Once, I had a name.

I’m standing in the hallway in my pyjamas. My hair is a mess. I haven’t washed my face, brushed my teeth or put on my make-up. I haven’t even had my morning coffee, and it’s after 1:00pm. I stare in dismay at the dirty washing. I’m sure I sorted it into piles, but I’ve just come back to find clothes strewn across the bedroom floor. “Look, Mummy! Now you can start all over again!” says four-year-old Big Brother, an excited grin on his face. Like he’s just done me a huge favour. In the other room, Baby starts crying. Then there’s a knock on the door.

Who am I? And what happened to my life?

Once, I was a High Achiever.

I used to work in retail management. I was the youngest store manager in the history of my first company when I was 22. When I was 24, I moved on to another company and opened a new department store. I was told to expect to run at a loss for 12 months, but within three months we were in profit. Many years later, I needed a change, so started work in a travel agency. I was store manager within 12 months.

I always worked long hours, and juggled clients, staff training, admin, and business planning with relative ease.

Now, I can’t even juggle children and housework with my own desire to shower, eat, and sleep.

Once, I had Days Off.

I’d sleep in, take long walks or drives with my husband, and just relax and enjoy our time together. I had hobbies, and holidays.

Now, I work 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, no holidays, no days off, no sick days, and no overtime pay. In fact, no pay at all. I spend most of my time feeling so exhausted I can barely keep my eyes open.

Interesting fact: No amount of caffeine will allow you to completely do without sleep.

Once, I had friends.

I used to meet up with them for coffee in my lunch breaks, or drinks after work, or get-togethers on weekends, or the occasional dinner party. Real, legitimate, in-the-flesh get-togethers. I saw them in person, rather than just scrawling a “we should catch up” message on their Facebook wall every month or so. I had friends I could talk to about my hopes, and dreams, and fears. Friends who talked to me in return.

Now, I rarely see anyone outside my family. Most of my friends live over an hour’s drive away. And when I make the effort (see below)… well, it’s hard to talk about anything much when my attention is focused on what the boys are doing. How do you talk about your hopes and dreams while your four-year-old is pretending he’s Batman and preparing to jump off a six-foot wall? Or examining dog poo? Or talking to strangers? How do you listen to someone else’s hopes and dreams while your Baby is crying, and you’re thinking about whether you brought enough nappies, and where you’re going to feed him, and what time you need to be home for his bath?

Once, I loved going out.

Now, even thinking about going anywhere is exhausting. I can’t be spontaneous. I have to prepare. Between packing everything I need for Bog Brother, Baby and I, and then getting us all ready to go, it can take an hour from Idea to Execution.

Did you go to the toilet? Just try. Thank you. Now where did you put your shoes? Where’s your hat? Go and find it. Well, keep looking, it’s got to be there somewhere. Great, put it on your head. Yes, you can take one toy. One. One. Just one. No, that’s two. You can take one toy. Well, pick one. Then don’t take any. Alright, you can take one toy. Where did your hat go? It was on your head. No, it’s not there anymore. Got it? Right, into the car. No, you’re not hungry, you just ate. What do you mean you need to go to the toilet? Didn’t you just go? *sigh* Out you get.

Once, I was confident of my abilities.

I always had an answer. I always knew what I was doing. Or, if I didn’t, I was an expert at “fake it till you make it”. I was confident I could handle anything.

Now, I feel like a Bad Mother at least half a dozen times a day. And that’s on a good day. And when people ask me questions, I don’t have the answers.

“Oh. You let him watch TV?”  Yes… I shouldn’t be doing that, should I? Is it too late? Has the damage already been done?

“You do know you should still be breastfeeding, don’t you?” But… I can’t… And… You’re right. Gods, I’m such a failure.

“It’s so important to let them express themselves with art and craft every day, don’t you think?” Every day? Really? Umm… Yes. Yes, it is. Of course. Damn it, when he can’t express his emotions, it’s going to be my fault.

