The Mama Book is over a year old now- but it was born far before that, in a moment when desperate to get rid of the thoughts crowding my mind, that I never had time to properly processs, I grabbed an empty notebook and began filling in titles, pages, things I knew I needed to work through and process. The journal took time to develop, to be shared with others and flesh out- and it has been in the world for over a year in its current form.
Why a journal?
Writing is significant
There is something unique about writing something with your own handwriting, down on paper, that gets thoughts out of your head and allows you to process, reflect and remember them differently to those that are typed or thoughts held.
Frees up space in your head
Giving yourself permission to write down and reflect on motherhood- as a whole, or the minutae or your day, allows your brain a bit more space for other things. Instead of having a load of thoughts that are half formed, waiting for a time when you might be able to come back and address them, journaling gives those things permission and space to breathe- in turn giving your brain a bit of mental space too.
Gives you a physical space to process motherhood
So much of motherhood is intangible- the love and care, the concern about decisions, friendships, development. We do daily tasks which are repeated over and over and rarely have anything to show for our efforts- except that our children are still alive! Having a journal gives us a physical space to process the immensity and the joy of motherhood. Whether you’re having the best family day or just clinging on, you can sit, pause and reflect on the good and the bad, with a physical place to leave all those thoughts. I know that writing things down helps me sleep so much better, as my brain isn’t trying to hold onto things.
Less overwhelming than a blank page
I love to write and process but I barely did any during those early years with babies and toddlers- until my third child was born. The blank page was overwhelming- or I would just write about my struggles. It helped, but I realised I needed a space with more structure and promots to keep me focused on the good things, a way to think helpfully about the challenges and to reflect and plan on each season. The way The Mama Book is set out means that each section has prompts, questions or titles so it’s not just a blank baby book or journal for you to have to write reams of words in. With big picture pages to help you process the bigger things of motherhood, and season refresh planning and reflection pages, you won’t be sat staring at an empty page wondering whether to write ‘dear Diary’ as if you were an awkward preteen again!
It’s a tangible keepsake with a year of growth, joys and life as a mama
The sweetest thing is taking time to look back at a year well lived, with different seasons of motherhood flitting past us, sometimes. Having a journal with so many sweet snippets of life with my little ones, reflections on what they are like at different ages, and lessons I have learned through mothering that year has been so good for me. It’s not always pretty, there are struggles as well as pages and pages of joys- but each journal tells a story of a year lived with love and intention through that stage of mothering.
It’s always fun to have pretty notebooks and stationery- but this is more than just paper, it’s an invitation to give yourself some breathing room. Find journals in the shop here.
It’s tempting to cram our summers or weeks, usually, with as many things as possible, but how do you decide what to prioritise and how to savour summer?
Do you need a slower pace, and a more relaxed morning? Do you need to spend more one to one time, or more time outside, or less with screens around? Do you need to make a structure for your week, or rhythm for your day so that everyone knows what to expect?
There are a few things we can think about when we are deciding how to fill any empty time in our summers, or even just weekends. If you make a summer bucket list– how do you decide what to add to it- and which things to save for another year or day?
What are your fondest memories?
Looking back at joys from summers past- what has really stuck with you? Often the big holidays and trips out ara great but smaller moments are often just as treasured. Last year we didn’t go on holiday at all in the summer, and my husband worked really long hours. I was dreading the summer to some degree, with the lack of structure- but it really was full of lots of little joys. We didn’t do big exciting trips or days out but the things we did do were all really relished by us. We rode bikes, we went to the bookshop cafe near us. We took photos and made a little summer scrapbook (which Phoebe is still asking if we can add to).
Think about your fondest memories from your past summers with little ones, or even your own fondest memories of being a child. Did you have favourite things about the summer, or growing up generally that you want to share with your children now? How can you savour summer together in ways that you already know work for you?
What do your children relish?
Often the small things mean as much to our children as the big ones- simple joys can be just as exciting as big treats. An ice cream at the park can bring just as much joy as a big day trip that could leave them tired and overwhelmed.
