“There’s no “opt out” button. We’re responsible for three small human beings til they reach the age where they can start making life decisions for themselves, pay their own bills, have kids of their own… And even beyond that, I’ll still feel a sense of responsibility towards them. We can’t just switch this parenting thing off whenever we feel like it; it doesn’t just go away whenever you need a break; we have to deal with it, even on our worst days… and the journey has only just begun. Can you believe it?”
These are the types of words that come out of my mouth during conversations with my husband whenever the reality of our lives just hits me.
This life we’ve created for ourselves – the children, the financial responsibility, their health, their education, their upbringing… At times I look at them and I feel completely overwhelmed. It’s a mixture of pride, gratitude, indescribable joy, but also fear, self-doubt, anxiety. It’s hard to explain. You know your children will be fine because you’ve given them every chance to succeed in life, you’ve invested time, effort and even money in their education and extra curricular activities. You’ve raised them according to your faith and beliefs, instilled principles you hope will stay with them for life. But then you start to think of all the external factors that could potentially come in the way of that, and the doubts start to creep in.
I try as much as possible to live by Matthew 6:34 – “Do not worry about tomorrow as tomorrow will worry about itself”. My culture also seems to embrace the idea that things will just fall into place; you just have to “trust God and get on with it”. But when I ponder the level of responsibility my husband and I have towards our children, more often than not their future becomes a source of worry. That’s a reality.
Knowing who I am, both within and outside my ‘role as a mother’
As well as dealing with these feelings, there’s been a massive shift in the way I view myself – the moment I gave birth, that was it: I became mama and nothing else. Yes, I was a woman first and foremost and a wife too, but I took on the role of mother very radically, embodying everything it meant to me – and multiplying it by ten; to the point I became overly guarded and protective, refusing help from anyone around me… My first born became my priority and my rapid transition into motherhood simply consumed me. It had become my main purpose, despite the fact that I was, prior to that, full of other dreams and aspirations. As much as I’d love to say I know who I am outside of my role as a mother, the way I live my life and the fact that I’m so focused on raising these children the right way, makes it easy for me to forget all the other things that make up my identity.
And if you’re wondering how that has affected my social life, my marriage, my friendships, my career, my ambitions… I’d say both positively and negatively: My career is pretty much shaped around my family (though fully out of choice – I’ll expand in my next blog post). At home, I love the fact that I’ve created systems and routines that work for us. I love the company of my loved ones. I look forward to going home after a full day at work, to my little family cocoon which I see as my safe place. But wow, I do a lot of mothering for someone who once wanted to take over the world with her ideas… someone who once enjoyed socialising and going out to dinner with her friends, attending events, etc. And I’m not complaining about ‘missing out’. I know what parenting entails, I know what I signed up for. Plus it’s not like I have a whole football team – three is perfectly manageable. I also feel very, very blessed to be in a healthy marriage that genuinely makes me feel like we’re in a team.
But guess what – this thing is still hard. It’s still exhausting. No matter how much help you get, raising children pushes you to your limits, mentally and physically. As a mother it’s important I allow myself to feel these things. In essence I’m reclaiming my right to open up about how parenting makes me feel – the good and the bad.
And then there’s the isolation I sometimes feel as a mother. I don’t open up about this part often, because it’s not something people want to hear. Whilst I’m not the most hardcore mummy-blogger out there, I do post quite a lot of my family life on social media, my content is quite family-centered. Overall I think I’ve managed to paint a good picture of what we’re like the majority of the time. But there’s the other side of the painting – and that side is extremely isolating, i.e. when things aren’t quite as harmonious; when the kids drive me absolutely nuts; when I feel like quitting but know I can’t; when the workload just gets too much, even with a very hands-on and supportive husband… Or when I go through financial strain because a huge part of my earnings goes towards childcare and other kids-related expenses… Hello. Can I be real?
There have been days when I’ve felt extremely isolated and disconnected from everything and everyone, despite being surrounded by those I love, and in huge need of adult-only interactions or even a lengthy getaway, just to get out of that constant mummy mode I seem to be in. And Lord knows I try to make that happen sometimes but when it’s not the social anxiety I’ve developed over the last couple of years, it’s the lack of time, energy, disposable income and all the other little excuses/reasons (delete as applicable) one can think of.
I have chosen this life, and would choose it a million times over
I don’t want these revelations to make me sound like I’m ungrateful. I adore my kids, they are my world. I would choose this life over and over again (and maybe do one or two things differently!). Having children has always been on the cards and I’m beyond grateful that all three of them are here today. Many do not get to experience this joy so I definitely don’t take any of it for granted. But no, I don’t particularly enjoy “every second” of being a mum. Who does? In the same way I believe there’s a time to rejoice and glee over these tiny little versions of yourself, there’s a time to be real about the negative feelings you may occasionally experience along the way.
I’m learning to be honest with myself about the challenges, giving myself the space I need to vent about the bad days, the struggles. For instance, I shouldn’t have to feel shame when opening up about the persistent behavioural issues we’ve been dealing with lately. And how it’s taken a massive toll on family dynamics, to the point we’ve considered going through some sort of family therapy to try and remedy to it. We’re on the mend, but there’s no magic pill.
And sometimes I do wish there was an easy solution to all these little parenting woes. I also wish I didn’t have that mum guilt we all experience from time to time as mothers – that desire to run away the moment things become too chaotic, lock ourselves up in a room or even disappear until things calm down. It’s easy to feel trapped when you know you can’t just run away. I guess part of maturing into our role as mothers is to accept that it won’t always be easy, but that there are systems and habits we can form to make our daily lives with our children more manageable each day. By the way, that feeling of entrapment is a lie. No one is “trapped” within their role as parents. We may occasionally feel that way, but the reality is much easier to take in, if you adopt a more pragmatic approach to your frustrations: These little beings are dependent on us and as parents, we have a duty of care towards them. That’s not entrapment. That’s love. That’s care. That’s nourishment, guidance, protection… it’s parenting.
I’ll end this post by saying this – I live and breathe my children’s energy, seeing them grow, seeing them happy, seeing them develop their little personalities. It’s everything to me. They’re part of my journey and I’m trying to make the most of the time I have with them, especially at this age. And whenever I feel like I’m losing a little bit of who I am as a woman, I must remember that one day they’ll grow up and not only will this feeling will disappear – my children will also transition into their own destinies, within their own households. That itself makes me want to look beyond the frustrations and the pain I sometimes experience when I feel like I’m failing at this motherhood thing. Yes, it’s hard, scary and exhausting but our kids are thriving – we must be doing something right.
N.B: This post would have been a great entry during Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week (April 29th to May 5th), but just like many other things I don’t always remember to do, I completely missed this one. If you’re struggling, please don’t suffer alone. Visit this page to find support: CLICK HERE