In our occasional series, Siobhan Freegard, co-founder of the parents' networking website Netmums, tells of five of the most important things she has learned in her life.
Name: Siobhan Freegard
Occupation: Co-founder of Netmums.com
Born: In Bristol, 1967
Family life: Married to Paul, who works in the aviation industry. They have three children, aged 13, 10 and seven.
Education: High school and the Irish school leaving certificate, "then A-levels through evening classes after moving to London".
Unusual fact: Didn't think email would catch on
1. There is no such thing as a perfect mother
Becoming a mum is completely wonderful, but at the same time it is absolutely terrifying when you realise you are now responsible for a real live, tiny human being. It feels as if nothing less than perfect will do - and we try to prove to our baby as well as our families, friends and ourselves that we are up to the job. We feel pressure to have a happy baby, a lovely home, a good relationship, to look nice, cook well, be sociable and be a perfect mum.
It is no wonder so many new mums (myself included) become lost and depressed when they can't keep up with this stereotypical image of being "the perfect mother".
I have learnt the hard way that babies don't need perfect mums - they need "good enough" mums. Children need mums that recognise that they need to look after themselves too in order to be capable of looking after everyone else.
2. It's OK to show weakness
I used to feel that I was only likable if I was happy and in control. When I was feeling overwhelmed by life (kids, work, whatever), I'd plaster a smile on my face and tell the world I was "fine". (I've since learned that, in counsellor-speak, "F.I.N.E." means fed-up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional).
Ultimately however, if you wear an emotional mask, you can become a bit of a "Stepford Wife" and other people instinctively sense that you aren't being true about yourself. Opening yourself up to people does mean taking a bit of a risk but it usually pays off. I have made my strongest friendships through sharing difficult times, as well as good times.
3. People value the way you value yourself
This is relevant in all areas of your life and I have to remember it regularly - when dealing with employers, bank managers, clients and also when dealing with friends, husbands and children. It's about believing in yourself and putting a high (although of course not over-inflated) value on yourself. It's amazingly effective in any negotiations and even helps your children to respect you more, because they see that you respect yourself.
4. Never judge people until you have walked a mile in their shoes
I have always been a capable, confident, happy person. If I heard about someone being depressed, I'd look at their lives and think "What on earth have they got to be depressed about? They just need to pull themselves together." Then, after my first child, I had a bout of post-natal depression, complete with regular panic attacks.
Now, whatever the issue, I try to realise that until we have experienced someone's individual circumstances, we cannot make judgments on them. I try to sympathise and empathise with people, and think "there but for the grace of God go I".
5. Sometimes, the "sensible" decision isn't the right one. It can be OK to follow your heart.
When I had my first child I had a successful career as a marketing director and went back to work full-time within three months. But to my surprise (and shock) I yearned to be a stay-at-home mum. Friends, family and my husband talked me out of it as I had always loved my job: I earned a great salary and they all said I "just wasn't the type" to be a stay-at-home mum.
After two miserable years I put my foot down and left my job, which included some serious downsizing. I was blissfully happy from my first day at home. I now have three children and Netmums and none of that would have happened if I'd done the sensible thing.
Siobhan Freegard's book, How to be a Happy Mum, was published in 2009.