As they get older and we get to know more of their personalities- we can think about what their love langayages might be. Do they thrive on quality time, or maybe one to one activities? Do they benefit from lots of cuddles? Making room for slow mornings, play dates or special one to one time to chat might be something you want to do.
What are your priorities and values as a family?
If you’ve already done the big picture pages in the journal then you’ll have some ideas about what things are unique to your family and which things you want to prioritise as your little ones grow up, and in this season. If your priorities are being outdoors, seeing friends and simple pleasures then you won’t want to be planning a big city holiday. You know what your family dynamics and preferences are- work with them and you’ll have a great time even if it’s not the same thing as your friends or peers are doing.
Finally, I know that I need to write this stuff down, and to also have time and space to communicate that to my children. You can grab a bucket list here– but also you could just draw a little outline of a week with pictures to show what’s happening on any given day, so that little ones who can’t read still feel like they know what is going on.
Whatever your summer looks like, enjoy the sun and the time together. Savour this summer, there will be only one this year! Don’t forget your summer bucket list here!
I don’t want to miss this beautiful life that’s right here, because I am thinking about what’s next or remembering what it was like when they were at a different stage or longing for certain challenges to move on.
These are the good old days.
At every stage, photos from a few years ago, a year ago, a few months ago, even, remind me that these days are the best. These are the good old days- it just doesn’t always feel like it the time. Seeing myself, my everyday, through the lens of time passed- gives me perspective and clarity on these days right now.
These are the good old days.
There are crazy, messy, stressful moments, but they are also scattered through with many beautiful, everyday, wonderful moments. Things that we take for granted, which just are the way they are- like the cot they are lowered into, the pram we push, the car seat we buckle or the shoes we tie- they move on and change and we look back and realise that those everyday things were beautiful.
These are the good old days.
It takes effort, slowing down and having open eyes to see what those things are in our everyday motherhood. To see the mess as they try to eat a yoghurt and smile, to watch the way they move when they run, to see the bedtime knowing one day they won’t need, or perhaps want you as they drift off. It takes patience and an ability to step back and remember the big picture- to remember that these days when they are children won’t last forever.
These are the good old days, and I want to love them in the moment- not just in retrospect.
These are the good old days, and I will find the gold within the whirling current of everyday life.
These are the good old days, the ones I will look back on fondly – without regret but knowing that I was there and I was there, despite the trials and tribulations.
These are the good old days, and I am here in them.
One of my favourite things is getting to chat to other mothers, both in real life and online. Today is a chance to have a virtual sit down and chat with April and get to know her and her motherhood journey a little better.
Hi April! It’s so fun to chat. Can you tell everyone a bit about you?
I’m April. I’m not born in April (you wouldn’t believe how many people ask me that!) I am a November baby and love fireworks and all things Autumn/Winter. I’m married to Gareth. We met at aged 16/17 (respectively) at a Christian Youth Camp and married in 2011 during our time at University. We are currently living in Cambridge for Gareth’s training for priesthood in the Church of England. Although we are only here for 11 more days before we move back up North (Liverpool way!) to serve out Gareth’s curacy. We have two red headed boys : Samuel (3years) Jonathan (10months)
What are you loving about life at the moment (big or small?)
I love Samuel’s toddlerness right now. He runs up to me and hugs me saying “I love you Mummy, you are such a strong and nice lady” he is the best encourager. He is always finding little gifts for me or singing me a song to cheer me up. I love Jonathan’s smiling and babbling right now. He says “mama” and it just melts my heart!! Basically what they say and their facial expressions are definitely my favourite little parts right now.
The bigger stuff is definitely just being able to get out of the house and create memories that are now lasting for them and for us as a family. The day to day stuff is beautiful and hard but it’s great that we can do some special things that Samuel can actually engage with. I’ve just finished a family felt calendar for the boys to interact with each day and that’s been really fun for both me to create and the boys (well mainly Samuel!) to engage with.
That is the sweetest. Motherhood continues to teach me new things every day- is there something that motherhood has taught you about yourself?
It’s taught me that I’m simply human – it’s okay to show your vulnerabilities and brokenness as children are incredibly forgiving and gracious. It also means that when I have a super day it’s celebrated rather than expected to be the normal standard.