“Why don’t you just send him outside?” – “You should never let him out of your sight.” – “He really should go to daycare so he gets used to spending time with strangers.” – “You need to stop him talking to strangers when you go out.” – “Shouldn’t he be crawling by now?” – “My son could already write his own name by that age.” – “Why haven’t you taught him how to read yet?”

I don’t know. I don’t know! I DON’T KNOW! SHUT UP! I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m a fraud! I knew I was doing it wrong. I thought motherhood was supposed to be “natural”!

Once, I knew what to do.

Always. In every situation.

Now, I stand in the hallway, not sure whether I should ignore the knocking on the door and pretend no one’s home (ignore the baby crying… he’s not the droid you’re looking for…), or open the door looking like a reject from a “Stars Without Their Make-Up” issue of a tacky women’s magazine.

I’m a mess. My head is a mess. My house is a mess. And I don’t know how this happened.

And then I look into the smiling faces of my children…

And I’d like to say it’s all worth it. I really would. That’s how this story is supposed to end. And usually it’s true.

But I have to be honest: There are times when I don’t feel like that.

There are times when I look into their eyes and I know I love them, and I know I’ll do anything for them, but I just can’t help thinking…

Once, I had an identity.

Once, I had a name.

 … and it wasn’t Mum.


Author’s note:

I didn’t write this because I think I’ve got it tougher than anyone else, or because I don’t like being a stay-at-home-Mum. I wrote this because as much as I love my children, I often feel overwhelmed, scared, confused, tired, lonely, isolated, and just plain exhausted.

Every time I hear or read something about motherhood being all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, I feel like a fraud and a failure. Being a mother isn’t easy. Being a parent (of either gender) isn’t easy. Or maybe it is for some people, but I’m not one of them.

If something I’ve written resonates with you, hold your head high and know you’re not alone. And, hopefully, neither am I.


Filed under Life With Kids

24 responses to “Once, I had a name.

  1. I know exactly how you feel. It resonates with me, and you are definitely not alone!

  2. Thank you for your brave honesty – really well written. I think a lot of what you wrote will resonate with many of us – I was just about to get some of my identity back after a year’s maternity leave when I (sorry, my ROLE!) was made redundant instead. Everything I knew about myself that I’d been clinging to for the previous year as a SAHM blew away like dust in the wind, taking most of my self confidence with it. The last eighteen months have not been the easiest of my life by a long chalk…

  3. Very well written! I agree that it’s easy to lose your identity when you become a parent. Life is changed, forever. And being a stay at home mom is the hardest job IN THE WORLD! I commend you for it! I always try to be honest with people about the side of parenthood very few people share, so I thank you for doing the same.

    • I know – I get really sick of people NOT sharing the real parts of parenthood. There are some wonderful bits, and there are some hellish bits, but they don’t both get equal airtime.

      And, yes, being a stay-at-home-Mum (or Dad) is the hardest job in the world. And also one of the most important. It’s a good job there are moments of sunshine in between the the stormclouds!

  4. Just as I suspected! 🙂 Says the smug chick with no kids. I think all my kid-toting friends are lying to me, telling me it’s all sunshine and kittens, until it’s too late and I’m IN THE CLUB and I can’t get out! I think Facebook is exposing them and their lies, because they can’t keep it up all the time, eh. 🙂

    One of them was fantasizing about adding a 3rd today, so it must be pretty good, at least some of the time.

    And those two little ones of yours are pretty special.

    • Haha. It’s a secret, worldwide conspiracy… 🙂 There are definitely a lot of good bits (in fact, most of it is good), but there are also a lot of moments where you wonder what the hell you were thinking.

