At this time of year the inbox of our editor Emily Writes fills up with messages from despairing mothers who are struggling through the holiday period. They feel alone and overwhelmed and exhausted. This is her Christmas message for them.
To all of the mothers who are understandably overwhelmed by the immense and relentless pressure put on them at Christmas – I want to say this:
You’re not alone in feeling the way that you do. I promise.
When you have a night of up and down and up and down and up and down and there are cluster feeds and babies crying and your head is pounding and then you need to be up at the crack of dawn on the 25th full of Christmas joy and spirit and enthusiasm…
We see you.
There are so many tired mothers rubbing their eyes, staring at the coffee pot, popping a Panadol to ease a sleep deprivation headache hiding in a stiff neck and heavy shoulders – and these mothers? They’re just like you.
They’re taking a deep breath and diving in and they’re going to watch the kids tear apart presents lovingly wrapped over weeks. They’re going to feel everything, all of it. They’re with you.
They love their kids just like you do. Feel lucky for this time just as it drags at their exhausted bodies.
It’s hard. It’s hard and that’s OK. You don’t need to hide how hard it feels when your body is aching for sleep. When your breasts are sore or you’re all touched out. When you want to snap at unsolicited advice from people you only see one day a year.
You’ll likely be given all sorts of advice on how to deal with this but the fact is for many mothers it just is what it is at this time of year – maybe next year will be different, maybe it won’t. Whatever is going on, you’re not alone.
It’s hard when you feel resentment at having to travel to see family when they should come to you – that’s fair you know. Sleeping in someone else’s bed or on a couch with a baby, it sucks. You’re allowed to feel annoyed. Having to cross cities to cater to family who insist on seeing you when your baby cries every time they’re in the car seat and it’s 30 degrees and you are just so tired – it sucks. Saying this doesn’t make you a bad person it makes you human.
When your children are tired and exhausted and they’re watched like hawks for tantrums by relatives who have little to do with them at any other time of the year – it is grim. It’s hard having to be the one to tell some aunty or uncle or long-lost cousin to leave your kid alone. To be that person.
Sometimes for some mums, some Christmases are just shit.
We know what it’s like and nobody will tell you to just be grateful here. Nobody here is going to minimise your feelings. We know you’ll get enough of that… and we’ve been there. We are here to say us too or to tell you that it used to be like that but it gets better. Pinky swear.
Because we know that it’s how intensely grateful you are that gets you through the longest nights of the holidays which are rarely a holiday for mums. When you have the same exhausted mornings but this time you have to get up and cook and be dressed before 9am so you’re ready to feed and entertain and clean up after an endless parade of visitors. Or to drive for hours to make sure everyone gets their time, while you get no time.
We know it’s the love of your children that carries you through a day when there is screaming and tantrums and it’s not the way you thought it would be.
Nobody here will tell you that the baby is hungry just because they’re crying. We know you just fed them. You won’t hear from us that the baby needs solids or sleep or to be put down or picked up.
In this space you’re trusted. You know your baby.
Here we just say, look at what you made! Look at how happy your baby is! Look at your love and dedication and look at how hard you try. How lucky your baby is to have you as their mama.
On Christmas Day we see you when sometimes it feels like you’re not seen. When you’re in the kitchen sweating by the hot stove, when you’re calming babies, feeding, separating grumpy, fighting children – you’re seen by us.
When you realise you don’t have presents under the tree after carefully picking presents for your entire extended family, see us – we would give you the gift of sleep, the gift of alone time, the gift of knowing we see your efforts and applaud your patience and generosity and kindness.
When there isn’t gratitude for meals or gifts or time spent late at night writing cards and decorating and all of the emotional labour on top of the usual day to day – know there’s a village of mamas sending out a signal to you that you’re seen.
For the exhausted mothers at Christmas I want you to know that you’re loved.
Don’t let anyone tell you how you have to feel. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not enough.
Don’t let the guilt eat at you if they say you’re not doing this or that right. Hold tight to the fact that you’ll be home soon, back to routine, back to you and baby and the life you created.
If at all it feels too much… stop and close your eyes.
Think of all of the mothers who are with you now.
Imagine them standing with you.
We have your back.
We have joy for you and we are holding you up.
If Christmas Day doesn’t go the way you hoped it would – you’re not alone and tomorrow is another day. A new day to have the day you want. You can have a do-over and have any day that you need once all of those unfair and heavy obligations have been put to bed. A walk on the beach, feeling the sand between your toes, and the sunshine on your shoulders or a day on the couch with magazines while your children play outside, you can do this.
All around you mothers are trying, through exhaustion and guilt and pressure. See them, love them, notice them, and help them.
The sisterhood of no sleep is alive and we’ve got you.
You can do this.
You’ve done this.
You have got this.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.