Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Are You a Good Mum?

I was reading an article about Claudia Karvan, the actress. I think it was a few years ago it was written, I was busy doing 'research' and ended up reading about her, her life, her family etc. She said she thought she was a good mum. And she meant it in a completely non egotistical way. She said she could remember hearing growing up about post natal depression and mum's who couldn't relate to their children and she thought, 'That'll be me, I'll be the one chucking my baby out the window." But she was pleasantly surprised to find she was a good mum. It was one of those things she said that she was good at. She was a good mum.

Even just reading those words I knew what my answer was to that question.
I knew if anyone asked me if I was a good mum what my answer would be. I wish I could answer in that egoless way that she had. I wish it just rolled off my tongue. I wished I could say it too. You know, honestly, say it. Even just to myself. But I couldn't, because it wasn't true. I didn't think I was. I don't think I am a good mother.

And I can't work out if that came as a shock to me or not.

Was this just a bad morning for me? Was I simply having a moment? Did I for instance think perhaps I was good at other things or was I just glum and thinking I was crap at everything? Maybe I wasn't a bad mother, maybe it was just a boo-hoo I'm crap at everything day.

I went over a list of things to see what I thought I was good at.
Before children, I was an interior designer. Was I a good interior designer? Yes, I knew I was. I love design, I am passionate and excited about good design. Architecture that is innovative and cool and interesting takes my breath away. I could get lost in photographs of beautiful interiors and exteriors of buildings and homes and shops and spaces. Good design makes me feel alive. Designing beautiful plans and interiors made me feel creatively fulfilled and I knew I was good at it. I was good at being a designer.

After children, I became a writer (although to be fair, I have been writing all of my adult life, I started writing my first book when I was 17). Was I good writer? Yes, I was. I am a good writer. These thoughts came easily to me. I knew I was a good interior designer and I knew I was a good writer. I love words. I love the way words string together to entice you, to incite you, to inflame you, to inspire you and to make you fall in love. I love the way words have the ability to take emotions and confer them to another so that they can feel the same beat of your pain, your lust, your joy, your desperation. I love that I can write, that I can do that with words. I love that the thoughts I think have the ability to be translated into text. I love that others can share the vision I have in my head, the same way I could make my vision a reality in construction in design, that my sketches on paper became a three dimensional space, built, from my mind into reality. And its the same with writing. I love the shaping of that first thought in my head to the final draft on a page. Am I a good writer? Yes. I know, to my core that I am a good writer. And even if I weren't, even if everyone else thought I was crap at it, I love writing so intensely, that it wouldn't matter to me if no-one ever read a word, I would have such satisfaction and joy at simply writing on my own, that it would make little difference what another thought of my skills.

And just as easily as I could say that I was a good writer, a good designer. I realised, I was not a good mother.
What a terrible moment - when I realised that.

And so the list went on. I searched around inside my head for all the things I might classify myself as good or bad at. Many things I could honestly say I was good at. And many things I could honestly say I was terrible at. Cartwheels for example are not my forte. Cooking wholesome meals, again, not high on the list of what I was capable of. But mother-hood? God. It was killing me. Why couldn't I say I was a good mother? Even to myself? With no-one else looking? Just say it. Fake it. You can say it. But I couldn't. Because I didn't believe it to be true.

There have been very few things I have dedicated myself to with such discipline and grit and raw fucking determination as this. This thing called motherhood. I have tried like I have tried at nothing else to be good at this. To excel at it. To be the best mother that is possible. I have tried until I feel like screaming inside my head that it is just not possible to be a good mother. That it is not possible for me to be a good mother. I don't have nearly enough patience. The little people drive me bonkers with their constant demands. Their constant craving to be appreciated and needed and desired and cared for and cleaned and taken care of, it is all consuming. And I suspect it is not helped by the fact I have an intrinsic desire to be free. I am not the person that woke up in the world and wanted someone to hold my hand. I woke up wanting to run across a field, unfettered, with no-one to clip my wings or tie me down. And yet, here I am, ridiculously independent and yet, I am tied down by three, count them, three, enormous anchors, anchors that talk, walk and require 24/7 attention.

Is that why I am not a good mother? Are the independent cursed not to make good anchor holders?

