I always remember my own mother telling me: ‘Being a mum is not the most interesting thing about me.’ I heard this long before becoming a parent myself but it stayed with me. I loved the idea of having children but I knew that I wanted my life to continue.
Just because I was Mummy didn’t mean I had to stop being Victoria.
Easier said than done, of course.
No matter how many honest accounts you hear from hard-working mums and frazzled parents, no matter how many stories and warnings and ‘just you wait’s, nothing can prepare you for how relentless it is. It’s non-stop!
There is never a time when my one-year-old doesn’t need something from me, whether that’s food, milk, a nappy change, a song, a game, a toy, attention.
How was I to keep my identity when every day, hour in, hour out, was spent looking after her?
The short answer is, I force myself.
There are two areas of my life, apart from my daughter, that define who I am – and the more time I carve out for both, the more I am reminded that I’m still me.
Having a child has enriched my life beyond words – but, unless we’re careful, it can steal something, too: the person we are on our own.
The first area is my work. Writing books – in particular the racy ones I put together – are a very far cry from all things baby-related. Being able to dive into a world that has nothing to do with CBeebies, squidged-up bananas or passing minuscule scraps of paper/blueberry skin/any other item uncovered on the floor and presented to me as if it’s the Holy Grail, is excellent for my sanity.
I’m using my brain for something other than building plastic-cup towers and endlessly reading That’s Not MyTeddy/Owl/Hedgehog, and yes, unbelievably, Meerkat.
Finding the time to write is challenging. During her first year, I called in babysitting favours from my family, but, on a short deadline, I would often turn to it in my evenings.
Rather than it feeling like a late finish, though, I loved it.
Oh yes, I’d ponder, I can still use words like ‘decorative’ and ‘Campanile’, instead of spouting monosyllables and pointing at pictures of farm animals. Not that I don’t enjoy that – it’s just that after the three hundred and seventy-sixth time it gets repetitive.
The second area is my friends. Friends with babies, yes, but also, crucially, friends without.
I was strict with myself from the beginning: I was not going to bore my friends with stories about poo and sleeping schedules.
I might think that my daughter is the centre of the universe, but in reality she isn’t – and, it’s true, talking about her at length is boring.
Naturally there’s a place for discussing the minutiae of a baby’s routine, and I’ve shared so much with my mum mates, but sometimes you just need to be able to go out, put on a great pair of shoes, sip a cocktail and talk about ANYTHING BUT. Ask about people’s lives, their jobs, their happiness, and listen to their answers.
Remember the world exists outside the weird planet for two you have going on at home. Don’t scroll through a thousand pictures and expect everyone to coo: if you’re out, you’re out, make the most of it and the company with you.
But most importantly, don’t feel guilty for making time for yourself.
I felt huge guilt at the start, whether that was working or seeing my friends, for no other reason than I was pleasing myself and not my daughter.
But the truth is that a little freedom, and a little independence, feeds into being a happier parent.
Keep that interesting thing about you, whatever it is, because in the long run your child will thank you for it.