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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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Guilt

Flawed Mommy Love

The past month has been a jumble of fragmented thoughts and intentions, made all the more woolly by chronically interrupted sleep. I try not to squint at people when they tell me – hohoho – to enjoy all the sleep I can now – hahaha – because I will be getting none of that when the baby arrives – heeheehee.

Bullcrap. I’m already sleep-deprived. I haven’t slept deeply before 4.00am in a month. Every night, I fall into this weird shallow sleep punctuated by bouts of punchbag-in-reverse from Boy Blob, and the constant niggling sensation that my bladder is crying for help. When I finally do rouse myself at some unearthly hour and zombie-amble over to powder my nose, I tumble into bed straight after for some serious zzz, only to be awakened by a cheerful toddler re-enacting the wake-up scene from Frozen not 3 hours later. Verbatim.

Yet the skittles of thoughts I’ve been meaning to string together in the one post – or several – remain. I am convinced there is a common thread, although I haven’t found the time to sew.

There’s the skittle about these two women I’ve met – one with seven children, and one with six. I know not where their strength comes from, if not from God. The former homeschools all of them, as her husband is with the ADF and they move every so often. He had been posted overseas recently for months at a stretch, so she held the fort solo. SOLO. Now they’re moving yet again, and are planning a house build at their new destination. The one with six children still manages to find time for the gym. And has her children in bed by 6pm every night (although the older ones get to go to bed by 7pm). Both of them have five boys.

And it’s hard not to look at these surprisingly sane, grounded women and not marvel at their competence. It’s hard not to think about them and find yourself conflicted in your deep admiration for their ways, while simultaneously bashing yourself over your own underwhelming energy levels. I know they do it because they first want to, and then because they have to. When you are a conscientious mother, you find the strength and the will to carry on.

And then there’s the other skittle about these other two women whom I’ve never met, but whose lives touch people close to me. And these two women have many children. And they are struggling. Mental illness can be so, so debilitating. It can snuff out maternal instinct in its black hollowness. So all-consuming a vacuum that there is little oxygen left for love of themselves, much less the children who suffer in their wake. Made all the worse by a crumbling married life, an obtuse community, and just plain lousy choices and willpower. They love their children still, but it ain’t healthy no more.

There’s the skittle about crunchy and silky parenting, and how everyone in parenting land can be prone to getting a leetle beet crazee when it comes to defending their art and science of Bringing Up Junior. And really, most of us are just trying to do the best parenting we can in the best way we know how. Even if we sometimes want to crash tackle someone else’s methods to prove it. Until I became a parent, I had no idea how easy it is to irrationally process every (perceived) criticism of my parenting method as a direct measure of my love for Arddun. I also think that’s why Mommy online forums can be such toxic places, and why I’m mostly leery of them.

(As it turns out, I’m also 80% Silky, with a sprinkling of granola. I think my stout stance on vaccination irrevocably left me out of the Crunchy loop. Oh well.)

And finally, there’s that skittle about Boy Blob and my Arddun, and how I cannot fathom how my life will change. I love Arddun truly, madly, deeply – which is why my heart squeezes at the knowledge that I will be breaking this all-consuming only-child bond in order to make a new one. I have only been an only-child. As such, I have only known the love of a mother of an only-child. Sure, I’ve observed other family units with multiple children and am convinced they love their children deeply. But I’ve only known the love of a mother of an only-child. And with Arddun, I love her as my one and only.

There is a guilt that threatens to eat away at me with every fleeting week that passes us by. Let’s make the most of our precious time together, just you and I, I try to tell myself – except my body is now cumbersome and I cannot walk too far. I shouldn’t behave like this is the end of something good, except it is. I have loved growing up with Arddun these 3 years and counting. I should behave more like this is the beginning of something better and richer, because it is. Except I don’t know how.

And yet I am convinced that my heart will expand twice as big to love twice as large and twice as deep and twice as hard. It is the only explanation that will comfort me, as much as it confounds me. The heart cannot be thought of as a fixed-sized receptacle or a finite bankroll of warm-fuzzies. Rather, I like to think it expands with the using. It gets bigger, the further you venture in. Kinda like a TARDIS.

Oh, the imperfect love of a relatively new mother. Still brimming with hope and doubt and everything else in between.

