Self Centred Motherhood
When my children were very little, I remember one day commenting to my husband that I felt my life consisted of carrying things from downstairs, upstairs and upstairs, down. I mean, we laugh about it now because ten years on not much has changed in that respect. I think I’ve just resigned myself to the fact that life with kids is a life in service. I frequently mentally fist-bump the other tired men and women behind car windscreens on the ballet run and quietly high-five those who have applied the ‘shake and go’ method to their ironing pile. We muddle through, we do our best. And, despite our worries and concerns, everyone is getting where they need to be.
The constant cycle of keeping on top of life with three in four years was wearing for me in the early days though – not necessarily in the physical ways, but more in all the myriad of emotional ones. Motherhood is at first a violent changing of your whole life and perspective, followed by a gentle settling in to the subtleties that come after. I think sometimes you don’t even realise it until years later, when the dust has settled and the fog has lifted. Who even am I now? What was I before? Children are a creation so very special that you willingly give everything to them. The very thought of anything less than your best is incomprehensible. You read the books, you puree the veg. You try sleep techniques and rhyme time, take them to classes and lessons and groups. Conversations start and end with them (sometimes you actually get to finish them too! ;) ) You are helplessly and hopelessly smitten.
My children are a little bit older now and, as we move into this new chapter of life, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the kind of mother I am. I remember when Eva, my eldest, was in her first year of school we were doodling together one day, drawing little pictures of animals and people and things. I thought nothing of it at the time, it was another fleeting moment in this big, big journey. But a few weeks later when I went to her parent teacher interview her teacher produced the page of scribbles and told me how she had proudly showed it to the class, exclaiming ‘my mummy drew this!’ Those tiny, seemingly insignificant acts that actually are so very significant.
And the pride of a little child for all that you are.
I was reminded very recently of that moment and it came at such an influential time for me. You see, I’m part of a generation of women who are trying to keep all the balls in the air. Who have one foot on the wobbly stool of career and the other of family. Who feel constantly off-kilter and for whom just managing the day and daily is enough. That life of service is demanding, constant, exhausting. And you sometimes lose a tiny bit of yourself in the process I think. In those doodles Eva saw a side to me that she probably hadn’t experienced in the five years previously, so awash was I in nappies and Mr Tumble, potty training and self preservation. Creativity that she clung to. And I’m challenged to remember that.
There is a difference I think between being self-centred and self centred. It’s not just semantics. One suggests that you think only of yourself, the other that you start with yourself in order to be better for others. Motherhood, I’m learning, is crucially the latter. The attitudes, opinions and values that we have - my goodness, the very way we speak about and treat ourselves – those are the foundations for all that comes after for our children. If I want to raise kind, focused, inspired, encouraged children then that needs to begin with me. Is it self-centred to spend a few hours writing, drawing, composing, running - working on those parts of you? I don’t think so. I think it shows our children that those things are valid. That we are more than the sum of our parts. I think it illustrates that as adults we are multi-faceted – more than just mum, or dad. And it gives them permission to eventually maybe be that sort of parent too.
A few weeks ago that same little Eva, now seven years older but no less sweet, was in a class where they were discussing blogging. We were chatting about it the other evening around the dinner table. The teacher was explaining what it was and why people do it and that girl of mine (shy in so very many ways usually!) put up her hand and announced to the class ‘my mum does that!’
Creativity that she has clung to. And the pride of a little child for all that you are.
Those trips up and down the stairs are no less frequent for me in these later years, but my life is a far cry from being defined by them now. I see the benefit in the creativity that bursts from my children too – in art and music, dance and words. A quiet confidence in expressing their abilities and talents.
Self Centred Motherhood is, I believe, a gentle, graceful focus on leading by example. A resolution to dispel the guilt of time spent on nurturing you. I’m working hard at remembering it. Striving to be a better mother because of it.
After all, regardless of the passing of the years – doodles on pages or words typed up on a screen – I’m still helplessly and hopelessly smitten. It still starts and ends with them. Life is not so different now in all the important ways.
I’m just gradually learning to be me in the midst of it.