Last week it was my 10 year anniversary of becoming a mother. One of the few things in the world that you never stop being, no matter what. As the date approached, I felt the passing of time and could not help but wonder if I am leaving these years in a way that I won’t look back at with regret. I like to think so for the most part, but no doubt 10 years is a milestone that is hard to go unnoticed.
A job without a script
Motherhood is likely to be the most important, but also most difficult job in the world. Whilst many books can seek to give you a job description, it is a fairly incomplete one and, worst of all, it comes without a script. After all, how can you possibly account for the twists of nature that a new human comes equipped with? Whilst I always knew I wanted to be a mother, and thought I kind of knew what that meant, no amount of observation tells you what it will do to you once it hits you. And girl did I get hit! Arguably, I was prepared for a fair amount of sleep deprivation on the back of my M&A years, but the physical aspect was not the harshest on me as I had easy pregnancies and (relatively) sleep trained babies. It was the mental aspect of it that really hit me hard. And that one does not get captured on “how-to” books or observation of others.
What does it mean?
From the moment I became a mother, a whole new reality opened up. My sense of self was muddled by the need to cater to the little person that was fully dependent on me. Looking back, it is funny to say that those were the easy years. After all, anything that can be addressed with to-do lists, schedules, and meal plans is a piece of cake for me. It brings the doer in me and keeps too much thought away. And can be learnt from books or workshops. Moreover, I was always comfortable (and able) to pay for help, so my level of control was high. Or so I thought.
And then babies develop into little humans. They copy you, smile with you, and at you. They come with a personality which unravels in front of your eyes. They learn about capturing your attention and revel in making you smile. Just like that, suddenly I became the center of the world for my little human being. With that came THE big responsibility and the big fear. What if I screw it up?
A road trip down memory lane
As my feisty little girl grew up, it did not take me long to realise that I was not equipped with the ability to manage this fear of failure. It drove every piece of my behaviour and it kept adding in intensity. So I had to go back down deep into my memories, and what I thought motherhood meant, how it shaped me and how it made me feel back when I was a little girl myself. This was not a willing trip, but it was one I was nudged (or forced) into by Catia in one of our therapy encounters. Whilst I fought it hard, it taught me a lot about my view of motherhood and what it does to me every day.
Since that day, I was truly able to understand what sort of parent I was trying to be and what standards I was setting myself to achieve. Impossible standards. Because perfection has no definition, has no end, has no limit. Until that day, I was on an endless quest for perfection, not only in me, but arguably also in her. So my eyes slowly opened up, as I gave myself a bit of a break in this motherhood performance. I can’t say the quest has been abandoned, but at least I see it through and I forgive my mistakes more. Oh, and I also judge Little Girl C less a small bit less every day.
Talking about judgement. Part of becoming a mother in today’s open society is that it is anyone’s job to judge how you’re doing and evaluate you on your motherhood skills. The young man next to me at the airport last week was disgusted at the sight of a child coughing into a handkerchief, criticising the child (and in general the presence of children in the world) and rolling his eyes at the parent. He thought he was safe to do so in his native language to a friend, whilst in an international airport away from home, oblivious to the fact he was standing next to another native speaker and a mother. Judgement is our second nature. Have no doubt that I judged him too (no matter his reasons). As I did the parents of a screaming child as I was boarding the plane. Luckily, I quickly caught myself and moved to empathy, though secretly hoping their seats were close to the young man in question. I know, mean.
We are animals of judgement, and I only see it getting worse as technology and virtual relationships deteriorate our levels of empathy. Mothers, though, we can often be our worst judges, which is maybe behind the fact that we judge other mothers so much. It is like we need it for our own affirmation because we feel so lousy in the role ourselves, a form of schadenfreude perhaps. We feel so righteous in our quests for perfection, only to hit a wall to find out that 1) perfection does not exist, 2) perfection is different for everyone and 3) perfection is damaging for children.
I am quite a judgmental person, I admit it as one of my biggest flaws. So I fight the urge every day. I fight it when I find myself judging others, but also judging myself. When I beat myself over something, I “failed “at. I try to remember what I would say to my best friend if she did that, and I judge a bit less. I can even start being kind to myself.
Rollercoaster of emotions
Being a mother has brought all my emotions to the table. The good ones and the bad ones no doubt. As I faced anger and frustration, I struggled, like I was becoming another person I had never seen. After all, I don’t “do” anger, that’s for bad people only, and I am must be Little Miss Perfect. As I struggled, I ventured into peaceful parenting to find out that anger had very little to do with the little ones and much more to do with me. And that self-regulation was in my hands alone, if only I could manage the roller-coaster. If only I could model it, then maybe they could learn that too. If only I could… Admittedly, I can a bit more every day, but when I can’t, saying sorry is always a good option and one that no doubt became part of my life.
I worry a lot too. I worry if I am doing well enough. If I spend enough time or enough quality time. If they feel special, if I am special to them. If I have scarred them for life or if my last moment of outburst is the one that they will remember in 20 years. I worry if I am missing anything, if they are missing anything, if they have enough of me, if I am living enough. I worry if I am enough. I have always been a worrier. But being a mother really brought this to a whole new level for me. It’s hard to stop.
Now, don’t worry there. Being a mother has also brought me the deepest good emotions! Many more than the bad ones, it is just that it is so much easier to write about the bad stuff! Motherhood brought me a tenderness like I have not experienced, a love that has no boundaries, a pride that has no scientific backing, and an affection that has transformed my full being, All mixed up with the worries and the struggles multiple times a day.
More than a Mother
Being a mother transformed my sense of identity. You just have to look at my phone to see that some people don’t have a name, they are just someone’s mother (even if I always try to learn their name). When the nurse calls from school, she refers to me as “the mother”, in a disconcerting third person. I am Little Girl C and Baby S’ mother, it is like I could not be anything else.
Well, 10 years into it, I have learnt that I have to be more than that. I can be a working mum, a tiger mum, a peaceful mum, but I am also the corporate strategist, the wife, the writer, the podcaster, the entrepreneur, the friend, the daughter, the CEO and the sister. As a mother, I had a hard time making room for all these personalities but, with time (and probably some increased awareness this was a job for life), these have emerged again. Slowly but surely. And surely, they make me a better mum.
A World of Gratitude
Looking back on these 10 years, the challenges have been immense. But I am grateful for each moment that I was able to live in my motherhood experience. I am grateful I re-learned how to laugh and smile and tickle. I am grateful for these human beings growing in front of my eyes every day. I am grateful for their hugs and how much they want to be in my lap, and I cherish the physical closeness that I know won’t last forever. I am grateful I re-learned about childhood and about having fun and lame jokes. I am grateful for giving it another go at art when I always thought I was an F. I am grateful for their delight in my stories and made up rhymes. I am grateful for holding hands going in the sea or down the street. For waking up to a little human needing a cuddle in the middle of the night. For their love and cuddles. For making memories and discovering new things. For Little Girl C and Baby S.