To be a time warrior

I had a rather confronting conversation the last time I was back in Singapore, and it had gone something like this:

Friend: So… what are you working as now?

Me: I’m a stay-at-home mum

Friend: Yeah, but besides that?

Me: Um… that’s it. That’s my job. I stay at home and take care of Arddun.

Friend: You mean that’s it? Like, don’t you have a job apart from taking care of her?

Me: That’s enough for now, believe me.

And then I had launched into a mini-spiel about how being a SAHM is a full-time job, blah blah blah. All the while wondering if I had missed something huge. Like, am I maximising my time? Am I inadvertently being lazy? Are most of the other women home alone with toddlers also juggling a lucrative sideline in jewellery-making while studying for a grad dip in business economics? All while keeping the house immaculate, the waistline suitably skinny, and the child untouched by The Wiggles?

Am I not doing enough? Did I miss the secret memo on my obligations as a super woman?

So you know what I’ve gone and done since that conversation?

I’ve

  • renewed my gym membership
  • redeveloped my church’s website
  • taken up a freelance job
  • started baking again.

And what I’ve succeeded in doing instead is

  • see less of my husband
  • lose sleep from working late hours
  • fall sick repeatedly.

I’m not assigning blame to that friend or that conversation. I’m assigning blame wholly to my impatience, my pride, and my inability to bite off less than I can chew. Ever since I started secondary school, I’ve been notorious for triple booking myself. Crazy-eager to please others, crazy-eager to appease the inner voices, crazy-eager to conquer the world.

The first 16 months of Arddun’s life have been so blessedly peaceful because for the first time in a very, very long time, I found myself focusing on Just One Thing. My family. All the noise, all the clatter around the edges faded away. I had found The Happy – or at least what The Happy looks like to me now.

But in the last two months since I’ve worked my mind around going back to work, I’ve opened the floodgates and the busyness… the noise… has started to rush back in.

There is a sense of achievement in amongst it, sure. I’m really enjoying my freelance job, actually. And I’m glad I’m baking again because I enjoy baking for others – even if I’m not very good at it. And the church website has been one of those goals I’d been wanting to kick even before I had Arddun, so it’s great that it’s finally done. And the gym membership… well… at least it’s renewed. One step at a time.

But I’m also bone tired.

When thinking up of a title for this blog post, I thought about being a Time Warrior, and then I googled the term – only to find that someone had already written a book about being one. I’ve never read it, but the book summary seems to imply that one of the keys to productive time management is the letting go of people-pleasing and approval-seeking. And I really tussle with that description.

On the one hand, it really resonates with me. I think we are all inherently approval-seeking and people-pleasing. It’s how we like to get along in the world. And a lot of my people-pleasing stems from insecurity. I don’t like people not to like me, or think critically of my actions. Especially of how I manage my time.

But on the other hand, a lot of my people-pleasing stems from the desire to think of others before myself. I get really bugged that our family isn’t more hospitable, or that we’re not doing more for the work of the church. I also think we are called to be peacemakers – to be all things to all men which does seem to imply a sacrifice of one’s time and oneself for others. So the very idea of becoming a Time Warrior by “slashing out all the people-pleasing” sounds, to me, inherently selfish.

I guess what I’m trying to decide for myself while “thinking aloud” (i.e. blogging) is my motivation for getting busy these past 2 months. Am I doing it because I don’t want to appear lazy? Am I doing it because it’s for the edification of my family and friends? Am I doing it because I really want to?

Because there’s so very many things I want to do and be. I want to be a kick-ass wife. I want to be a kick-ass mum. I want to be a kick-ass asset to the church. I want to be a kick-ass writer, with a kick-ass career in writing and editing. Preferably earning kick-ass money to pay for kick-ass things for loved ones. Like immigration visas. And private tuition in kick-ass Christian colleges. I want to be a kick-ass blogger. With a kick-ass ass, honed by many diligent hours in yoga and pilates. YEAAAAARRRRHHH!

And of course there’s that wise old saying that

I can do it all… it just doesn’t have to be all at once.

I should probably get some sleep.

Preparing the other me

I haven’t been blogging very much lately, although many biggish things have happened. We flew to Brisbane. We flew to Singapore. We had in-laws come over. My mother’s been well. (Hooray!) We’ve been sick. (Boo.)

