This motherhood #1 Can you have it all?
This is the start of a new series about the experience of being a mother and the state that it induces - whether that's one society imposes on us or, simply, the way the very act of mothering, makes us feel.
It's a space where I'm going to discuss my experiences as a mother - hopefully exploring them in the context of my environment. I'll also explore current ideas on motherhood in the media, and persue new ideas and thinking on parenthood.
I've been reading and enjoying a relatively new book this week, Mama: Love, Motherhood and Revolution by Antonella Gambotto-Burke, that claims to explore the empathic connection between mother and child in the wider context of our society. It's the kind of book that I love to read slowly because it makes me think about the way I act. And it says something out loud, something that's been running round my head on a loop for years...
"Being just a mother is no longer enough..."
Although this is not a new phenomenon, in fact, the debate over whether women can 'have it all' raged yet again in the British media only last week when Vivienne Durham, head of a top private London girl's school, was quoted as dispelling this myth as 'a lie' despite talking, in the interview with The Telegraph about juggling, and demands and ultimately, choices.
What Gambotto Burke does in her book, though, is try to uncover what's driving this perceived pressure and she lists the advancement of technology, the rise of social media and the general fast pace of life as culprits. Women feel more pressure to 'do it all' than ever before. It says:
'No one now wants to be known as just a mother. Many women want to be much more. They want to have their own identity, their own life. They do not want to be oppressed by the 1930’s stereotype of what a woman should be. Instead, they want to be greater, achieve higher, and accomplish more …”
While understanding this need, it counteracts the desire to 'have it all' while running through life at 100 miles per hour, by exploring the idea that mothers have lost touch with their innate feminine wisdom, and poses a strong image of a timeline of mothers - a timeline that stretches back through everyone's personal history. It hands the power back to women and asserts, ultimately, that mothers are responsibile for growing people and the making of the world.
Reading this book has felt like a relief. It's felt like an antidote to the worry that I've been struggling with. This worry has been bothering me ever since my first pregnancy at the age of 28, ten years ago. And it's been all about angst-ridden me, and all the things that, by spending my time mothering, I'm not doing, or missing out on.
For years I agonised over what it meant to leave my responsibility-free days behind and be a mother, devoting my time not to writing that best selling novel, or sketching out the radio play I've had in my head for years, or working on a feature for a magazine, but to taking care of my children's needs. I wondered about my role in a society where the act of caring, of simply being altruistic, has no value - something which is proven within the nursing, childcare and caring professions where health care professionals are awarded with shockingly low pay and zero status.
In my early to mid 30's, I felt optimistic about the future (most of the time). I had two young children and although life was very busy and chaotic, I believed that I had lots of opportunities open to me. I started writing again and was a young journalist, a young mother. But turning 34, 35, then 36 (when I had my third baby) and 37, 38, has felt like standing in a long corridor where the doors are being slammed shut. One by one.
In reality, I've been incredibly lucky. Throughout those years I had good health, a really wonderful partner, three beautiful children, a working brain. I'd managed to carry on writing and earning money. But it came at a cost. I was always in a rush, speeding through life without noticing what was going on around me.
When I had my first baby, Lila, I felt the world around me switch off, and I spent my days studying her little face, marvelling at each new tiny movement. I was enraptured and although I was tired to the point of exhaustion, I responded to her cues with ease. Back then, I had no one else to think of. My husband was wonderful and took care of the food shopping and cooking. He kept our little flat tidy and clean so I could focus on the baby. The pace of life seemed to flow easily.
With the birth of our second child, Oscar, then our third, Iris, things became so much more complicated. And as our family grew, so did the demands placed on me, to the point where I found it very hard to be switched on to everyone's individual needs all of the time. By then, the pressure of work seemed to ring loud in my ears like an intermittent bell - at times pulling me reluctantly from my children, and at others providing welcome respite.
I also had work commitments and other relationships to maintain. But that was hard. And I like to think that at that time, the people (who I love) in my life learned that sometimes, less is more. Because things changed. Amongst all the chaos, I learned to slow down. I realised that, in the absence of deadlines and a fast paced office job, I'd imposed the same environment on myself - in order to feel valued.
I now know that it's possible to have all the things I desire - the writing, the creativity, the freedom and the ability to give love freely and openly to my three children. If I let it be. If I go at it more slowly. After all, I can have it all, but unless I want to run myself ragged, I can't do it all.
The process of mothering has been a real learning curve so far. To be honest it challenges me every day. Having three children has taught me how to love more and how all children, like adults, are different, with different needs and different temperaments. I've realised that every mood, every difficulty my children experience is an act of communication on their behalf. And if I focus on taking my cues from them, in every aspect of life, things can and do fall into place.