I’ve been writing this post in my head for a long time. It’s a challenge to write, to put the words down, to know how my heart truly feels.
For most of this year I have been a working mother. A mother who leaves home every morning, kisses each boy in turn, checks every backpack, pulls jumpers and hats from racks, quickly changes a nappy, and, on some days, clutches a boy, holds him a little too tight because the thought of leaving him for the day feels too much.
And then I am a mother who returns 8 or 9 hours later to unpack backpacks, quickly change a nappy, kiss each boy in turn, cook dinner, sign excursion notes, play Go Fish, give raspberries on a particularly plump belly, run the bath, put on a load of washing, extract slightly dirty pyjamas from a load forgotten, prepare lunches and maybe even bake a snack slightly healthier than the lollies favoured by the ever-loving nanny.
None of this felt enough. In these moments with my children I never felt enough. I was either thinking about work or pushing petrified thoughts from my mind that perhaps I was not doing the best by my children.
This year as a full time working mother was one of the hardest roads I have travelled. And it is a road faced by all mothers at some stage. By those leaving the home to work or by those daydreaming of doing the same.
Anne Marie Slaughter recently wrote an extremely powerful and eloquent essay about this very issue. Her words, her ideas and her feelings do this topic a much greater justice than mine. Please read it.
But something I want to add, something I haven’t yet read or heard in the voluminous commentary on Slaughter’s article, is this: I don’t feel that women should have it all. In fact, I think that phrase, that notion, is indulgent and anti-feminist. It seems to assume that while women still don’t have it all, somehow they are entitled to.* And just because our brains might be big, I don’t think that evolution is moving towards us “having it all”.
I can’t help but feel that a far more complex and challenging idea is our inability to be it all. When I use the word ‘our’ here, I’m not sure whether I’m referring to mothers or women, and I think this matters. I’m going to follow the argument of mothers but I can’t help but feel that the word ‘women’ might easily replace that.
What I did feel as working mother was that I wasn’t able to be the person I wanted to be in any facet of my life. I wasn’t the employee, or the teacher I wanted to be, or that I felt was inside me. And nor, by any means, was I the mother I thought I could be. The mother I felt my boys needed.
So, while different aspects of my self were engaged, while I appreciated using my brain and talking about literature and ideas, while I was thankful to not be wiping bottoms, while I loved reading my iPad on the train, ordering my coffee and sipping it slowly on. my. own, while I relished laughing with adults, sharing books and music and dirty jokes, while I got a kick walking through crowds pretending to myself I wasn’t a mother - never did I feel that I was fully present in any role I found myself. I felt acutely that I was never being what I felt I could be.
And this felt ill-fitting.
I have no answers in this post. Instead, there are just questions going round my head about what this whole motherhood thing requires of us. I can’t help but think of the many sacrifices we are all making all the time, whether we are out working or at home all day with children. And I worry what toll these sacrifices may have. I guess I am unsettled by the complexity of this issue by how amorphous it feels, by how many factors we are required to juggle – financial, emotional, psychological,and physical to name just a few.
For the most part now, as a full time stay at home mother, I do feel, moment-to-moment that I am being all that I can be. And for that, in this quiet breath right now, I’m very, very grateful.
But I know, before long, that little whisper will start. You know, the one that says, ‘isn’t there more than this? aren’t you more than this? don’t you have anything else to offer?’ And then, I fear, that self, the one who feels pretty great right now, will start to feel not-so-great and wonder if she can be more, be bigger, be better.
Some days, just some, these crazy things play around in my head.
*(I know that subsequent to the article’s publication, Slaughter has acknowledged the ambivalence of this phrase).
** (and, during this time, nearly all stay-at-home mothers I knew expressed envy at the opportunity I had to be someone other than the mother of my children)