I have to be honest. I find it hard to hold a conversation with another mum who only ever talks about how wonderful her child is.
I know that makes me sound like a grumpy old woman, but hear me out.
Our family has been plagued with a round-robin of colds for the last two months. My little one in particular can’t seem to shake it. Our sleep-deprived household has a permanent smell of Vicks about it, we are chewing vitamin C tablets by the dozen, and I am at the chemist every other day restocking Panadol and oil for the vaporiser. I am tired and a bit grumpy, and there is nothing like a good whinge with a sympathetic mummy friend to clear my head and help me through my days and wakeful nights.
But, when one of those friends responds by saying that her baby is being so amazingly wonderful with the “little sniffles” she’s got at the moment and obviously has a wonderful immune system, I have difficulty knowing how to respond.
She briefly mentioned that sleeps have been a little disturbed, but that was couched between glowing statements about how great her baby is. It honestly is fantastic and I am genuinely happy for my friend and her baby. But her comments left me feeling confused and even more exhausted than ever.
The thing is, I could make similar statements about my little one. She is a happy baby, and the cold hasn’t really put a dent in that happiness. Apart from the first couple of nights, once we got the vaporiser, she only woke once or twice during the night and was quickly back to sleep. Nonetheless it is hard work having a sick baby, and those brief wakings for the baby turn into much longer wakings for me (I never fall back to sleep easily).
I draw strength from other mums empathising and saying how difficult these times can be. I also love receiving tips and advice. But most of all it is the “we’re all in this together” sense of community that gives me support.
If anything, most of my mummy friends try to out-do each other in a competition to see who has got it the toughest. One-year-olds who still wake frequently through the night, teething horrors and scary allergic reactions are all topics we love to discuss and compare notes on.
It’s not unusual to have a conversation along the lines of:
Mummy #1:”I think my little girl has a cow’s milk allergy, she’s had an upset tummy since going off formula…”
Mummy #2: “Oh the poor thing, maybe you should try soy milk and see how she goes. My little one has so many allergies, I’ve had to cut out dairy and give her gluten free foods which she hates! It’s so hard finding recipes.”
Mummy #3: “I know what you mean about recipes, I’ve been trying to find safe ones for my toddler, his reflux makes him vomit so easily.”
And so it goes on. There is something reassuring about sharing war stories with other mums. It reminds us that this parenting thing is a challenge for everyone. There is always someone else who has gone through the same thing and come out the other side a better and stronger parent.
But this does get me thinking about whether we do sometimes focus on the gruelling aspects of being a parent rather than celebrating all the wonderful ups and downs of bringing up children. To only share the difficult times with my mummy friends, when in reality there are far more wonderful and life-affirming moments, is unfair both to myself and my little girl.
I’m not sure I could be as unwaveringly effusive as my friend is in general conversation, but next time a mum asks how everything is going I won’t immediately launch into an account of my little one’s wakeful nights.
Instead I’ll say things are great because no matter what challenges are thrown at me, they genuinely are.