You can't pour from an empty cup
Liv's Tallinn, Parenthood

Mothers, don’t be afraid to ask for help

When I moved back to Estonia last year I noticed lots of mum mentioning how tired they were. At the same time people looked at me funny when I put my then 2-year old to bed at 7-8pm. That’s how ‘selfish’ I am, because I want to live my own life too.

I had been away for 16 years and just last autumn I moved back with my husband and now 3-year old daughter. At first I felt like we were going back to London and we’re on another holiday here but that feeling passed soon. Staying home with a toddler doesn’t leave much time for reminiscing and feeling sad. Saying that, there are times when I miss the UK immensely, I look at my home country through a different lens, almost like an expat now. For example, it sticks out like a sore thumb, how rude people are in traffic. It’s also surprising how expensive Tallinn is – our weekly grocery shopping bill was cheaper in London! And mothers, they tend to keep to themselves, it was very difficult to make contact in playrooms that I started visiting.

What’s all this with the “empty cups”?
I was still going to be a stay at home mum until she started kindergarten (she has now… it’s not going that well yet but we’re taking things slowly) so my priority upon moving here was to create a new routine, where to go, what to do. I started visiting play rooms, playgrounds, cafes and libraries and found plenty of interesting things for us to do. (Then the pandemic hit us and we were all stuck at home but that’s a whole other story and not relevant right now…) I also started reading magazines targeted at mothers/families/parents and noticed how one specific topic kept popping up – how one cannot pour from an empty cup. It made me curious and I started asking around whether this was really the case, are lots of parents or mothers especially burnt out?

I concluded that mothers here don’t like to ask for help or use paid help. Maybe it’s too generic and definitely doesn’t apply to the whole population but I believe there is some truth in it. London is full of expats whose parents don’t live near and when they start families, their only options for help are kind friends or babysitters. Night nannies and after school nannies are also far more popular than here. Mothers in the UK tend to be more open about their struggles and don’t mind admitting when they need help while Estonians suffer in silence. Also, it could be that these babysitting services aren’t very affordable here?

A good routine that works!
On the other hand it seems to me that small children are put to bed very late and parents are not doing any favours for themselves with that. The 7-7 rhythm that is popular in the UK isn’t followed much here, which is fine as it’s not the holy grail or secret to best sleep outcome but if your little one goes to bed at 9/10pm or even much later then when do you have time for yourself? I get strange looks when I say she’s in bed by 8pm but thanks to that I’ve been able to study, work and just spend some quality time either on my own or with my husband. Ultimately it’s not me being selfish but instead, giving her the opportunity for plenty of deep and restorative sleep. One might ask what is wrong with a 9-9 rhythm. Nothing. Until it isn’t right anymore because you get up early to get them to kindergarten or school and then the sleep deprivation kicks in that can affect their development further down the line. But even if your lifestyle promotes later bedtime make sure you plan in pockets of time for yourself only – maybe an hour in the morning? Your mental health will thank you for it.

How else have I kept myself sane?
I became a stay at home mum… No logic, right? Well, after a year’s maternity leave I didn’t want to return to the corporate marketing world that left me empty inside and became a freelancer instead. I managed quite well considering that my husband travelled a lot due to work and there were times when I did hit the wall when she was about 4-5 months old. I actually used night nannies a few times and luckily had also built a strong network of friends and mothers whose advice was so valuable. We also got a nanny but only really used her when both of us really needed a break together and neither of us could stay at home with her for whatever reason.

I also started studying child psychology just to make sure I was extra busy 🙂 . I worked on a few marketing projects and spent my evenings reading and studying. Every hour was counted for and I had time for it all only because she was in bed early. I felt fulfilled, life in London was interesting and I felt I had found balance. And then we moved to Estonia…

Changes in priorities
I actually never thought I’d return to my homeland but when she was born so changed our priorities. We wanted to give her an opportunity to be able to grow up near my family in calmer and quieter surroundings. Where we live now, we have a forest and a beach nearby, such a luxury for us! If we wanted to go to a beach in London, it required a few hours’ drive to the coast and if the weather happened to be good, the rest of England ended up on the same beach with you 🙂 . Life in Estonia also seems a lot easier when it comes to paperwork one must fill out to get settled here, there isn’t much unnecessary bureaucracy thanks to e-Estonia. I naturally find the kindergarten and school system also more relatable as I grew up here. Also, Tallinn seems to be a very child-friendly city as well – majority of cafes of restaurants have kids’ play corners, not something you see in London every day.

We didn’t get a nanny or a babysitter here, I remained at home with her and in September she started kindergarten. It’s such a novelty to have so much more time to myself but also a welcome opportunity to recharge – I need all this energy for studying and job hunting!

Take care of yourself!
To end this I’m coming back to the “empty cups”. Just the other day I read a comment in a Facebook group where a mother mentioned she had just enjoyed some time for herself after six years. Six years! I do hope it was a decent break like a weekend away or at least a whole afternoon (without kids) because taking a shower in peace isn’t a break. Drinking a hot coffee instead of lukewarm isn’t a break. Going to bathroom by yourself isn’t a break. Ask for more and ask for help and don’t ever feel guilty about it. Practice self-care. It’s not self-indulgence, it’s self-preservation!

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