That is such good truth. How have you seen the harder parts of motherhood impact you?
Mental health – that’s a bit of a big one to unpack – past pain – anxiety – stressors. The lack of personal time. Feeling forgotten as “April”. There are different challenges for everyone. I’ve realised since having the boys that I never pictured being pregnant or having babies whenever I pictured being a Mum. I just always pictured school aged children going camping, movie nights, nature walks, playing board games etc. These early years have hit me like a ton of bricks. But I have learnt so much from it. I think the most valuable lesson has been that time is a gift. Giving my husband and my children my time is an incredible gift in and of itself. But also giving time to my own dreams and passions is not at all selfish. It is simply a gift and a way to care and love myself.
What advice would you love to give your young mama self?
It’s gets better. You won’t be feeding/changing/wiping/tidying up forever! And also don’t give up on your own dreams or passions. They still matter! You are still worth investing in and spending time on!
What fills you up ready for another day (or hour!) of motherhood?
Their smiles, funny sayings, laughter and affection. In all honesty that 2 hour afternoon nap helps quite a bit too! Haha!
Finally, how do you find breathing room in motherhood?
Every morning I put Jonathan down for his morning nap, I make my second cup of tea and I cuddle up with Samuel on the sofa and we watch CBeebies together for a bit. Well just while I have my tea. But it’s a beautiful 15min space to start each day.
I pursue a lot of creative activities – painting, journaling, sewing, reading, crochet, papercraft, general making – in the afternoon nap time slot and in the evening. Though I’ve been brave and have headed out for some evenings to hang out with my friends. And go see the new Avengers film! Woo date night!
You can see April’s beautiful work here and follow her on instagram too. Thanks so much for sharing, April!
I can be restless, spinning in the middle of motherhood. How is it that motherhood is both too much and not enough, that I am both forgetting myself and growing into a stronger, more rooted version of myself? Life grows simpler and yet more complicated by the minute- having children pulls everything into focus whilst also causing life to swim before my eyes.
How do we know who we are in the middle of motherhood? How do we remember who we are when other people fill our vision most of the time?
A lot of who we are is wrapped up in motherhood, particularly in those early years of being at home with them a lot or before they start school. Children view themselves as the same person as you (their mother or primary caregiver) until they are about 6, which is so interesting when you think about trying to love and raise them. They literally can’t separate their identity from you when they are young, and so it is true that we need to understand ourselves and model good things, pursue good things for ourselves in order for them also to understand themselves and go ahead in straight aths.
The truth is that whilst motherhood can feel all consuming, and does often consume the majority of our time, we are multi faceted women. Mothering is a huge and important art of our lives, but it doesn’t define us, it’s not our whole identity. When I think back through my years of mothering so far, the times I and my children have been the most content and secure have not been the times where motherhood was all I was. If we put so much pressure on motherhood, on our children, on ourselves, to make us happy and fulfilled then we will always be let down.
No, motherhood is not all we are, and motherhood is not all we do. If you have really small babies and children who need you all the time, don’t be discouraged, I know that day in day out it can feel like all we have time for is caring for the needs of our little ones. It is so easy to be overwhelmed by these day to day tasks, the burden of love and care that falls to us. But just for a moment, look up, breathe the fresh air of this life and remember that you are a whole, wonderful person with or without them. You can take snippets of time to dream your dreams, chat to your little ones about your past, tell stories of who you are and who they are and weave your family’s narrative around you. You can take minutes here and there to show them you, the whole you.
If we want our children to be confident, kind or polite, we need to show them how, we need to do it ourselves.
If we want them to recognise their strengths and the ways they were made, and embrace those we need to be seen to be doing that too. Not just in motherhood, but in other things.
If we want our little ones to be compassionate to others, loving those in need and doing uncomfortable things for the sake of putting others first we need to be modelling that for them.
If we want our children to know that they can keep trying, keep going, to not let failure define them but to learn and grow through setbacks, we also need to be doing that in our own lives. In motherhood, in our personal lives, in relationships with others and in pursuing dreams and goals that are bigger than us.
