The Myth of Marvellous Motherhood
Before I had children I used to dream of becoming a mother. I was prone to daydreaming about the wonderful adventures I would spend with my offspring; the joy filled days when the sun always shone and we created special moments together. The plans I laid down for how I would parent and how life would be with children were on reflection somewhat naïve or should I say lacking as they failed to take into account toddler tantrums, sleepless nights, biting during breast feeding and toddler kicking throughout the night courtesy of co-sleeping. Thankfully there are the precious moments I dreamed of and there is nothing quite like the exchange of love between mother and child, but then there are the moments when just going to the toilet alone is a challenge and a child free cup of tea impossibility.
With the birth of my first daughter, Hattie I remember feeling terribly isolated as whilst as I fought through the swamp of new motherhood and worried about earning a living and contending with day to day living. All the new mother’s I knew had spotless homes and seemed to be basking in their new found role of mother. Whilst many of the mums I knew were enjoying the delights of endless baby groups and cups of tea I was juggling work with a baby who only settled whilst on the breast. I attended meetings in London and breast fed her throughout the meetings and I did it not to try and win some super mum award, but out of necessity. When I once confided to a leader of a mother and baby club that I was struggling with Hattie being clingy as I couldn’t even put her down for a second without tears, she smiled at me meekly and said, ‘’she’s not clingy, there is no such thing as a clingy baby. She is just a baby that needs extra love’’. This was well meaning advice that is probably very true, but in the midst of a sleep deprivation fog and exhaustion it’s not all that helpful as it just made me feel like more of a failure. I found as a new mother there was a great veil of motherly perfection that engulfed the reality of new parenthood. Everyone’s parenting experience is different, yet I don’t believe that anyone’s is perfect and I cannot understand for life of me why so many parents feel compelled to compete with each other and conceal the reality of wet nappies, crabby children and sleep stripped nights.
Working from home as a food historian and writer with two under-fives is a mixed blessing. For the best part I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be able to earn a living whilst caring for my two little ones. There are times though when I really need to get on with work and all I can hear is constant screaming, whinging, fighting and I can’t hear myself think let alone construct a sentence these are the days that I envy the people that drop their children into child care. When deadlines loom or there is a real need to get on with some work I can almost guarantee that my girls will demand as much attention from me as possible or else turn into gremlins.
I promise that this is not just me having a moan about the stresses and strains of being a mother, what I am getting at is that it is easy to fall into the marvellous motherhood trap and try to achieve too much. I’ve lost count of the times that I have planned a day out and have had it in my head that it is going to be a fun filled day only to find that the reality thwarted by a four year olds stroppy sulk over an over-priced plastic toy in a gift shop; the refusal of a two year old to hold hands, grazed knees, lost toys and the need to count and collect the gravel on the car park. I have often planned a day of gardening and have thought how nice it will be for the girls to help me, only to be presented with a reality of rows of veg seedlings plucked out by a proud toddler who is ‘helping me weed’ and to try and pot up plants to the soothing sound of sibling fights over a toy wheel barrow and every other thing they can find to fight about. Sometimes I think we try to achieve too much in a day and that we are too hard on our achievement as parents.
Let’s be honest children bring joy, love, and countless gifts to our lives, and there is absolutely no disputing that there is no deeper bond than that between mother and child . However, children are testing and with the commitment to nurture another human being from infancy to adulthood comes an additional load of stress and strain. We are surrounded by images of glamourous mothers in the media who appear to be taking motherhood in their stride: ever patient, ever understanding with a bountiful supply of freshly baked cakes and energy. If you settle down to a ‘family film’ you are no doubt about to be subjected to a couple of hours of ‘perfect parenting’ where the mother never loses her temper and then sits and cries for snapping at her little one. Pick up a magazine and there will be a barrage of images of ‘perfect family life’ and we are left wondering why we can’t get down the first aisle in a shop in less than an hour never mind traipsing around Knightsbridge. The truth is that we all of images of our children that just look idyllic, but no one sees the carnage before or after the photograph was taken. That photograph that was captured of the children running freely across the field does not tell the story of the nettle stung foot or the whinge about not wanting to play outside.
The time demands of being a parent dictates that there never seems to be time to catch up with the washing and that every job we come to do has a constantly moved deadline. I find that there is never enough time to get all the things I want to do and need to do in a year let alone a day. The inability to keep up with things then feeds into the self-doubt gene that is activated when a woman becomes a mother. There’s an inbuilt fear that mothers have that they’re not doing a good enough job. The truth is that all children are different and all mothers are different and therefore it is impossible to adopt a one-size fits all approach to mothering. All parents and children are on a journey and we all take slightly different routes, sometimes it is easy to feel like you have taken a wrong turn or are temporarily lost, but really all we need is to give ourselves some time.
As a mother I often find it difficult to make time and save energy to care for myself. Faced with the stressful demands of modern living, childcare and a growing list of things to do I often forget about me and I do think that we need to take care of ourselves to be in a good position to care for others. Sometimes to be at your best as a mother really does require a fierce demand for some time to yourself, but let’s us be honest it is easier said than done. So perhaps the best we can hope for is honesty amongst mothers and an admittance that we all have days when we feel like sitting on the bottom step with a bottle of gin or else swapping our children for a milking goat, but we muddle through and do the best we can and reap the rewards of gazing at them when they are peacefully asleep looking angelic.