Sunday, 11 May 2014

The joys and pains of Motherhood

I tend to be quite cautious about what I share on Facebook. While I don't want to come across as someone who carefully manufactures a picture-perfect Facebook life -only posting flattering holiday or family pictures where everyone is giddily happy - at the same time I would generally prefer not air my problems on social networks. The trivialities of life are fine - I'd happily tell all about my little missteps, or failings but larger, more real issues I'm afraid have to be left for person to person interaction. So when a friend did what I would ordinarily consider "overshare" today about her feelings of being unappreciated by her children and their father, I must admit that my immediate reaction was to cringe. I cringed not because I couldn't relate to what she was saying but because I thought here she was baring her soul for all one hundred and something of her so-called friends. I almost in-boxed her to ask her what was going on and if she needed to talk. But then I thought better of it and decided to respond directly to her posting my comment for other women who have similar sentiments to read.

All too often mothers are silenced by their peers, their partners, their children, by society. To speak about motherhood in a negative way can raise eyebrows and elicit whispers. Either you end up becoming the object of pity by the self-declared supermums or everyone starts walking on eggshells around you as though you're mentally unstable and could snap at any moment. Yet it is perfectly acceptable to have moments of doubt or misgivings as girlfriends or wives, so why is it unfathomable that we can experience the same thing as mothers?

From the changes our bodies undergo during pregnancy to the incomparable pain of childbirth, to the incredibly difficult post natal period where women either feel overwhelmed by the reality of having a living breathing being that requires their constant attention - to the unbearably painful and emotional early stages of breastfeeding and then the emotional rollercoaster of being all things to our children while managing our household and/or maintaining full time jobs and ensuring we look good enough to dissuade our partners/husbands from straying - women seem to bear it times stoically, at other times with outward joy. For the most part, we realise that the rewards are far greater than the agony we go through - we bear the scars of motherhood with a sense of pride - the stretch marks; the hanging tummy or mother's apron as it's aptly known. We say goodbye to the idea of wearing teeny bikinis because there is this incredible person in our lives, who loves us unconditionally and makes us laugh and smile and cry and we cannot imagine ourselves without them....even if ourselves before them were skinnier and less sleep deprived.

Yet there are times when motherhood does feel like a thankless job, when it takes all the strength and willpower to stop yourself from having the outburst, from crying, from locking yourself in the bathroom and demanding a moment's peace from everyone. There are times when we have to, we need to take a break from the running around and taking care of everyone, making sure lunch and snacks are packed, uniforms are ironed, classes are attended - when we simply need to stop and ask ourselves "who is taking care of us?" And at times the answer we come back with is terribly depressing and yet we still press on. After all, this is our calling, so we tell ourselves, so quitting is simply not an option.

But if we are going to press on as primary caregivers, as fixers of everything - psychiatrists, book keepers, drivers, lovers, cooks, teachers, which I fully accept, surely we should be allowed to scream when it all gets overwhelming. Our genuinely expressed anguish shouldn't elicit cringes from our friends who are all too familiar with the things we're complaining about. We should be able to say that we feel unappreciated without being made to feel like we are letting the 'side' down...not quite coping as expected. We shouldn't feel the need to compete with the domestic goddesses who too, more likely than not, have moments of self-doubt and angst. Most importantly we should be able to tell our children and our partners how we feel. We should be able to ask them to do better, to consider our feelings too without it being seen as emotional blackmail or worse still, that loathsome sexist put down....nagging. 

Because of my reaction today, I want to apologise to all the mothers who've ever felt dismissed by their friends and their loved ones. You are right to feel overwhelmed, angry, taken for granted, even depressed at times. Those feelings are valid given what you go through each and every day. Seeing your children grow or your partner become more successful may not be enough to appease you so my hope is that, like my friend, you will find the courage to tell those who matter in your life how you feel. I hope that they will love you enough to listen and to do something about it - to start to see you as more than just a person whose role in life is facilitate their lives. And more importantly I hope you will start seeing yourself as more than their cheerleader and recognise that you are a person in your own right - that before you were a mother or a wife, you had interests, a goal, a focus! In remembering that, hopefully as mums, we can focus more on taking care of ourselves and being our own biggest fans rather than waiting for the one day each year when the people we show love and appreciation 365 days - return the favour.

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