Life

Ask Fiona: I'm afraid I've made a mistake becoming a mother

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers advice to an young woman who is under pressure with motherhood, a woman who is bored with her marriage and a time-poor friend

Being a first-time mum can be emotionally and physically draining

I WAS so happy when I first became pregnant and couldn't wait to start being a mother. Thankfully, the birth was easy, my baby was healthy, and I loved her from the moment she came into my life.

However, she's now four months old, and I think I've made a terrible mistake and that I'm just not up to being a mother. I'm tired all day, yet the only things I need to do are feed, clothe and change nappies for a single baby.

Don't get me wrong, I know I love her, however, I also resent her, especially when I can no longer do the things I used to do with my boyfriend and friends. How can I think like this? One minute I think she's perfect and the next I blame her for the fact that my life is no longer my own.

Yesterday, my boyfriend came home early with some flowers to cheer me up and I screamed at him for making too much noise. I'd spent almost an hour getting my daughter down for an afternoon nap and I was exhausted. Then I burst into tears, which of course, woke up my daughter anyway! I'm a mess and I feel so inadequate. What's wrong with me?

KT

FIONA SAYS: Few, if any, first time mothers are prepared for the turmoil that a new baby brings; it's emotionally and physically draining. Throw in lack of sleep and some anxiety about whether you're doing everything right, and it becomes easy to see why many parents – like you – feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. So please, stop feeling that you are alone in feeling as you do.

For most, these feelings will usually lessen over time; parents become more confident in looking after a baby, which in turn, gets easier as the baby becomes less dependent on them.

However, these feelings can sometimes be difficult to dislodge and, if they persist beyond a month or two, might indicate that a mother is suffering from postnatal depression. Given this, please consider having a chat with your doctor. If treatment is recommended, this might be in the form of medication, counselling or both.

Even if treatment is not recommended, you might still find it useful to contact the Association for Post Natal Illness (apni.org) which has lots of useful information for new parents. Go to the 'Need help now' section if you're feeling desperate and need to talk to someone - if it's busy, leave a message and they'll call you back.

An alternative source of help is the PANDAS Foundation - (pandasfoundation.org.uk) which provides practical advice and support for people going through prenatal/antenatal and postnatal illnesses. Both organisations can help you come to terms with your feelings and help you through them.

If you feel you need some practical help on looking after your baby, consider the National Childbirth Trust (nct.org.uk). Although, at first glance this might look like it's all about antenatal information and classes, if you look at the top of the page, you'll see links such as 'Baby and toddler' to go to. There's lots of help available and all three organisations have support phone lines and/or online chat facilities for those times when you feel overwhelmed or just need someone to talk to. Do make use of them and consider joining their support groups, or find out about other parent and baby groups in your area. Your doctor or health visitor should be able to suggest some, and I'm sure meeting up with others in the same situation as you, will help to reassure you that you're not alone.

A great many mums struggle and feel inadequate, but there is help out there so please, tap into what's available and I'm sure you'll find things improve.

I'M BORED OF MY MARRIAGE

I have been married for 24 years to a good man, but something is now definitely missing in our relationship. I still love him, I think, but I'm not sure that's enough and we seem to have grown apart.

We both have secure jobs that pay well, but demand a lot of our time. What time we do spend together is usually over meals or streaming TV programmes through our tablets, during which little gets said beyond commenting on the food or the programme. We rarely go out together, unless someone else invites us, and even then, it's usually with the same circle of friends. We spend our holidays in the same apartment each year, but nothing changes; we just transfer the same dreary repetition to Italy.

My husband seems content to continue like this, so I suppose I'll just have to try and get on with it, but I just wish there was more to married life.

LB

FIONA SAYS: There is, but please don't just 'try' to do something about it, instead, actually 'do' something. This might sound glib, but the essential point is that people who think a lot about making changes, rarely achieve as much as those who set out and actually do something.

It doesn't matter what you do, as long as it breaks the routine and gets you using your free time more creatively and productively. This might involve joining a local club or group, taking up a new hobby or sport, further education or perhaps voluntary work. Whatever you do, commit to it wholeheartedly and enjoy it; life is like anything else, you get out what you put in.

Finally, are you sure that your husband is content? When was the last time you turned off the TV, talked with him and asked a big question, like 'Are you happy?' It's possible that he's just as bored as you and would welcome the chance to join you in some of these new and exciting activities.

WHY WON'T MY GIRLFRIEND MARRY ME?

I have been living with my girlfriend for four years and love her very much. I have wanted to marry her since our second year together but, whenever I bring up the subject, she says loves me but isn't ready. Lately she's simply started avoiding the question completely and just changes the subject.

She says she loves me but, reading between the lines, I think she's been hurt before and doesn't want that to happen again. However, I've been nothing but good to her and have promised that I would never hurt her, so why can't she accept that I am serious about this?

WD

FIONA SAYS: I suspect she does, and that could be the problem. While some people use the appearance of indecision to encourage a partner to work a bit harder to win them over, I don't think that's the problem here. You've been trying to get this lady to agree to marriage for about three years, so I think there's something else afoot. It may be that she's unwilling to commit, and you really need to talk this through with her.

Although she says she loves you, she might never be ready to make a commitment and you'll have to decide if that love is enough. It might also be that she's not as serious as you about this relationship, in which case, it may be time to move on. Or it could be that she's opposed to the whole concept of marriage, seeing it as outdated and patriarchal, in which case - ask her how she'd feel about a Civil Partnership when the law changes.

Whatever her reasons, the two of you need to talk and you need to ask whether there will ever be a time when she'll be ready to make a commitment - and what form that will take if she is. Once you understand how she feels, you'll know where you stand.

WHY CAN'T MY FAMILY UNDERSTAND MY FRIEND NEEDS ME?

A school friend of mine lost her husband at the start of the year and it really hit her hard. I visit her as much as I can, usually two or three times a week, sometimes more and occasionally at the weekend. It's a round trip of about 2.5 hours, but I'm happy to do it, as she's still very upset and doesn't go out much.

However, my children and husband think I'm spending too much time with her and, although I've tried to explain I'd hope someone would do the same for me, they don't seem to understand.

Last week I was late collecting my daughter from school and she got upset. When I pointed out that it's only a short walk home anyway, she got really, really angry and accused me of neglecting her. What should I do?

Anon.

FIONA SAYS: You probably won't want to hear this, but I think your daughter has a point. I understand that you feel you must help your friend but, in doing so, I think you may have lost sight of the fact that you also have a responsibility to your family. It appears they miss you, and I don't mean just to do housework - they want more time with you.

It should be possible to accommodate this and still help your friend. As a start, ask her to visit you sometimes. This will not only give you more time to be with your family, but will also encourage your friend to start getting out and about once again.

You've accepted a lot of responsibility for getting her through her grief, but you can't do this on your own, nor will it help her if she becomes overly dependent on you. Perhaps you could help her by putting her in touch with the local branch of Cruse Bereavement Care (cruse.org.uk), so she has another source of help and support when you can't be there for her.

:: If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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