So why did I have three? Surely you work out that you are not a good mother and give up after one? I mean that would make sense? Well, I don't know, is the answer. I have always felt a strong desire to have children, to bring children into the world. The same way I have a strong desire to travel the world and explore the mysteries of the universe. The same way I have a strong desire to question the world, to ask why. The same desire I have to stand up for what is wrong and to passionately defend the things I believe in. That same strong desire drove me to have children. Which I think is a different desire to the desire to become a mother? I always find it interesting when mothers say they love having babies, that they could have a million babies if they never grew up. And each time I hear it, half of me wonders what's wrong with me? And the other half wonders, what's wrong with them? How can they like babies? God they are awful things, they are attached to you all day and half the night, they require all your attention and they give nothing back. I love them once they are little humans, when they have a personality, when they can talk and stomp their feet, when I can witness their passionate little tantrums, watch them find their voice, their laughter, their unique sense of humour. I love the pure life force that each child has locked within their body. I love watching the baby as it grows, as that life force starts to open, to bloom and I get to see that, to witness the start of a new person, a new being. I get to cuddle that little person, to whisper the secrets of the world to them, to go finding fairies with them, to tell them how to be a kind and compassionate person, how to stand up for what is right and for what they believe in. I get to help them be the best people they are capable of being. But babies, pfft. They're all snuggles and boob-feeding and hours and hours of rocking in prams and cots before they finally go to sleep, only to wake up twenty minutes later.

So I started to break down what I thought good mothering was. Perhaps I wasn't all bad? Maybe I have a few saving graces? Was there I wondered, elements of good mothering that I displayed with my children? One of my pet peeves with children is adults who don't discipline their kids. I find brattish kids really hard to stomach. And I think as parents, our job is to show them the guidelines on how to act as decent people. They are apprentices in a new world, learning the ropes. They are testing boundaries to see which boundaries are OK to push and which aren't. And I think that teaching kids how to be decent people, how to treat people ethically and with dignity and respect is important. So discipline to me is important. Making sure they understand there are consequences for poor behaviour is important to me. I dont agree with smacking, I've never been one to condone physical acts (I dont think arguments should be solved with violence etc) and so I don't use it as a method to punish my own children. But that does mean I have to be very on top of using other methods. If I say we leave the park if I see one more act of unkindness, meaness or hitting or whatever, then we leave the park. If we are at home, they will sit on the thinking set for one minute of every year of their life. If we were going to have ice-cream, then the ice-cream goes if they misbehave. It requires effort a lot of effort. A lot of my effort. Often I dont want to leave the park, I'm enjoying talking to another mum. Often I am looking forward to the ice-cream as much as they are. And often I am tired and would rather ignore the poor behaviour so I don't have to deal with the fall out of having to discipline it. Or perhaps it's an effort for me because I dont want to have to drag a screaming kid onto a thinking step and drag them back onto it half a dozen times while they try to escape, frankly a good slap would take half the time and I could be onto something else. But I dont slap, and it does take me ten times the time and effort to discipline in other ways but I do it. I do it because it's important to me. And I try not to yell at the kids. I try and be the quiet, the still, in the eye of the hurricane. It doesn't always work. God knows some days I'm all but pulling the hair out of my head and screaming at them like some wild woman of borneo yelling, "FOR GOD"S SAKE WILL YOU STOP FIGHTING WITH EACH OTHER!" And often I will have one of them tell me off for yelling. "We dont yell in this house mummy." And they are right. They've listened when I've told them not to yell at me or each other, when I've said, "No yelling, we dont yell in this house." And it's good for me to have my little teachers point out when I've got it wrong, when I need to be the adult and not have my own 30 plus year old version of a tantrum.
So, am I a good disciplinarian, do I teach them the ropes of what is acceptable behaviour and what isnt? Am I consistant? Do I give the same message each time, and give them the same results each time?
Yes, absolutely. My children get away with very little, I am onto them like a tonne of bricks for displays of poor manners, bad attitude and fits of indulgent temper. I may not be a good mum, but I would make an excellent Sargent Major.

Am I good moral compass for my children, do I show them the way of being that I'd like them to be as adults, to be the sort of people that make the world a better place? Yes I think I do that. Do I make sure their clothes are washed and that they are fed? Sure, I think I have the basics of survival covered.