We ran out and bought a new car so now I need to go back to work.

The last bit isn’t entirely fair, and isn’t entirely accurate. The new car is one of many reasons I need to go back to work. The new car is one of many reasons I even want to go back to work. But I’m still building up to it.

Lately, I’ve been racking my brains to remember what my mindset had been before I had Arddun. To remember the version of motherhood I’d believed myself capable of, Before Child. And it’s blowing my mind how differently I feel now. I remember warning Tony over and over. About how I’m not one of those women who could do the whole barefoot-and-pregnant schtick. About how all the women in my family for at least three generations have been working mums. They’d gone out. Earned the bread and butter. I’ll be like that too, I had told him. In my blood. Can’t help it. I reminded my husband, over and over, how I suffer dreadfully from cabin fever. How being a homebody would destroy me. I pictured a life of spilt dinners, soiled rags, Teletubbies and tedium. And I shuddered at the loss of independence. The seeming lack of mental stimulation. The irretrievable disappearance of personal identity.

And in part, some of those “losses” have happened these last 16 months, 3 weeks and 3 days. Or at least bits of me have eroded, faded, or given way to something new. Part of me is infinitely mushier. I used to look at babies and think, “Squished little thing.” And now I peer into the prams of total strangers and sigh adoringly at their precious gifts from God.

Part of me is harder. I understand more. I feel like I have more to lose. I know I have a new great purpose.

And yes, part of me has been put away for now. The self-absorbed me, and I don’t mean that I’m less selfish now because I am still incredibly selfish at times. But I’m talking about that sense of separateness and individualism that free adults enjoy. You lose some of that when you become a wife because your life is entwined inextricably with another’s. But I found I lost a lot of that when Arddun was so very tiny and so very helpless. She came from my body, but I largely became hers.

And so for over a  year, I’ve been very happy to lose myself in Arddun and to lose myself in my family. I feel like I’ve poured myself out, which probably accounts for the constant gooey, liquid feeling I carry around inside of me. I’ve been on a high – I am still on a high.

But now my family might need me in other ways, and so I am at a crossroad. Because I’ve had to re-evaluate what I think motherhood should look like and for 16 months, I’ve been hoping the answer is something like “Stay at home forever! Or at least for 5 years! Have 2 babies! Maybe have an accidental third!”

But the other voices in my head are starting to say things like, “You can’t have your cake and eat it. Money doesn’t grow on trees. You have family you love outside of Tony and Arddun. Your world is shrinking and you’re getting insular. What about your other God-given talents? You have to stop being so selfish.”

What a twisted world we live in.

I look at my friends who’ve chosen to stay at home for their children, and I love and admire them greatly. I acknowledge their sacrifice and selflessness, I applaud their resourcefulness and economy, I love their happy products – their beautiful, Godly children. Their humble, cheerful homes. Their sense of peace and calm. And rather erroneously – even sinfully – I think I’ve been ascribing a higher value to their family choice than the choice of many other beautiful mothers who have gone back to work.

I mean, everyone says that the best job in the world is being a mother, right? So isn’t the best job in the world that of a full-time mother? And therefore, shouldn’t it follow that working mothers are not the best mothers? Isn’t that how the equation works?

That’s the guilt talking. That’s been the guilt talking for 16 months. And it’s been hard, hard work trying to look at it any other way. And then I feel HUGE guilt for inadvertently passing judgement on the many other mothers who have chosen to go back to work.

Because that’s the rub, isn’t it. Whatever parenting choices you make already passes judgement on the other options you rejected.

Very long story short, I’m preparing to re-enter the Corporate World. Which means I’m waiting for childcare to get back to me, which means I’ve talked to my boss, which means I’ve been tuning my brain to think corporatey things and I’ve been spending my evenings writing more corporatey gook. I’ve started working out clothes Arddun can wear to childcare, and ordered name labels to paste on everything she owns. And it’s been hard. Honestly? Part of me is heartbroken I’m even doing this but as the days wear on, I’ve also been getting strangely excited.

Because it feels good to embrace parts of my old self again. To flex those muscles and air out dusty rooms in the corners of my mind. Coupled with my new priorities, I feel a lot more purpose-driven about where I need to be, and where I don’t want to be. And so I’ve taken steps to shift the course of my professionally development. Just one or two inches to the left or the right. Which is more than what I’ve done for my career in the last 5 years.

