Parenting when you’re struggling can be bloody hard – and finding fuel in your own tank to fuel your kids’ can be even harder. Lee-Anne Duncan meets a Lower Hutt mum who’s thankful for Bellyful.
It’s five o’clock – better known to all parents as “the witching hour”, among other epithets.
Thinking about cooking something relatively healthy that your kids will even eat, especially when you’re struggling physically, mentally, financially, can feel like running a marathon with the buggy’s brakes locked, being forced to smile all the way.
“This time last year I just couldn’t have imagined myself sitting here a year later, being happy,” says Maurethe Little, a Lower Hutt mum to two energetic boys.
To be fair, there wasn’t much to be happy about. Her relationship with her young sons’ father had broken down, she was ill with two reoccurring autoimmune conditions, and her depression had returned.
Originally from Ireland, she had no family living close. Life was hard and she lacked support.
She posted her distress on a Meals for Mums Facebook page, and a former Bellyful Branch Coordinator saw her post and suggested she refer herself to Bellyful Hutt Valley for help.
Bellyful cooks and delivers meals to families with newborn babies and families with young children who are struggling with illness. That includes mental illness, such as postnatal depression and anxiety. The organisation has 18 branches throughout the country, fuelled by over 450 volunteers who cook, pack and deliver meals.
Bellyful had helped Maurethe’s family before, delivering meals when her second son Kian was three months old. “There are only 15 months between Kian and Patrick, my eldest. I knew having a baby and a toddler would be hard, but I had no idea!
“I was a bit anxious about asking for help that first time. I always think there are other people more deserving, you know? And I was a bit worried the woman from Bellyful who came to see me would be judging me. But she was really lovely and friendly, and we just chatted.”
When she found herself struggling again, Maurethe wasn’t sure she still fitted the criteria because Kian was three and a half years old and her eldest was nearly five.
“Maurethe most certainly met our criteria,” says Charlotte Delahunty, Bellyful’s chief executive. “She was dealing with two autoimmune disease as well as depression. She was alone with two active little boys and had to keep working on top of all that. That’s an awful lot to deal with so Bellyful was only too happy to help out.”
A trained nurse, Maurethe’s work included two 12-hour night shifts and two-day shifts on Healthline, answering questions from concerned callers. While she could do that from home, it’s far from easy trying to work with the boys around, even at night.
“The boys wouldn’t sleep in their own beds and Kian had to have someone sleeping beside him. So I’d get the boys to sleep then start working, but Kian would wake up and be banging the door down. I was so sleep deprived and really struggling.”
So having someone from Bellyful turn up to pop a few meals – family faves such as macaroni cheese and spaghetti bolognese – in the freezer meant a lot. “At that stage I couldn’t afford much food. There are a lot of nights I would just eat a bowl of cereal. Knowing the boys were fed was enough.
“It was amazing knowing I had something ready to go that the boys would eat and was good for them. It really took the pressure off, especially as I’d be trying to get two boys fed, washed and into bed, having either worked all day or was about to start that night.
“With my illnesses and depression there certainly were times where I didn’t think I’d make it through the day. You might think dinner doesn’t mean much but when you know there’s something you can just take out of the freezer, defrost, and it’s ready to eat? That makes a wonderful difference.”
A year on, Maurethe has the energy to make a difference for others. She supports Bellyful fundraisers and gets stuck in at Bellyful’s cookathons (where 100 or so meals are cooked and frozen) and bake sales.
“I’ve always been one to volunteer and I really like the idea of families helping families. I love being able to support others the way I was supported through Bellyful.
“Also, through Bellyful I’ve found another group of friends. It’s so wonderful that I now have all these friends I can call on for help, and others I can offer my help to.”
Like so many organisations aimed at helping people who are struggling, especially parents, Bellyful relies on donations and volunteers. Anyone who’d like to cook, pack and deliver meals can email Bellyful or fill in the Help Fill Bellies form at www.bellyful.org.nz.
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You can also choose Bellyful as your charity of choice when you donate through the One Percent Collective.
And if you need help and would love a few things for your freezer, or know someone else who would, please go to the Bellyful website.
Lee-Anne Duncan is a freelance writer with a background in radio and television. While much of her time is spent as a hired pen, she loves telling the stories of charities, NGOs and social enterprises as they have so many great stories waiting to be told.
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