Motherhood can be one of the most refining and sanctifying arts of life. Daily I learn my limitations, the areas I struggle and the things I can learn from and that we do well together. As we watch our children learn new things and we watch ourselves encourage them and feel proud of them, we learn about ourselves. As we encounter challenges and react to them, grow from them or struggle against them, we have more chances to learn about who we are and who they are.
The more we are pushed out of my comfort zones the more we come to learn that we are not invincible, not perfect and not altogether, even though we are the adult. We have much to learn, and we can learn it alongside our little ones, modelling teachability, humility and forgiveness along the way. We can resist the pressure to feel like we have to have it all together to be perfect parents. We can live against the lie that there is a perfect way to parent. We are all doing our best as we go along and live and learn in our families, showing love and grace and kindness as we explore childhood and walk through it together.
Last week we began #mamatakesfive – five minutes each day to take a little breathing room and do something that helps us to rest and reflect for the sake of our mental wellbeing. No screens, no distractions- you can read more about that here.
What I know is that unless you know exactly what you will do when your five minutes come along you can miss your chance without making the most of it.
So here are 5 things you can do and 5 times you can take do so.
Things you could do in your five minutes
- Take a walk in the fresh air on your own
- Sit in quiet and enjoy having no technology, to do lists or people needing your attention.
- Write down your joys from the day/ week.
- Read something inspiring.
- Do a brain dump- just write down all the things that are rolling around in your head.
Times to take five
- Before your feet hit the floor in the morning- waking a few minutes before your little ones is hard but great when it works.
- A few moments while your children play happily. (Until they need you again!)
- Naptime. It’s so easy to rush around or vegetate with something easy- but taking a bit of intentional refreshing time is really good.
- Transitioning between kids bedtime and your evening. I love to spend a few minutes sitting in quiet in my room before I go downstairs to commence tidying or whatever is next.
- Before your head hits the pillow- reflecting on your day, making plans for the next one and remembering the highs and lows.
Trying to be consistent with taking just five or ten minutes a day to do something like this can make a big difference. When I started doing it, I had actually taken time like this but hadn’t noticed it or realised I did have some space in my day that I hadn’t acknowledged previously. When our mindset shifts it can affect the rest of our actions that flow from it.
Take a photo of your spot for #mamatakesfive and share it with us on facebook or instagram– encouraging others to do the same could have such a positive effect on so many mamas, new or seasoned, and so many others through that. You matter, your mental space matters, and you can take a bit of time to take five.
PS. Don’t forget journals are on sale this week with code MAMATAKESFIVE!
Mental space in motherhood is an art form, I am finding. The act of taking some breathing room in what is a joy filled, yet full and busy life isn’t a formula that you can tick through. Taking care of yourself and others, balancing all the things, and feeling content requires creativity, patience and practice.
I have discovered through walking through early motherhood and growing from one child to three – looking after your mental space as a mother is essential in ways that are not tangible. Seasons where I did not recognise my need for some of these pauses were difficult in ways I was unable to recognise at the time. I was struggling to savour the everyday, and wondering what the right way, my way to mother was. If I could go back and give my young mama self some advice about finding breathing room in the overwhelming beauty of motherhood – I would tell her this.
1. Learn as you go
Just as in art you have to push boundaries and try different things to find your style and know yourself better, in motherhood paying attention to what works and what doesn’t work for you and your family is important. Are you filling all ‘free’ time with the voices of the internet, the tv, or other people? Get to know yourself and what works for you better by paying attention to what you’re doing. When you take time for recharging or stopping, which activities or places or ways work? Our children are constantly growing and learning, and so are we along with them.
2. Be patient
With yourself and with your little ones. Motherhood has some difficult expectations and narratives surrounding it- be that in society, our own heads, or in the media. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself, and allow yourself some rest time- proper rest time. Be patient with your little ones (if they’re tiny especially), they need you and love you, and one day you’ll miss them and the associated lack of physical and mental space! It has taken years for some of the greatest masterpieces to be made- don’t expect yourself to be perfect overnight (or ever!). Give yourself grace.
