Global Mamas: Scotland

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Globala Mamas Scotland map | Ms. Mary Mack

We’re profiling one mother from every country on the planet. (Current tally: 19 down, 173 countries to go!)


Meet Michelle Brown, mother of 3-year-old Ben.  Michelle originally studied cinema and photography at Ithaca College.  However, after graduating, she worked for a summer camp and her career path turned towards children’s and youth ministry instead.  In 2005 she moved from the States to Edinburgh, Scotland, to pursue a masters in theological ethics at the University of Edinburgh and to plan for her wedding  to her Scottish man, Paul. Five years later, Ben joined the family.  They three now live in Musselburgh, Scotland, and Michelle works part-time as a Children’s and Youth Worker in the Church of Scotland while taking care of Ben full-time.

Here’s her story …

Global Mamas Scotland_Michelle | Ms. Mary Mack 

Life before baby …
I grew up in a small town in New Jersey, but I always wanted to see more of the world.  During college, I studied in Stirling Scotland and also drove across the states to study in Los Angeles, CA. After college, I spent six months working in London, England and then two months travelling around Europe with some friends.  After that I moved to Boston.  I always thought I would be a filmmaker but after working at a Christian summer camp as a camp photographer/camp counsellor the summer after graduating, I quickly realized that working with children and young people was where my heart was.

I met Paul through friends while on holiday in Edinburgh, Scotland. I knew right away that I had met someone pretty amazing. Two years later, while I was visiting Edinburgh for a graduate school interview, Paul proposed! We were marriedtThe day after my dissertation was due.

My ideas about motherhood …
Growing up I was one of those kids with lots of baby dolls playing “mum.”  I definitely wanted a big family — three or four children.  I did a lot of baby-sitting and spent ten years working with children and young people, and  I thought I was prepared for being a mum.

Then came baby …
Even with the prenatal classes and books, I really was not prepared for the realities of those first few weeks getting to know the baby.  When I got home from hospital, I was visited by my National Health Service (NHS Scotland) community midwife Andrea everyday for the first 10 days after returning home.  She answered all of our questions, checked on my healing and Ben’s development everyday, and counseled me during the tough times.

The biggest change once Ben appeared was the complete shift of focus from everything else to this one small person. All of a sudden my work priorities, personal goals, housework, and everything else just were no longer as important. Paul and I had such a steep learning curve from the start with Ben while trying to work out his feeding issues (I wasn’t producing enough breastmilk) that it pulled us together as a couple while also challenging us as a couple. Parenting has made us different people as individuals and as a married couple. It is the greatest adventure we have taken together for sure.

The most challenging part of motherhood …
Whatever is currently happening is always the most challenging part of motherhood for me. But then he grows past that stage and onto the next, which is inevitably even harder than the last.  I thought breastfeeding was hard, but then there was weaning, then he was on the move, then bedtime was a struggle, then naps were getting more difficult, then toilet training, and just when I thought it could not possibly get any more difficult, we have reached the extreme tantrum stage.

He’s my beautiful wee angel one minute, and then he will turn into a terrifying screaming and crying child the next. When he is in full frustrated, angry, tantrum mode, he hits me and kicks me and I feel like a complete failure as  I attempt to stay as patient as possible reminding him that we have “kind hands and kind words” and that it is not OK to hit mum. I sit away from him until he is calm again.  Once calm, he eventually says “sorry,” and we move on, but I am always emotionally wrecked for the better part of that day. I am told by several mum friends that this is just a phase that will pass as well, but oh is it a hard and challenging time.

An older friend with teenagers has lovingly offered to swap children as she assures me that Ben’s current stage is nothing compared to what lies ahead!

On balancing work and life …
My job is quite flexible, which is amazing.  I work mainly from home on the computer or prepping craft projects, apart from Sunday mornings when I am responsible for leading the youth group and Sunday morning children’s ministry.

