What is it to be a Mum in 2016?
I’m asking myself this question because it’s only just occurred to me that I’ve never asked it before, even though my eldest child is four.
I’ve had four years and I’ve never really stood back and reflected on who I am, as a mother.
When my children were born, they may have left my body physically, but emotionally they left a connection, a love that was as much a part of me as my fingers and toes. A love that is intense, vulnerable, and all-encompassing. It changed who I was on a metabolic level, without me realising that it had happened.
What I saw around me, in society and the media, is a very particular idea of who and what a Mum is. If I had to draw it out from advertising, TV sitcoms and social media, being a Mum is generally being a domestic goddess devoted to her children with some kind of university level of understanding of the developmental needs of her children.
That idea, for me, leaves a very big, gaping hole.
A hole in the shape of the woman herself.
Where, in all that, is a mother to have any sense of her own identity?
I’d told my husband that there were a few things I wanted to do before we had kids. Buy a flat. Travel overseas. Get a secure job. I didn’t have an overwhelming urge or lifelong desire to have kids, so I gave myself reasons to prolong the decision.
When I had ticked off the first two and the third wasn’t likely to happen any time soon … I was 35 and the clock was ticking. I had to draw a line in the sand.
What it came down to in the end was looking at my life, and understanding that not having children was an irrevocable choice I couldn’t live with.
The irony is that now I have them, I couldn’t imagine any other choice.
We fell pregnant very quickly, and after that, well, any hope of perspective flew out the window.
I fell into motherhood the way many of us do… like Dorothy falling into the heart of the tornado. We weren’t in Kansas any more, and I just did my best to stay on top of things.
I was haunted by a persistent thought that I was doing everything wrong. My husband was around a lot to help in the beginning, and I felt that somehow that made me less of a mother.
Between getting married and having kids it’s fair to say I didn’t cook once. So getting on top of domestic duties was another lesson in humility. Much like the times I forgot the nappy, or took a squidgy to a gathering only populated by homemade pureed foods.
Don’t get me wrong; I was totally in love with my daughter. The first three months of her life were possibly the most content I have ever been. But I found it difficult to connect with glowing sentiments about motherhood being the best thing you could ever do with your life.
It was far too messy for that kind of simple statement. It wasn’t just physically challenging, in some ways it was a total annihilation of self. My body belonged to someone else; my freedom had disappeared out the window (I couldn’t even get to the shops on my own) and without even thinking about it, someone else’s every demand was more important than even my need to urinate.
I was learning some pretty hard and fast lessons, but I didn’t see it that way. For some reason I thought I should instinctively know how to parent.
Every time I’ve started a new and challenging job I’ve hated those first few months. I’ve felt like a failure, that every move I make is a mistake. But then a month goes by, and then another, and suddenly I’ve learnt a great deal and I’m doing much better.
Having children, for me, was like the biggest, most challenging, craziest job I have ever taken on.
I didn’t stop to acknowledge that I didn’t just become a mother by giving birth to my daughter, I was becoming a mother every day… I’m still becoming a mother now.
It took until the birth of my second child, my son, who is almost 2, to realize that it’s okayto ask for help. I know, I’m a slow learner, but somehow that ideal of what a Mum is - that picture of domestic virtue and loving self sacrifice - confused me. I felt like I was meant to have all the answers, I was meant to be raving about how much I loved it all, but that just felt dishonest. And so I struggled on, criticising myself, and thinking I was somehow not a “real” Mum.
I didn’t relate to the ideal of motherhood, but I also couldn’t see a version of the type of mother I was anywhere.
It surprises me to write that. I’m a rational woman. I know that there are plenty of examples of Mums who confess to being imperfect. A few of my favourites have to be Annabel Crabb and Jessica Rowe, and they are inspiring women. But I think the prevailing image of a mother remains one that would probably belong more in the 1950s than 2016.
So this Mother’s Day I’m going to try and take some time out and reflect on what being a Mum means to me. At the moment it means growing up. Becoming an adult. Learning how to cook and to pay the bills on time. It means accepting that sacrifice is still a loving act, even when it’s not done with a smile, and that being a Mum is an ongoing, ever-evolving journey.
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