3. Be creative
I have found that setting aside small chunks of time for quiet and time out without the needs of small people fills me up and helps me to pour out more willingly in the beautiful task of motherhood- but you have to be creative about it. Expecting your foolproof routine to give you an hour of solitude will only get you so far- it may be many hours before you get the long break you crave. Snatch a few minutes here and there when you can, and instead of turning to social media or other easy fixes- protect that quiet and that peace in your mind. Whether you journal, read, go for a walk, or just stare at the ceiling for a few moments- be creative about what a little breathing room looks like for you.
4. Practise it
Like so many things, it takes making a new habit for something to start making a deep and lasting impact on you and your wellbeing. Daily art habits build up skills and make a difference just as practising self care does, Five minutes of time reflecting or doing something that fills you up everyday is much better than an hour once a week. Taking a few minutes before sleeping just to note down positives of the day and reflect on any challenges and growth gives my mind peace and the next day purpose. Some weeks are different- as the ebb and flow of mothering demands- and I will sit for longer looking back on the week and forward to the next season that we are entering into as a family, but having those small daily practises in place are so helpful.
5. Have fun!
The value of play and doing things that we truly enjoy can be forgotten in motherhood a little as we seek to love our children and help them with their interests. Find ways to have fun, refresh yourself and recharge for mothering. Do something out of the ordinary – trying something new is great for your mind just as a new technique or material can help combat creative block. You might find you have a whole new attitude to something unexpected.
The art of mental space in motherhood is something you can grow into, nurture and cultivate in your life, with freedom of expression. It is more important than you may ever realise to prioritise something so intangible. Art and beauty are not basic human needs for survival but they impact our quality of life so much – a purely functional life would only bring you so much contentment without any beauty or form in it. And likewise a seemingly intangible thing like mental space can be easy to forget the importance of – but it’s key to our flourishing as mothers and helping those around us to flourish too.
Next week is maternal mental health matters week. A chance to raise awareness of the importance of maternal mental health and the wonderful support and resources that are available. It’s so good to see mental health being talked increasingly in the media- as one of those unseen things in life it is crucial as so much of it is hidden.
Motherhood is amazing, hard, beautiful, difficult and such a mixture of emotions and experiences. We are needed, filled with love and our identity can be questioned as we transition into a new role or add children to the family. Life can just be busy- with good, normal, everyday things.
When I look back to the seasons when I felt most overwhelmed by motherhood, the thing I needed most (but didn’t realise) was to take a little bit of time regularly to process and reflect. Instead, all the struggles, thoughts, joys, expectations and confusions were stored in my head for later, quickly becoming as overwhelming as all the needs in front of me. Because I wasn’t allowing myself enough reflection or processing time I was completely unaware of my own struggles with postnatal depression. Only in retrospect when I finally realised what was going on, the darkness I was in, could I realise that I had already walked through this before. When we allow daily life and all the things that need doing to take over, it is easy for our being to become consumed and confused.
Sometimes we need to take five.
It is easy for us to spend twenty minutes scrolling social media, an hour watching tv, and mindlessly switching off, but it can be so hard to allow ourselves some real time out. It is hard to give ourselves permission to truly rest, refresh or to know what that even looks like. I found that doing a little bit at a time made a huge difference to my mental wellbeing. Being better aware of my joys and challenges, my thoughts and things I was learning took me step by step into a lighter place. I just wish I had given myself the same time and breathing room when I first became a mother.
Going through those overwhelming seasons and realising that I hadn’t allowed myself the mental space to process motherhood or reflect on my mental health is what prompted me to make The Mama Book. It gave me permission, a place and prompts to give myself those five minutes on a daily basis and save everything from getting caught up in my head. It daily gives me a way to take a bit of time to take stock and prioritise my mental wellbeing.
So to help raise awareness of maternal mental health and the importance of spending time processing life and motherhood we will be launching the #mamatakesfive initiative.
The idea is simple-
- Take five minutes in your day for yourself. Whether that is lying on your bed in silence, doing something that fills you up or spending some time writing down your highs and lows from the day. Something that gives you a five minute mental break.
- Post a photo of your five minutes on social media. It can be your face or what you’re doing.
- Use the #mamatakesfive hashtag and encourage others to join in with taking five minutes out of their day. You can also use #maternalMHmatters to join in the week’s hashtag.