      And thanks, they are pretty special. And even the overwhelming who-am-I feeling doesn’t stop me wondering about a 3rd…

  5. Oh God Jo I am actually crying (kids are looking at me like I am crazy) you and I are living the same life 🙂 You also made me laugh, I particularly love the conversation about getting in the car – that could be verbatim from me with my kids. Oh yeah and “It’s so important to let them express themselves with art and craft every day, don’t you think?” Not if it involves spilling paint on my freshly mopped floor it isn’t 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Jody. That is the best complment any writer can get. We really do seem to be living so much of the same life, I always relate to your stories as well. We’ll have to get together and compare notes one day. 🙂

  6. Jo, can I simply say i.love.you, without scaring you off..?? Why do I feel like you are my twin sister? You had me nodding & laughing & have a heart-ache, all at the same time. Its an honest piece of writing and still manages to be so lovely. I especially loved the italized paragragh that starts with, ‘Did you go to the toilet? Just try. Thank you….’ 🙂

    Earlier, there have been times when i have pretended that no one’s home.. but now, my 5-year old just comes up and tells me, ‘mamma, can’t you hear? someone’s at the door..’

    • It takes more than that to scare me off! Thanks so much for commenting, and for the compliment. I guess there are some things that are universal. (And my 4-year-old does the same. Apparently ignoring people at the door isn’t polite.)

  7. And this is why I am back at work 🙂 Hang in there, Jo.

  8. Love this post, Jo. So many bits resonated with me, especially the toy conversation when preparing to leave the house and all the advice from other people about child rearing. Be assured–you are not alone, either!

    • Thank you. What is it with people feeling they have the right to give advice all the time, asked for or not? The “You need to stop him talking to strangers” comment was actually part of a 10 minute lecture an old woman gave me one day after my son had the temerity to walk up to her and introduce himself.

  9. Whenever I encounter writing this potent and honest, aside from embracing the thrill of sharing in a great moment of writing, I think to myself how fortunate we all are to share the WordPress place. Your gifts are great, and your motherly instincts are spot on.

    No human being ever born was ever YOU until YOU came along, and when you are gone from here there will never be anyone else EVER who will qualify as YOU. Being a parent is an awesome responsibility–greater than any other role on earth–not because it’s all “sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows,” but because it is mostly everything BUT that. The person who is YOU is the only person who can be the mum to your children, and let me tell you…those are some darn lucky children you have!

    As parents we often yearn for a solution to predicaments for which there are no solutions, and frequently dream of the day when the only responsibility we will have is to ourselves, but the dream is real right here and now, in this very moment, and always will be. You can be anything you want to be, and do anything you want to do, but you can never stop being a parent once the child is born. So be whatever you want to be and make it fit the person you are–which includes being a parent.

    With great admiration…..John H.

    • Thank you so much, John. Your comment made my day today. And I love what you said about being a parent: “You can be anything you want to be, and do anything you want to do, but you can never stop being a parent once the child is born.” I think those are some of the wisest words I’ve ever heard. Thank you.

  10. Well stated Jo!!!!! Didn’t come across at all like complaints, came across as life.

    • Thank you! Nice to know it didn’t come across as complaining. It’s a hard line to walk sometimes — especially when I’m feeling tired and drained. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love my boys and (almost) every moment with them.

  11. You have been crawling around in my head. How did you get in there? How can you write, so well, what I think in snatches and half-moments? I can barely string together two word sentences! How amazing that you are so far away in Australia and I am here in the US yet we are so similar.

    • Thank you so much. I’m really touched (and amazed) to hear that so many people feel the same way I do. It’s great to know that the trials, tribulations and triumphs of motherhood trump something as essentially meaningless as distance, isn’t it?

  12. Debbie

    A friend shared this with me after I vented *gasp* on Facebook last night. This subject is something I normally keep in & don’t widely discuss much because, somehow, acknowledging these feelings makes me feel weak, & even more inadequate, & I figure why share such negativity with the world – after all, who wants to read a post that is such a “downer”?
    I’m sorry to hear that you have these feelings too, but am VERY grateful to read such a frank account.
    Thank you so much. Your words enunciate my feelings perfectly.

    • Thanks so much, Debbie. It is hard to talk about these feelings — there’s such a perception out there that, as mothers, we should be able to be everything to everyone and do it all with a smile on our faces. I spent a lot of time feeling like a was a failure before I wrote this piece and had such great feedback from other Mums around the world. Rest assured — you’re not alone!

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