Thursday, 14 August 2014
Just wait until… What I know about mothering
When Cherry was a baby I never felt able to legitimately talk with any authority about motherhood because I would be met with indulgent laughter and 'just wait until….'
Just wait until she can crawl. All hell will break loose! Just wait until she's walking. You'll never sleep again! Just wait until she's talking. You'll break all your vows about not shouting at her or using punitive discipline!
Just wait until she's 35, THEN you'll know how soul-destroying parenting can be….
It felt like there would never be a time when I would be qualified to talk honestly and openly about mothering. I couldn't talk about it when Cherry was a baby because what did I, a judgemental and starry-eyed new mother of The Most Perfect Baby The World Had Ever Seen, know?
But the sense always was that I would 'forget' how she was as a baby or 'rose tint' it so therefore I couldn't talk honestly or reliably about it as she grew.
'Oh, you've forgotten,' replaced 'just wait until.'
Now Cherry is to turn three at the end of the year and V is nearly one. I feel a bit more qualified to talk about mothering. I have not forgotten what it is to have a baby nor am I unaware of what awaits when my baby grows into a walking, talking, infuriating, exasperating, incredible toddler.
(If you 'just wait until she's a threenager' at me I swear, I WILL END YOU)
Here's what I know about mothering:
Mothering isn't a job - a role. It's a state of being. We can 'do nothing' all day and have still mothered our children. This is not 'doing nothing'. This is active. Even passivity is active. Sitting feeding a newborn. Cuddling a hysterical toddler. Lying next to a two-year-old who is afraid of the rain, soothing them to sleep, stroking their hair, holding their hand. Carrying a teething baby up and down the stairs at night because it soothes them. This is not work. It is mothering.
It is hard sometimes - I have found the last year in particular relentless - but this is not to say it is bad. On the contrary it is life-affirming. Easy is good too, don't get me wrong! But hard is good because it is purposeful.
If it's too hard, it's not the child that's at fault, or usually the mother. It's the support networks around the mother or more accurately, the lack of support around the mother and the lack of respect for her status.
Just wait until your baby grows into a toddler! It gets better and better and you will love it more and more.
Judge less and understand more. Other than in very, very unusual circumstances, there is no such thing as a 'bad' mother, only a mother who does not have enough support.
It really, really, really doesn't matter when your child crawls, walks, talks, reads, writes. You can no more 'teach' a baby to roll over or stand up than you can 'teach' a goldfish to dance. Your child will meet all the milestones, with very few exceptions, when he or she is ready.
If all of your friends' babies are sleeping through the night AND eating everything put in front of them AND talking AND walking at six months, all or at least some of your friends are, I'm afraid, lying. People lie a lot about their children. Often they don't even realise they're doing it. They just stretch the truth because they're proud and they care what you think.
If your friend's baby really is sleeping through the night OR eating everything put in front of them OR walking OR talking at six months this doesn't mean they are a better mother than you or that your baby 'should' be doing what their baby is doing. It means they are a different mother who has made different choices with a different baby who has developed at a different rate to yours.
If it's YOUR baby who is sleeping through, walking, talking and eating everything at six months this does not make you the World's Greatest Mother and qualified to dole out advice to those lesser than you. It means you have a different baby and have made different choices to your friends.
If it does get hard and you do complain this doesn't mean you're a failure as a mother or hate being a mother or hate your children or should do something else with your time. It means you're human and have given birth to a human child, not a robot.
All new mothers will be starry-eyed and slightly judgemental, just as we were. They will learn, just as we did, that nothing around mothering is as clearly defined as it first appears.
It is wiser to be kind than it is to be 'right'. So if a mother does change her mind, or change her approach, or change her views - as I have, as we all have I don't doubt - it is kinder to support her choices than to crow 'I TOLD YOU you wouldn't stick to it!'
Another mother's choice is not a reflection, criticism or judgement of your choice. It's just her choice.
As with marriage, mothering is best practiced with great kindness. Kindness to ourselves, kindness to our children, and kindness to those starry-eyed new mothers whose romantic ideals we may want to laughingly dismiss with 'just wait until...'