Mothers’ Day – pain and joy

Mothers’ Day is a hard one for me, my own mother died 2 years ago. She died 3 weeks before my first child was born. So my own motherhood is intrinsically linked with the loss of my mother. Obviously it would still be linked if she’d died before or after that, but the proximity of the two events makes it hard to think of either in isolation, and if my grief didn’t already take a fresh pummelling around my son’s birthday then Mothers’ Day turns up at the same time. All three events happen in March. This is not my favourite month. But it does make me think, a lot, about motherhood and it’s joys, conflicts and troubles.

Today I’m spending the day torn between wanting to enjoy being a mother, and wanting to curl up in bed and ignore the whole thing.

Before I had my son I was absolutely 100% certain I never ever wanted kids and that I’d be an awful mother, completely unnatural at it. I thought being a mum would be my worst nightmare, a living hell with no escape. I loved my mum, but did not want to become “mum”. I was aware that once my brother and I were adults, and no longer needed the constant care of our mother, her world seemed to shrink. She’d spend her days at home watching daytime TV, doing crosswords and housework. She seemed happy with life like this, it obviously suited her, but I was terrified that this is what motherhood entailed. My father didn’t seem to lose purpose when his children no longer needed him, he just carried on as normal. But mum without active motherhood seemed so drained to me. I didn’t want my entire life to revolve around children, only to have them leave.

When we were kids my mother was amazing, we never wanted for love and attention. She was the centre of our world, I have very few childhood memories where my mother isn’t the prominent figure. And I am hugely grateful for that, I am aware that in many ways my childhood was quite idyllic, we were very lucky to have her.

Here’s my dilemma. I remember how much my mum did, I remember how good it was for me and my brother, and now I have these wonderful fond memories of my childhood. I would love all these things for my own children. But I don’t want my life to revolve solely around my children, I want to be more than just a mum. I don’t want “being mum” to be everything that I am, and I already find that I am dropping my hobbies and interests in favour of doing things for my children. Which is obviously good for them, but detrimental for me. I doubt I am the only mum to feel like this.

Just looking around at Mothers Day stuff. The shops are stuffed with pastel pink clichés about what mothers like. This article by Ellen Jones covers it pretty well,

What does Mum like? Flowers, obviously. Also choccies, pampering and anything pink. Music-wise, women with functional uteruses are known to enjoy Westlife, Barry Manilow, and Sam Bailey off  X Factor. That’s what makes Mothering Sunday the easiest occasion on the calendar; we all know exactly what mum likes.

And the papers etc are filled with stories of selfless mothers sacrificing all for their children. This seems to be just what is expected of us.

Just look at the fuss whenever groups of mothers focus on something other than their children, eg. anytime Mumsnet users do anything that isn’t discuss buggies or breastfeeding. Suddenly they are being villified as awful mothers who aren’t doing enough for their children.

Then there’s phrases like “part time mother” to describe those who have jobs out of the home. They aren’t part time mothers, they are full time mothers, a children don’t cease to exist just because the mother isn’t with them. But they are treated as if spending time away from their children is an awful thing to do.

It is so easy to just be mother and nothing else. All of the messages in the media/society tell you this is what you should be doing in order to be a good mum.

On top of that I know that I find it hard to be away from my children as well because they do give me so much joy, and the fact that they love me unconditionally, there is much less pressure from them than I feel in so many other areas. When I’m with them I don’t worry about how I look, or what I say or do. I can be as silly, unattractive, and free as I like. This freedom from judging and self esteem problems feels really good. Being mum is the path of least resistance in many ways. Being me is harder.

I’m still reeling from my daughter’s weeks in special care where I felt either like no mum or the worst mum, despite her having all her needs fulfilled and that I was hardly off being “selfish”. It makes me jealous of mums who can spend time away and pursue their own hobbies/interests, although I imagine it’s not exactly easy for them.

It’s not easy to “win” at this motherhood business. Mothers seem to be expected to be simple things who think only of childcare/nappies/etc, and are judged to be lesser people. But if they dare do different they are judged for being lesser mothers. The two shouldn’t be exclusive. A mother isn’t something “other”, we are people too. Complex, multifaceted people.

So mothers everywhere who do the best they can for their children and themselves, keep up the good work, maybe one day our daughters or their daughters will be free to be mothers in whichever way they need and not suffer these conflicts.

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