The lovely thing is that I’m surrounded by many mothers who have already rejoined the corporate world. Who have already gone through the heartrending bit. Who’ve cried in a lonely toilet cubicle when they missed their child’s milestone for the first time. Who are currently managing the whole part-time work schtick really, really well. They have been such an edification.

“I am a better mum for it,” at least two have assured me repeatedly, and I believe them. I don’t think they’re just saying it to make themselves feel better. “I appreciate my child more. Every moment really counts. I’m a better time manager. My priorities are crystal clear now. And the house is a mess but I don’t care.”

And so I’m on my way.

On a completely separate note – the car we’re in the process of buying? Reverse parallel parks itself. PHWOOARRR!

Justify my love

Now that almost everyone is back at WORK-work (as opposed to stay-at-home-with-baby-full-time work), I’ve likewise switched gears. Or at least my conscience has. The honeymoon period is definitely over, and my child is not a newborn. She’s not even really a baby. And so it feels like a very lame excuse to play the New Mommy card when I try to explain (to myself) why I’m not doing more.

I’ve had a chat to other mothers, and it’s a small relief to find I’m not alone. Somehow, staying at home in this day and age feels too much like a luxury, and so we guiltily cram as many chores as we can into precious little time. The 45 minutes Arddun plays by herself in the cot is spent washing dishes, cleaning her eating station, tidying the kitchen, putting a load of laundry on, emptying the dishwasher, wiping down the stove. An additional fifteen minutes is spent distracting her with TV while I run to the bathroom and try to have a quick shower. (This does not work, by the way. I can hear her complaints when I turn off the taps and I know that she’s been yelling for a time like a caged baby baboon while Playschool is blaring in the background.)

And yet, while I’m towelling off and grimacing about her wails, I’m also wiping down the bathroom sink, bench top and bathtub.

Because we women multi-task. We do not compartmentalise, we connect. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a weekday or a weekend. I find myself cleaning up as I go along, and constantly daunted that I can never get enough done. And when we’re finally back to the job of caring for the child, we read to them, we sing to them, we play hide-and-seek, we cook Jamie Oliveresque baby meals. We take them to the doctor’s, the library, the mall, the playground, the park, the supermarket, other mother’s houses. We take them to baby swimming classes and Gymbaroo classes and Giggle & Wiggle at the local library – even though the librarians cannot sing. All the while kicking ourselves for not stimulating them enough, and secretly wondering if a childcare environment wouldn’t be a better alternative for socialisation and quality early childhood education.

At least, that’s my perversity.

In great contrast, our men – when left in the sole charge of the offspring – are perfectly capable of letting the kid crawl around the house on its own while they enrich their souls and minds on the Xbox. They have absolutely no qualms about doing something they REALLY enjoy while “watching the kid”. Because it’s a weekend. And they’ve worked all week.

And Tony still does the laundry. And he still does his ironing. And he still takes out the garbage, and does the gardening. It’s not like he doesn’t help out – he does. Heaps. But it’s just… different. He has a list. He ticks the items off. He reaches the end of the list. He sits down, and he plays Battlefield 3.

I have a list. It grows by 5 items for every 2 that I tick off. And while I’m ticking the items off, I worry that I’m not making the most of my time with Arddun.

I really get it now. I really understand what they’ve been saying, when they say that motherhood is a full-time job. It is. It never stops. It is unrelenting, and there are no weekends because there are no imaginary lines. And I’ll tell you why there are no imaginary lines. It’s because Mothers are Women. And Women mostly don’t know when – or how – to switch off.

I was reading Kate’s blog post yesterday, and how she’s loving the age of 2 because suddenly, it’s not that full on. The tykes, they’re more independent then. They can communicate a little clearer, they can play independently for longer. And I love my little girl. But she’s not a big napper, so she’s awake a lot of the time and always getting into scrapes and gosh I’m tired. My house was a mess when I was a white collar worker, because I was hardly at home. And now it’s a mess when I’m a SAHM, because we’re always at home.

And I feel like I accomplish precious little. Always.

Will the voices in my head please pop a Valium and drop off?

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