You can choose to post your five minutes each day during the week, or any time when you are taking some time our to refresh and regroup to encourage other mamas to be honest with their own mental health and take five.
The tide of mental health conversation is changing. There is no shame, no need to hide or assume. We spend so much time taking care of our bodies with food, clothing, exercise, showering, and we need to take care of our minds too. We are whole people, mothers who need to take care of our selves and our own mental health for our own sake and for the sake of all those who we love around us and their wellbeing. So go and take five.
Tiredness in motherhood is real. Right from the start, whether you are suffering with first trimester exhaustion or adoption nerves, we are often tired before children even grace the doors of our home or our relationships. There is short term weariness- from chickenpox, children waking in the night ill or teething. It is hard to feel refreshed as a weary mama.
There is the long term exhaustion that you can start to get used to, from feeding a baby every night for an unending number of days, your own illness or caring for a child who wakes for various reasons, or from having a child with special needs, insomnia – there are so many things that can easily crush our desires for a good night of rest.
Exhaustion can feel crippling, especially when there seems to be no end in sight. We can go through our days feeling foggy, just longing for the next opportunity for a nap or a night of rest, however unlikely it is. We find our tiredness affecting our attitudes, changing our feelings and making us doubt ourselves.
Whatever state of physical weariness we find ourselves in, it is key to find ways to be refreshed in each season. Physical refreshment might be naps, early nights, eating better. Getting out in the fresh air for exercise to get those endorphins going.
But refreshment can often be needed on a deeper level. Whether we are coping with only a few nights of broken sleep, or waking feeling exhausted despite sleeping all night long, we need to have deep refreshment, that goes even beyond the feeling of weariness.
Doing something that fills up our souls.
Connecting with important relationships in our lives to fill us up.
Doing something we enjoy.
Taking ten minutes to reflect on the day/ week/ month and breathe.
In a world where our moments of pause can often be spent on a screen, watching something, sending messages or checking social media we need to intentionally choose something else. we have to deliberately go somewhere else and do something else.
Finding deep refreshment
The thing is that deep refreshment doesn’t come easily – not at first. Habits take time to form- and break- and it is so easy to default to our easy options in those minutes when you have a little space mentally. But when we think about it, how often do we leave social media or screens feeling filled up, inspired or equipped for the next day/ hour/ challenge? I know that while I do enjoy it and find it entertaining that occasionally choosing something that is truly life giving refreshes me on a much deeper level that always defaulting to the easy option.
How do we know what these things are? Think of things you say I want to .. but i don’t have enough time. You may not have time to spend hours on something or get something done like you would like- but I am sure you could spend 5 or 10 minutes doing just a little. Something is better than nothing, even if you would love a free day to yourself more than anything. Fill the cracks of your day with things that bring you life – don’t wait for the wide open spaces of time to open up or you miss out on the here and now.
Perhaps think of things that you used to do, enjoyed as a child or just something nice like having a bath. If you are out of ideas, just try something and see how it makes you feel and keep going until you work it out.
Something is better than nothing
Keep it simple, try to do something each day. Often just knowing we have given ourselves permission to enjoy something is enough. Even if it looks nothing like it did before you had children. Even if exercise is doing 5 minutes while the little one splashes in the bath. Or a quick cupcake recipe is better than nothing- even if you’d love to have time to devote to cooking something more complex. One day you will. But right now grab the snippets as you can- and use them in ways that will give you life and energy. Put your phone up high, keep your tv off until later.
Invest in your marriage, phone a friend you haven’t spoken to in far too long. Nurture your talents and dreams and all those things lying dormant, even if it’s only for ten minutes a day.
Sit down and breathe. Feel the quiet of bedtime, or naptime, or of your child occupying themselves just for a little while. Remember the good things. Remember what a great job you are doing. It is unending, it is often thankless, but you are doing so well. Remember the things you love about your child, that make you laugh. Remember who you are and how loved you are.
Your weariness does not determine your abilities as a mother. Your tiredness will pass, one day. But here and now you can take steps to make sure you are finding some deeper refreshment for your heart and soul, and you will always be glad that you started.