The volunteers, parents and the minister all understand about my having Ben with me, as professional childcare is far too expensive, so I have opted to be a stay-at-home/work-from-home mum. Thankfully my wee boy loves spending time in coffee shops (where I often have meetings) and loves the church toys so 90% of the time the work/parenting combination meetings are successful. I am very lucky to have such support from work and also from our family.

When Ben took naps, I was able to have big blocks of time at home at the computer for emailing, writing up newsletter articles, planning lessons, etc. However, when Ben was around 2, the naps stopped and he wanted more and more of my attention and working at home became a real struggle. This often leads to me working very late at night once he is finally asleep for the day or getting up really early to get in an hour or two of work before he starts his day. It is exhausting!

Thankfully, his place in the government provided school nursery began when he turned 3. This has been a complete game changer for us. Now I get 2 ½ hours every day of the school week child-free to run errands and get a significant uninterrupted time at the computer for work. It is amazing what can be done in 2 ½ hours. I am so thankful for those hours as I am a much less frazzled mum who can be more focused on boy when he is back home from school.

I am managing this work/life balance as best as possible, but it is definitely hard some days. Still, it’s a real joy to watch him grow up and see him discover the world around him. I love that I have been able to be there for the little moments and the big moments each day with him.

The best part about raising a child in Scotland
The National Health Service (NHS) in Scotland has been incredible. Now, quality of care can vary depending on where you live, but for my experience, the midwives in Musselburgh were fantastic!

I had an amazing midwife with me in the hospital throughout labour. I stayed in hospital for two days and upon returning home I had my community midwife visiting me for ten more days. When I was discharged from the midwife’s care, I was then visited by Ben’s health visitor who would continue to be available to me via phone if I had any further concerns and who would check on Ben’s development again at his immunizations.

Meanwhile, we were never charged a penny for Ben. All of the care, classes and literature we received free from NHS Scotland. Our contribution to National Insurance each month from our paychecks and our income tax is all we have ever paid. Even this is so small when compared to what I used to pay in health insurance in the States.

The thing I most appreciate about the NHS is that I never need to worry about cost when it comes to my child.  If Ben is unwell or if I have any big worry about him, I get him to the doctor.  There is no fear of if we can afford it — the care is already there.

Best piece of advice I ever heard …
“Make friends with the other mums.” So true! The mum friends that I’ve met at my prenatal class, at the breast feeding clinic, at church, and through Ben’s swimming class have been a complete God-send. They truly are friends for life!  These lovely ladies are my support network, my cheering section, my shoulders to cry on, my coffee break pals, my sanity break, etc.  I cannot imagine being a mum without them all.

If we could jump into the DeLorean and race back in time …
I would tell myself that I am looking at a precious and wonderful gift who will grow to be a curious, funny, energetic, loving, clever and sweet pre-schooler soon. There will be tough times along the way, but there will be many more fantastic times too.  Parenting is a wild adventure. You never know where each day will take you, but always remember that you are doing a great job.

Read more about Michelle and life in Scotland on her family blog here.

We’ve got over 170 countries to go (yeah, whoa.). So if you would like to nominate a mother who is living and raising a family abroad to be featured on MMM’s Global Mamas series, do let us know! Drop a line to: get[dot]msmack[at]gmail[dot]com.

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  • 1
    Beth says:

    Love the article! As someone who grew up with Michelle on good old Seabreeze circle in Parkertown, NJ (USA) I really enjoyed this feature. It is so nice to see her as a success in her life and living out her dreams. I love the fact that she uses “mum” instead of mom or mommy as we do here, it shows how well she has assimilated into her new culture. Best of luck to Michelle her beautiful family!

  • 2

    […] Recently I had the great joy of being profiled for ms. marymack’s blog series Global Mamas as the mum in Scotland. This is an excellent series where journalist Nicole Blades is attempting to interview a mum from every country in the world. I was really honoured to get to take part. Hope you enjoy reading the series of interviews as much I have. Here’s my profile: […]