Over two weeks ago now, I left my children – both in tears as they watched me walk away towards the station from the living room window – and got on a plane to Vancouver to meet a room full of women, most of whom I had never met in my life. It was incredible and powerful and I am still trying to unpack everything that happened there.
Today, ten days after I got home, I had no plans again. I don’t do well on no plans, so after the little one had napped this morning, I got us all ready to go (remembering at the last minute that the laundry needed to be hung up, and so giving them cheese straws to much to stop them yelling with impatience at my bad planning) and then headed for the same train station. I decided on the way that we’d just get on whatever train came first. There are only really four directions that could take us in and I was ok with any of them, but when the lift doors opened on the platform and a green train was just rolling in headed for the city, I realised I’d been hoping for this.
The river is my happy place in London. Ok, I have a lot of happy places in this big beautiful city, but there’s something about the river. Maybe it’s the space of it – it’s wide at this point of course, and so you’re given a reprieve from the mass of buildings rising up and stealing the sky from view. I reach the edge of it’s muddy grey banks and feel like I have some breathing space again.
It was drizzling with rain when we got off the train, so we wandered around Borough Market first and bought a pretzel to share, and then slowly made our way along Southbank to the Tate Modern, where all local parents-of-toddlers know that there is a massive open indoor ramp to let your bored tinies off the leash and run. Kaya went from top to bottom, each time making me nervous she’d just keep going out the doors at the top, but she’d always turn around, stand looking around until she located me, then grin and sprint off down the ramp towards me. Oskar was just as happy trying to keep up with her and failing.
Later, I tried to buy them lunch from my favourite healthy fast food place, but they both rejected it (apparently fish finger wraps are not nice when they include hipster condiments) and we all three had a minor breakdown in the middle of the station.
It was one of those days – and they are most of mine – that is both wonderful and horrible depending on what moment you ask me.
After my six days away in Vancouver, one of the most frequent questions I’ve been asked was, “did you miss the kids?” And of course the answer is yes. I missed them. The day they both cried on the phone when we video called, I struggled to let go of that image the rest of the day. But truth be told, it felt like the most natural place in the world to be. To be learning and sharing and speaking and connecting and praying and writing – this is where I feel most myself.
I know I am a good mama.
It’s hard to actually write it out because I’ve conditioned myself over many years to not say nice things about myself, even if I think they might be true (and I think society does this to a lot of women). But I think I am a good mum. I work really hard at it. I read lots of articles and I pin all the activities and I try to treat my children as fully formed humans, with opinions and emotions that matter and are reasonable in their little world. I play with them and feed them mostly-healthy food and apologise to them when I yell too much. I look up books at the library I think they will enjoy and I keep rocking them to sleep because they like it even though they make my arms ache and I try always to take their opinions into consideration.
But it never feels like it comes naturally. A thousand times a day I am taking a deep breath and beginning again. There are days that Rasmus comes home, hears the strained sound in my voice, notices the glazed look in my eyes, and gently steers them away from me like I’m a bomb about to explode. I adore them, and many moments they make it easy for me. They can be funny and sweet and interesting and affectionate, and in those moments it feels wonderful. But a lot of the day is just the business of mothering – the nappies and the mealtimes and the washing hands and making sure someone is not falling down the stairs/eating days-old food off the floor/knocking over mama’s favourite lamp.
Why am I writing this? Because I think there are more mamas like me out there, who love their kids intensely and yet do not find that this motherhood thing comes as naturally as they feel like it should. Mamas who frequently lock themselves in the bathroom to get a minute’s peace. Mamas who will spend hours reading and researching because we care enough to want to do this right, but who feel like it never gets any easier.
The media and our Western society has a huge problem portraying mothers generally, but one of the things I think is especially harmful is the idea that the best mothers are the ones who can do the whole thing without ever breaking a sweat or wanting to throw anything/one out of the nearest window.
Somehow the idea of a good mother has become knotted together with the idea of the natural mother. Maybe it’s time to untie the knot? Maybe we can admit a bit more often that it doesn’t come easy, and we really need that glass of wine by the end of the day, and that’s really ok. That I am working hard at this? That makes me a good mum. That I am willing to start over again and again? That makes me a good mum. That I chose to model commitment and vulnerability to my kids? That makes me a good mum.
I sounds sure of it right now, I bet. But believe me when I say I fully preaching to myself right now. I need to hear this message every day. Some days that looks like messaging a friend or family member for the reminder that this is normal. Some days I just tell it to myself over and over as I sip that glass of wine. And some days I forget it and I go to bed in a defeated, exhausted mess.
I learnt a long time ago that if I am feeling or experiencing something, chances are I’m not the only one. So if you’re currently hiding out in the bathroom, I’m here to remind you, you are doing a really great job. I mean it.
It doesn’t need to come naturally. It’s ok if you struggle and fail and swear a bit too often. It’s ok if you feel like you find your easy rhythm in a different context. It’s ok if you really really need the space of a wide river or the retreat of a locked bathroom door every so often. I know you love your kids and are doing your very best for them. Me too. That’s all that matters.