x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Gina Ford's advice turns to keeping mothers sane

Parenting guru Gina Ford has turned her attention to mothers, offering advice on how to remain sane during the early months of motherhood.

Katherine Wightman with her son Harry. She believes that making more time for her husband is simply not an option with a very young baby but, having been through it all before, she says she knows things will improve.
Katherine Wightman with her son Harry. She believes that making more time for her husband is simply not an option with a very young baby but, having been through it all before, she says she knows things will improve.

Readers of her best-selling Contented Little Baby Book view her as either a saint or a demon, but when Gina Ford, the British writer and expert on everything from how to get babies to sleep to managing twins and coaxing fussy eaters to eat, publishes another book, parents listen.

This time, though, it's different. Whereas her previous books have all focused on babies and toddlers, now she has turned her attention to mothers. The Contented Mother's Guide has caused quite a stir (it contains some controversial advice on how mothers should rekindle their relationships with their husbands after giving birth), but it tackles an important issue: how to remain sane during the early months of motherhood.

Any parent will know that the heady combination of sleep deprivation, hormones in disarray and a screaming baby can challenge even the most capable carer. New mothers are often so focused on caring for their child that they forget to look after themselves. As a result, some women find it a miserable experience.

In fact, Ford's wisdom on the subject is far from ground-breaking. One of the criticisms often levelled at her is that she is not a mother herself, so how can she be in a position to offer advice? To get around this, she intersperses her own advice with that of mothers writing on her forum, www.contentedbaby.com.

Topics range from how to make time for yourself and how to get back into shape, to how to dedicate time to your relationship with your husband. But much of it is obvious, such as joining a gym - thanks "Miranda" - and "decide when you are going to exercise and stick to it". Hadn't thought of that, "Susie".

We asked two Abu Dhabi women who are still shrouded in the fog of early motherhood - each has a very young baby with an older sibling - how applicable some of the book's advice is to real life, and what coping mechanisms have worked for them.

"I like the idea of trying to make time for myself," says Louise Morgan, a lawyer who lives in Abu Dhabi with her two sons, Hugo, two, and Linus, four months, "but it's not easy. In the first couple of months when everything's really manic, when I got a spare moment I would sleep, read a magazine, watch TV or have a bath - nothing more than that. Because I think you need to conserve your energy levels."

Recently, since Linus started sleeping better, she has used the time more constructively. "I've found that really simple stuff like going to the gym for half an hour, or choosing something nice to cook in the evening, really relaxes me and makes me feel like I am doing something good for myself."

For Morgan, attitude plays a big part. "I do sort of think you just have to get on with it. I subscribed to motherhood and I've just got to take the rough with the smooth."

However, she has found ways to help make it easier. "I try to read the newspaper to keep up with current affairs," she says. "I think it's quite key when you're a mum at home because it makes you feel a bit more like you belong in the world, rather than just existing in this little bubble of motherhood. Also, it's good to be interested in other stuff so that you can talk about things other than babies."

Having friends to talk to can also help lighten the load. "It's really important to be honest about how you're feeling," she says, "because your honesty will be reciprocated and you'll feel much better because you'll have had a really good, frank discussion with someone who's going through exactly the same thing. Often you find that they're feeling the same, and that includes frustration, guilt and anger and all the emotions you go through. It's not just you and you don't feel so alone."

Katherine Wightman, an interior designer who lives in Abu Dhabi and has two children, Arabella, three, and Harry, three months, believes that dedicating time to her husband (in the book, Ford recommends that couples "keep talking to one another" and do regular "date nights") will be impossible until the baby starts sleeping properly.

"I go to bed at eight every night and my husband creeps in at 10," she says. "Then I'm up again not long after that. We're like ships in the night."

This being her second child, though, she knows that things will improve. "With Arabella, we used to do 'date night' once a week. We wouldn't necessarily go out, but I'd make something special for dinner. It meant we'd chat rather than just being zombies watching TV."

The move from the UK has, she says, made a huge difference to her experience of new motherhood. "Because we have help here, I'm not doing the washing at two in the morning like I was with Arabella. I'd do a feed, then a wash, then hang the washing out. It was mad."

Even so, the idea of finding time for herself, as per Ford's advice, seems unrealistic. "I can't imagine ever thinking, 'The baby's asleep, I'm going to read a book.' It's like, 'Right, I've got to quickly reply to those emails or fold the washing or do something.' I don't think it really happens for the first three months."

In the meantime, she has learnt to appreciate the little moments. "My favourite time of day is when I put Harry back down to sleep at about 9.15am. The house is quiet and I have breakfast on my own and read the paper. By the time I've got dressed, there are only about 15 minutes before Harry wakes up again - I get to page five and it's 'waa waa waa' - but that's my little moment."



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