TV presenter turned author Anna Williamson talks tackling the mental side of parenting.
How did you find writing your book Breaking Mum and Dad: The Insider’s Guide to Parenting Anxiety?
It was hugely cathartic. It served as its own form of therapy really writing about my own experiences and also tapping into so many other new parents who have contributed to the book as well. My son Enzo was five months old when I started writing the book and I finished it when he was eleven months old. It was the empathy and comfort I needed but didn’t set out to seek.
What would you say the message of your book is?
This book is all about the mental side of parenting. Knowledge is power: the more we can understand about ourselves then we can empower ourselves. I just want everyone to feel that whatever they’re doing, they are doing their very best and to not feel scared and embarrassed to admit how they’re really feeling about being a parent.
Did you always plan on being a working mum?
It was the complete opposite of what I had planned for. I craved that familiarity of a job in those first early weeks. I was asked to do a job when my son was four weeks old and I felt it was going to give me a bit of a snapshot that actually my life is still there. After doing that job, the best feeling was that I couldn’t wait to get home to my son, and for someone that had been struggling with bonding with him it was wonderful.
What was the turning point when you realised you needed to seek help with your mental health?
The turning point was when I just wasn’t enjoying being a mum in those early weeks. I felt he deserved better and that was when I knew that my mental health was taking a bashing and I knew that my anxiety disorder had returned with full force.
What are some helpful steps to take for new parents that are struggling with their mental health?
Don’t put any pressure on yourself. I had obtrusive thoughts and a lot of new mums do. By telling someone that you’re having these thoughts, it doesn’t mean you don’t love your child, but it’s really important you don’t keep them in your head because they will fester.
Why do you think it is that parenting anxiety in particular is a lesser-discussed aspect of mental health?
It’s an enormous, underrepresented area of mental health. I know there is a huge underground guilt, embarrassment and shame surrounding new parents for feeling anything less than how parenting ‘should be’. We need to not let new parents feel in any way negative about their experiences when, in fact, they are completely normal.
How do you think parenting anxiety affects mum and dads differently?
Dads and birth partners have the same anxieties as a mum. Often for the birth partner and the dad, there is that extra layer of ‘I didn’t give birth to this baby, will the baby love me as much?’. New dads and birth partners probably daren’t speak up because they haven’t been the one that’s had to pop the baby out so how dare they moan about how they’re feeling, but they are equally having to learn how to do this new job as well.
What do you think the impact of social media is on parenting anxiety?
It’s so cathartic now that we are living in this new age of Insta-mums who are talking really openly and honestly about parenting. Laughter and humour can completely turn anxiety on its head, so seek out support groups and friendship groups that resonate with you.
What was the most important thing you learnt from writing the book?
I have taken away how much of a wonderfully unique, good and bad challenge parenthood is. It’s not being a perfect parent, it is being the best parent you can be, and that is measured by your own standards. Motherhood been completely different to how I thought it might be. I feel so much love for my son now; he is the best thing I’ve ever done.
Buy Anna’s book ‘Breaking Mad: The Insider’s Guide to Parenting Anxiety’ here.
Find out more about Anna here.
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