I’m now convinced I did something wrong in the first months of my maternity leave: I obsessed too much about doing stuff right.
I stayed at home sterilising everything in sight, packed a nappy bag to go to Tesco like I was preparing to tour Brazil and - courtesy of The Contented Little Baby Book - lived by the clock, terrified that if I didn’t have the baby swaddled and in a dark room by 9.15am he was destined for a life of dysfunction and chaos.
Ten years and two more babies on, I’m a lot more relaxed about things – I learnt the hard way.
So, it’s with admiration, and a bit of envy, that I read about Karen Edwards, who’s on Instagram as @travelmadmum. Ten weeks after her baby Esme was born, she and her partner Shaun Bayes set off backpacking, living out of one bag while they travelled round six countries, including Vietnam, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
When I read this, my first instinct was: how is that possible?
I did a week in the Algarve when my firstborn was six months old and, while I got my stuff in a single holdall, we filled a suitcase the size of a small caravan with Mothercare paraphernalia. And this, for a human being who was a tenth of my size. Aside from still paying off the second mortgage required for going over Ryanair’s weight allowance, I don’t mind telling you that 90% of that ‘just in case’ pile ended up coming home untouched.
Which sums up the punishment a lot of new mums put themselves through: We worry about every eventuality. The result is often that maternity leave isn’t always the unmitigated pleasure it’s meant to be.
I might have adored my baby boy – he was, after all, the brightest, cutest, cleverest and most interesting child in the world.*
But I did so much worrying about the little things that those first months were distinctly stressful. I panicked when he had his first cold, would leap up when there was so much as a murmur through the baby monitor.
I gradually realised that this much anxiety when raising a baby doesn’t do anyone any favours; it sucks away one of the most important ingredients in those early months of bonding: fun.
I do realise that the backpacking thing is not for everyone. But I think lots of us could all take a leaf out of Karen and Shaun’s book, chill out a bit – and make raising our kids the happy adventure it’s meant to be.
*I may be biased.
It's all in the eyes (or how to master the 'hard stare')