Dispelling the myth of a romanticised motherhood....
It's official - I am now a working mum. Quite surprisingly, I am surviving it so far. I could maybe even go so far as to say, I'm enjoying it.
I haven't blogged in a while, mostly because the experience of returning to work, well, more accurately, the idea of returning to work, and the conflict and mum-guilt involved in this decision, has been an overwhelming one for me. And like many people, when I'm overwhelmed, I freeze up. But now that I'm back at work, and finding my feet in working motherhood, I'm resolving this mess of emotions, and having a chance to reflect on the unique experiences of becoming a mum, taking maternity leave, and now returning to work as a mum.
I have spent the last 10 months gallavanting the streets of Peckham with my baby girl, frequenting all the best baby playgroups and consuming inconceivable amounts of local coffee. Quite honestly, my maternity leave will go down in my history as one of the best times of my life - and, one of the most exhausting.
I've lost count of the number people who have said to me how happy I look in motherhood, how I make it look glamourous, even easy.
I've also had several fellow-mum friends express to me how hard it is to be a mum, and how frustrating it is that other mums don't talk enough about their struggles. We pretend we're always fine, making other mums feel alienated in their experience.
I love being a mum, but, the last thing I want to do is contribute to the hoax of a romanticised motherhood, so hopefully with this post, I will help to dispell that myth.
Firstly, I think there are a few reasons mums don't talk about the struggles of motherhood as much as maybe we should.
One, is that during the really rough times, most of us are too sleep-deprived and exasperated to expend any additional energy complaining. And when those times pass, we're relieved, grateful, and quite frankly in a hurry to move on - until next time (and there will always be a next time).
Two, I believe there is somewhat of a quiet understanding among parents, that our screaming, nipple-biting, hair-pulling, food-chucking little tryants are quite simply the most awesome things to have ever happened to us. The sheer wonder and joy of creating your own little person and watching them grow and discover the world, is unlike anything else. And so, to spend too long lingering on how hard it is would seem to paint an uneven and inaccurate picture of parenthood.
Now, the above two reasons I think are completely valid. The third reason I'm about to get into, however, is one that I think we need to fight and resist falling prey to.
And that is, we don't want to reveal that we're having a hard time, because we fear we'll be seen as failures in motherhood. Now this, is completely and utterly unfair. Some women are more naturally maternal than others, but no mother has a baby and just magically knows what to do.
To be clear, being a parent is confusing and in no uncertain terms, bloody hard work. I know I'm not alone in fantasising about passing my screaming baby to the next stranger who passes by in hopes of stealing a few moments of glorious peace or shut-eye, and that doesn't make me any less of a mum.
Wanting to have some time to devote to ourselves, is not only normal, but I believe, necessary to continue being attentive, energetic and affectionate parents.
Despite never seeing myself as the most naturally maternal of women, and not having the kind of support system around me many parents do, you're right - I am happy in motherhood.
The reasons for this are many. One is that I regularly make time for myself, and I don't feel guilty about it. Two is that I don't put pressure on myself to be more than I am. I just enjoy my daughter, and when I'm exasperated, I get fresh air, I breathe, I drink yummy hot beverages, I count my blessings and move on. And three, I am secure in the knowledge that even though I have never been a parent before, I love my daughter, I know her, and I will always do what is best for her despite what anyone else thinks of the parenting decisions I make.
Sure, she'll grow up to wish I did some things differently. That's inevitable. But I will always do my best, and one thing I believe strongly, is that every parent is different, and every child is different - the right thing to do, is never black and white, and can never be taught by anyone else, or by a book. It has to come from a combination of what feels right, and ultimately, from the trial-and-error experience of parenting your child.
There is too much emphasis on what a 'good mum' looks like. And everyone and his neighbour has something (albeit well-intentioned) to say about the way you parent and about what you 'should' do. Some of them don't even have kids! And well, some admittedly have valuable suggestions well worth trying. But this doesn't make it any less irritating. No one knows better than you, what your child needs. You're not an expert when you're baby is born, but you gradually become somewhat of an expert as you get to know your child - not an expert on babies, but an expert on your baby. No one knows them better than the person spending 24 hours a day with them since the day they were born.
Judgment from every direction will always be there. But no amount of imaginary guilt from other parents, the baby industry trying to sell me on the best safety features, or the media trying to paint a picture of how I should be straddling the perfect line between neglecting and spoiling my child, is going to make me feel bad about myself as a mum. Nor am I going to feel guilty about being a mum who goes to work. I not only help to provide financially for my family, but I experience a healthy balance of devoting energy to different aspects of my identity, including my professional one. Believe it or not, this in some ways helps me come home and be a better mum to my baby.
The moral of this blogpost being, there is no right or wrong way to be a parent. Just a right way for you and your child, and the only necessary element being love. The rest is a matter of opinion. And the only opinion that deserves any play is yours.