The Good Mother Myth

I don’t think it’s any secret that being a parent is hard work. At least, it’s not a secret among those who can’t take it any more and open their hearts to expose their darkest thoughts only to find out that everyone else feels the same way. It’s ridiculous that I looked around me and saw only people doing things much better than me – that is, people actually coping with life rather than just trying to get the next task done without falling apart.

I didn’t think I would be a mum. When I was a lot younger I had this fantasy of a huge family. I didn’t know what that really meant – I think I watched too much of The Brady Bunch and The Osmond Show. Wheeee! A big family looks like fun – let’s do that.

During my twenties, I decided that wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to be tied down, man. I was having far too much fun to settle down. As “woman-y” problems started to rear their head, it seemed the choice was being taken away from me anyway and that was fine.

Then, in my thirties, someone convinced me that we should have a child and it would be brilliant, and we would be great parents and we could do this. Well, if science could help us and it made him happy, why not?

God of almighty, it’s hard work! Sorry. That’s a really bland statement that says nothing. It was more than hard work – it was complete madness. Pregnancy was hard – OK, but uncomfortable. I got bigger and hotter, gassy, crampy and crabby. The birth – OK, a C-section. I don’t know what happened there. Brought baby home and WALLOP – the whole world went completely mad.

I was so tired that I found myself speaking out loud when I thought I was just thinking. I hallucinated. I was so sure I had done things when I hadn’t actually moved for an hour. I couldn’t find the energy to get dressed. Feeds and changing every two hours for four months! What the hell was THIS? I was too tired to cry and I think I just disappeared. You would look at me and see a slighly (ha!) dishevelled woman, carrying her child around, apparently doing worthwhile things. But that wasn’t me. It was just an empty shell, a hollow husk. And worse of all, I was pretending to everyone that I just adored this beautiful little child and yes, of course parenthood is the best thing to happen to my life.

Well, everyone else seemed to be getting on with it just fine. Other mothers were out, driving around. Going shopping. Taking their newborns visiting. Getting their hair cut. So when they phoned me up, that’s what I was doing. And I was all bouncy and happy and full of the joys of motherhood. Then I would hang up the phone and disappear again.

I looked at the child and felt nothing. I couldn’t connect in any way. It was just a thing that I had to take care of and that – suddenly – my entire, previously-full life now revolved around. And I couldn’t stand it. I wanted to feel what everyone else was feeling. I longed to look at the baby and let those waves of love wash over me. Didn’t everyone go on and on about the magnificent realisation that now, nothing else matters and this little being was the new centre of my world.

This little being was the centre of my world because my world had shrunk to be nothing but this little being. And it didn’t want me to sit and stare at it adoringly. It wanted fed, and its nappy changed, and winded, and its nappy changed again. And it wanted to pee on me, and poop so much that I had to change the nappy and the sheets and its clothes and my clothes. I didn’t hate it, but I certainly didn’t love it.

But nobody else felt that way. I knew that because they all spoke like the personal embodiment of Parenting magazine. They had schedules and play-dates, and they wanted to do fun things that would stimulate baby. I wanted to run away and I just knew this child would be better off without me anyway.

But slowly it did change. Nights got easier – well, I got sleep. Baby started to respond and smile. He recognised me and let me know it. Finally, I reached out a ball to him and he grabbed it and something happened. I got it and the wave of relief once I realised I could and did love this child, washed me away. He grabbed a ball and I sat on the floor and cried.

Months later, in fact over a year later, I started to talk about this and lo and behold, everyone around me agreed. It was horrible, hard, painful. We were all guilt-ridden – those of us who went back to work and struggled, and those of us that stayed at home thinking we were doing a rubbish job. Every one of us admitted that the myth had fooled us and that falling for it had damaged – if not destroyed – our memories of those early months. The good thing was that it had passed and we so much time to make up for how we had felt then.

Don’t fall for the Good Mother Myth.


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