bit of downtime. We owe it to our children to make sure we’re fit to parent at any given time, and to set them a healthy example.
I think we should change happy mum, happy child to take the pressure off striving for perpetual happiness. We should say: if mum’s OK right now, her child’s probably OK right now.
… But I don’t think it’ll catch on!
Have you ever felt pressured by well meaning people to do something you weren’t comfortable with in the pursuit of happiness? What’s your idea of ‘happy mum’ time?