Since giving birth to my beautiful boy three years ago I have been my own worst critic. Am I doing enough for my son? Am I giving him what he needs? Am I being the best mother I can be?
In 2015 the pressure on mothers to be superhuman is increasing at a prolific rate. Gone are the days when like many of our own mothers women stayed at home, washed, ironed, cooked and raised their kids. Now you are more likely to find a mother who is frazzled from juggling work, nursery, baby dates and her own social engagements.
I only have one child, my husband and I made the decision to start a family in our mid to late thirties so we didn’t really ever intend to create a significant brood. We were so happy when our wonderful son was born and have enjoyed watching him grow up and integrating himself into our little family. Honestly, I am not a natural mother. Although I am inherently kind and caring towards other people, I have never been or will be maternal. When my boy was born I found true love like most mothers do and I wanted to care for him. But I never agonised over giving him the perfect start as some choose to, reading health books or breastfeeding bibles. I just did what was natural and felt right for me as did most of the women I befriended during maternity leave. We enjoyed our babies as best we could. Most importantly we tried not to let our children define us.
Yet the general public don’t always see it that way. The amount of women I have spoken to who have been judged without invitation by random strangers or looked down upon by other women who don’t approve of their choices is astounding. Not one of us has managed to dodge that bullet. And when it comes, it is so incredibly hurtful that it can’t fail to make you question yourself and wonder if you aren’t really good enough after all.
In fact the expectations are now so high that lots of women have kicked back and reacted against the haters. Award winning blogs such as ‘The Unmumsy Mum’ are followed by thousands of women who just don’t feel good enough and are literally sick of feeling bad about it. I know I am.
For me my first failure as a mother was my decision not to breastfeed. Controversial in this day and age I know but for reasons personal to me, it wasn’t ever meant to be. Despite this I felt the need to make excuses and explain myself to total strangers. It was particularly interesting at the baby groups how the mothers divided themselves into boobs and bottlers. My friends and I joked about it and called ourselves the bad mothers but deep down it hurt that our decision was deemed to be wrong, without any real context.
Next in my long list of failures were the baby groups. There were so many of them. Gymnastics, yoga, sensory. I couldn’t keep up. It was hard enough dressing myself and getting out of the door never mind attending classes. I felt like an ill prepared student again dashing to get to lectures on time with a terrible hangover.
When I look back I do question how much I or my son actually got out of these enriching groups. They were nice and I liked the fact I got to spend time with others in the same boat but I do question why I felt under such pressure to entertain my baby. We were all doing it, buying our mother and baby time. Clocking up precious experiences to remember in the future. Today those classes don’t even factor in my memory. It’s the days snuggled up on the sofa, or the long walks in the fresh air with friends that stick.
My worst failure in the eyes of the world was when I decided to go back to work when my baby was six months old. Not only did I go back but I also went full time. I think a lot of people were shocked when I did this and couldn’t understand me. I know I was talked about in the mothering community. But I went ahead and did it anyway. Since then I have spent three years coming up with a whole host of pathetic justifications as to why I leave my child every day. I won’t bore you with the details.
I don’t remember much of my own time at home before school. I don’t remember mum painting with me or taking me to play groups or us having a regular pass at the local zoo. Why? Because none of this happened. My mother was busy doing her job, being a housewife. What I do remember is playing with fuzzy felts on my own and waiting for my dad to get home. I remember when people visited hiding behind my mother’s leg in fear. I also remember feeling loved.
My mother wasn’t under the same pressure as me. She would have loved to study at university, to have a professional job but it wasn’t part of the plan for a working class girl from humble beginnings. In the late 70s and early 80s, baby groups, nurseries they were a thing of the future. Women worked hard to take care of the home and their children, but they were left to it. Left alone to make decisions and take care of their home as best they could. If she’d had the chance, I know my childhood would have been very different.
My son is like me in many ways but one advantage he has is his confidence with people. He is so natural with them, his speech at three so advanced, his social skills already refined. I have always had to work hard at being confident, when inside I continue to fight an ongoing battle with shyness. I do wonder had I attended nursery if I would be more like my boy. Confident, strong and fearless.
When we judge others, we do this because we are being judged ourselves. In this internet driven era, the pressure to be perfect grows stronger. People still think I went back to work because I was selfish and didn’t care about my son’s development. And to some extent I love that I have my teaching career and didn’t lose myself along the parenting way.
But the truth is my husband is suffering from blood cancer and it’s difficult to know how long he will survive. Unless he has a bone marrow transplant, it’s possible he won’t see our son finish primary school. I knew right through my pregnancy that I would need to be the main provider. I would need to be strong for us all. There have been times when I have wanted to shout this in people’s faces, scream my pain at them ferociously but I have refrained. I have remained dignified. Because it’s not their fault. They are just doing what everyone else is doing to them, comparing themselves and judging what decision is right.
We’d all love to have the freedom to be perfect mothers. But like many women before us, this is just a dream. Surely it’s better to be the best you can be in the circumstances you find yourself in. That way your children will be compassionate, understanding and most of all they will be proud of you.
This post was also hosted on The Huffington Post UK.