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.
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.