So what was it that I was missing?
What made a good mum? What did I do or not do, after all my hard work of trying, that left me, bereft of good mothering skills?
In my mind, a good mum enjoys being a mum. She loves her role as Mother.
And I don't.
God it kills me to say that - I dont like being a mum. I have worked so hard at it, but I don't like it. And I feel a thousand eyes boring into me when I say that, as though I've just committed the prime sin of motherhood. How can you not like being a mum? How can you say that aloud?

A good mum enjoys being with her children, regularly, say 80-90% of the time.
Oh, I think perhaps this is where I fail so miserably at being a good mum. I find I spend 80-90% of my time with my children in bootcamp mode. I am organising, dressing, resolving fights, managing tantrums, driving, picking up, dropping off, doing homework, mopping up spills, sending kids to their rooms, taking them to parks, washing, changing pooey nappies, wiping down the couch, making dinner, watching dinner dropped all over the floor and al and sundry declaring they don't want to eat it... enjoy it? No. I feel like a slave to my little troup. And no, I do not enjoy them, in much the same way any slave is resentful to their unrelenting master. But at night, when I read them books, when I snuggle up and kiss them good night or when I find myself sitting on the floor talking to one of them about life, about the world, about the princess wand gripped tightly in her hand, I take a moment to breathe and recognise, here, at this moment I am enjoying them. Reckon, I'd figure I get about 10% enjoyment from my kids.
The rest is just hard slog.

And finally I think a good mother is indulgent with her time with her children. She luxuriates in being with them, in spending time that is real time, not just 'managing them' time. She laughs with them, she plays with them and she doesnt spend every five minutes thinking is it too early for a gin and tonic? A good mother, one that I am not, gets off on being with her kids. And I do not.

And that saddens me more than I can tell you. Not becasuse I know I have worked so hard at being a good mum, God if i haven't read every book under the sun, spent hours working out the best way to raise my children, the best way to discipline them without smacking without yelling, the best way to encourage them, to make them believe they are the most precious people in the world but at the same time teaching them about compassion to others and love. I have tried to let them experience the world of dance, the world of music, the world of make-believe. I have tried so hard I'm about to keel over from all the effort. So it is sad to me, to realise I don't consider myself a good mum. But worse is that my children have to have a mum who is not a good mum. That surely must be the hardest part to swallow. How could I have followed a burning desire to have children and not realise that to do so, you must also become a mother? I think perhaps, I just wanted to be their guide, their touchstone, their safe place to fall when life got so hard they didnt know where to turn. I didnt know that motherhood was going to be this one long tiring journey that never stops, not even in the middle of the night. I didnt see any of that before I set out to realise my burning desire - my desire to have children.

But it came to me yesterday. If i know what I think makes a good mother, then maybe now I can work on that. Maybe now I can put my efforts into that. And maybe I can be less harsh on myself and realise that I do some aspects OK. Some parts I have worked out. Some parts are worthy of saying i'm a good mum, even if it's just to myself. Because I know, when I wrap their ittle bodies up in mine and I tell them they are the most amazing little person I have ever met, I know they know it's true, that mama wouldnt tell them that, if it wasn't true. And if I want my time as 'mother' to have achieved anything, it's that my children grow up knowing they are amazing, unique and wonderful people. I think that's the very least a mum can do.


  1. Sweetie, the simple fact you spend so much time thinking about your little people and how you relate to them and how to make their lives as amazing as possible makes you a good mum. A great mum in fact. And for what it's worth, I think you do enjoy 'them' 100% of the time you're with them - not necessarily the 'admin' tasks like washing and supervising and referring fights, but the times you sit and discuss their views on the world, getting to know their friends, soothing fears and laughing with them at something ridiculous. I think it's too easy for us Mums to confuse the tasks kids force on us with the kids themselves. xx

  2. I think you are spot on with your last statement. We do confuse the two. I think tho, we are aware of what we are good at, and what we aren't. And it was a jolt for me to realise that I wasn't able to say, with all the jaunty ease of someone who is happily aware of their own abilities, "I am a good Mum."

    A shock, a jolt and a moment or two of sincere reflection. After 6 years, I genuinely would have hoped to have thought otherwise. But I am ever optimistic that I can work towards saying that in the future.
    I, Susanna McArdle am a good mother.
    And mean it - to my core.

  3. What worries me is not so much whether I am a good mum but whether I am in fact being the best mum I can be given my lack of innate mother skills or ability.

  4. I hear ya lady. I hear ya,....oh,..and I miss you! lets catch up xxxx