When I quit smoking, I became hyper aware of all things cigarette related. I could pick up the faint aura of toxicity that marked out a smoker at a hundred paces. I went from vehement negation of tobacco to lighting up an illicit fag to accompany a glass of wine. The smell, the taste, the feel of smoke lit up my radar like an invading fleet.
It’s a bit like that when you are a recovering perfectionist. You notice it’s absence, you swear that you’re done with it, you have a few relapses. You see it everywhere. You want others to join you. It may not be very winning, but it is well intended.
Something which concerns me is the way that motherhood is often portrayed in blogs as the ultimate in self sacrifice chic. Children, we are told require your everything and then some, and a bit extra besides. Nothing compares to the highs and lows of the motherhood rollercoaster. We hear of mothers fighting the good fight, striving for perfection….and there it is. That unattainable goal. That’s the sucker that I’m on about.
I suggest we let go of these idealised images of what mothers should be. I say we, I know not everyone ascribes to them. Brilliant, if that was you giving a derisive snort in my general direction! There are other ways to live and well done for not falling into this trap.
I see evidence everywhere though, that many people do have this understanding of motherhood. I draw your attention to last week’s offering in the Huffington Post by Natasha Craig: Ten Things Your Mom Never Told You.
Well, this is what I have to say in reply:
My goodness, it is clear that being a mother means the world to you and you love your kid to bits. I read your post, and your determination to do your very best for your little one shines out. As you say, your days are full of joy and love, and an awful lot of hard work. As I read your words, generously penned to honour mothers everywhere, I began to wonder if it needs to be quite such a struggle. With the greatest respect, as a fellow mum, there are 11 things I would like to say to you (with a little help now and then from the inimitable REM):
1. Everybody Cries (part 1)
So you cried when your kid was born, when she smiled for the first time, perhaps when you accidentally trimmed her finger instead of a nail. I am a crier too. I cried at all those things, and also at a toothpaste advert, at the end of a really good yoga class, and because it was Christmas. Tears are not always, or even often, such a big deal. They are just an expression of a feeling at a particular moment. Some people don’t cry so often and that’s fine too. Everyone does it now and again, some more, some less, but if you tend to show feeling in this way, best just be aware of that and not attach too much meaning to it.
2. There’s Always More Pie
So, when you selflessly pass the last bit of pie to your little one and enjoy watching them eat it, always remember that you should give yourself a pie pass next time you feel like dessert, but tell yourself not to indulge. There are probably some cookies in the cupboard, not to mention the emergency chocolate you hide in with the ‘baking’ stuff in the pantry. Make a mental note to investigate these possibilities after the baby is in bed.
3. Everybody Hurts
It’s ok to tell your kid that it hurts when they bite you hit you in the face, as babies and toddlers are wont to do. Tell them without malice or indignation. Tell them without anger. Do tell them though. Not because it will immediately stop them from doing it, but because they should begin to understand that they can hurt people and it is best not to.
4. Embrace The World
I know it is hard not to feel anxious when the world rushes in to greet your dear sweet baby with its sticky fingers and precarious attitude to safety. Your wee darling will enjoy the opportunity to get mucky and commune with her public. Most places you go, most people are nice and reasonably hygienic to boot. Don’t cringe when people reach out to your child, embrace it with the sentiment in which it was intended and try not to worry too much. You will be sending the message that people are good, which will encourage her confidence and curiosity in the outside world and its inhabitants.
5. Go Easy On Yourself
You admit you are not perfect, and you are absolutely right, you are only human. Spend time checking that you do deep-down unequivocally know this and all it entails. This means that you really are doing the best you can at any given time. You can forgive yourself for not always having got things right. The rightness and wrongness of your actions are retrospective diagnoses, and are subject to change as your perspective alters over time. Do not be your own worst critic. Do not waste precious time and energy beating yourself up. There is no such thing as a perfect mother, and nor should they be, because what child can follow that act. Showing your humanity is a wonderful gift to give a child. It can help them to forgive themselves when they make mistakes, which they will.
6. Everybody Sleeps (eventually)
Eventually all babies will go to sleep. Begging, pleading, and worrying about it will not make it happen. In fact, it may prevent your baby from settling. Accept with quiet confidence that they will eventually drop off. Breathe. Get as much shut eye as you can. That feeling of love when their little eyes close and you gaze down on them is also a sense of release from the tension of trying to put an uncooperative baby to bed. I know how difficult it can be to just go with it when they are restive, not resting, but you can make it easier on yourself by relaxing and waiting it out. Perhaps while rocking her, or whatever works. It will happen.
7. Save Your Back
Invest in a good quality supportive sling to help you along with all that carrying. It’s much easier on your body and leaves you with free hands. Plus they come in really pretty colours. When possible, stop and sit down for a minute while you hold onto your tiny passenger. If all else fails, you can pop them down for a moment while you pee or make a sandwich. She won’t love it, but she’ll live. It’s OK to not get what you want the second you want it sometimes. Which brings me nicely onto the next point…
8. Everybody Cries (part two)
I know it can feel like the end of the world when your child is upset. It really isn’t an end of the world situation though. I am not saying leave kids to cry or go against your instincts to comfort your little one. I am saying that we all get hungry, tired, and annoyed at our inability to make a person or our environment do what we want it to. We all get sick from time to time. When our head is chock full of outrage we find a way to express it. Babies usually do this by crying. It is natural, and they will get over it. Give them what they need and want, or when this proves unfeasible, give a cuddle and a compassionate ear: it’s all most of us need at times like these. Don’t take it too seriously because this sends the message that crying always means that something is horribly wrong. Most of the time our frowns will turn upside down on their own, once we calm down a bit, and we’ll see things are not so bad after all. This too is human nature. Teach children that we are like ships which sail through storms and sunshine alike, but we are designed to right ourselves rather than capsize. With this understanding, they become better prepared to ride out the yuck when it happens.
9. Look After Yourself
Your child is important. She is as important as the next person, and that means you. Yes, there are so many needs to meet and you have a responsibility to your children to take care of them. However, you also need time to rest, time to yourself, time to eat. Fortunately, you can do many of these things alongside your small charge or charges. Where you find your needs are always at the bottom of your list, see what you can do to redress the balance. Just by spending less time beating yourself up and worrying will free up the requisite headspace to figure this out. You owe it to yourself, but also you can set an example of what self respect and self care look like, which your child will benefit from seeing.
10. Stay In Touch With What Matters Most
It doesn’t have to be this hard. You don’t have to think in terms of trying and failing, succeeding and plummeting. The only verbs you need to use on a regular basis are doing, eating, sleeping, breathing. It is the stuff of ordinary life. You are the only one keeping score and finding yourself wanting, at least as often as not. You can still feel all that joy and satisfaction in a quiet way, not by remonstrating yourself for your shortcomings and celebrating your triumphs, but by simply noticing the love you have for your child, and that they share for you in return. Love is the bottom line.
11. One Last Thing….
Congratulations on becoming a mum! I wish you and your beautiful family well. Give yourself and your baby a big hug from me. Believe me when I say, it is all ok.
Lots of love,
What do you think? Did I miss anything? What does the word ‘mother’ mean to you?