In these confusing times where there is a threat to me, my children and my family, I have been reflecting on my experience of motherhood. The choices I’ve had to make on their behalf, the mountain of things I’ve needed to know or to learn. The mistakes I have made, the successes I’ve had. The awkward conversations, the tears and tantrums (some of them mine).During my first pregnancy, I was bombarded with other people’s experiences and horror stories of pregnancy and birth. Luckily I sailed through, enjoyed the experience and had a relatively easy birth. I had qualifications and years of experience working in childcare under my belt. When I stepped into parenting, I thought I had it all sorted.
Parenting, however, was not quite the breeze I thought it would be. My son, as good a baby as he was by day, was exhausting. He was a poor sleeper and woke every hour for four months. It wasn’t until I sought the advice from a book that I got it together. The three next babies each brought with them their own challenges. On baby one, you have more time and energy to give. Life, baby two, life, baby three, life, baby four, life – time passes you by so quickly. When they are little, the decisions are easier – choose the school, the food they eat, parenting, sporting activities and live your family life.
One of the early hard decisions for us came in the form of deciding whether to change schools to be closer to where I worked and we lived. This was one of the first times I had considered the implications of my decisions on their future. What would happen for them if I made a mistake? They were settled in school and doing well. Should I really disrupt that and risk the potential of them not settling in a new school? Maybe they’d be bullied or not fit in. They might not get on with the teachers. These potential problems could ruin their experience of school, just to make my life easier.
That is when it struck me that the decision couldn’t be made on that basis of making my life easier, I had to consider what was best for them. It was an eye opener, it made me really think about all future decisions and actions. I realised what it meant to make decisions on their behalf – their health, education, and their future. Make no mistakes, each child is different with different needs, wants and desires. What a scary prospect that was.Would parenting be easier if we only had to parent, with no other commitments, no other distractions? Parenting isn’t the only responsibility. It comes with a whole host of expectations, guilt and challenges. Multiply these by the number of children you have and bang! Your world and life is filled with making the right decision for each child.
As my children got older, it became apparent that I had their whole development on my shoulders. There were days that I had to consider not only where they needed to be, what they were doing, timing everything. But I was responsible for their development – milestones in their language, cognitive, mental, emotional and physical skills. My depression reduced my ability to parent my children ‘my way’ for a long time and the guilt was debilitating. It was my responsibility to help them develop social skills, their decision making skills, their friendship and relationship skills, their education decisions, their personality.Here and now, in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, the worry isn’t less. I am constantly thinking about all four of them as individuals, and as a family unit.
My role is adapting to the challenges of this current lockdown situation. I’m focussing on helping them understand this situation by engaging them in discussions, and on a practical level, what we need to do if one or more of us gets this awful virus. We’re talking about the future – what happens next, what happens when this is over. I’m sharing my opinions, but pointing out these are my opinions (and they don’t have to agree). I’m working on being emotionally available even on low mood days – and there have been plenty of those.
I am trying to live ‘in the moment’, day to day, which seems to be working. The children are communicating and playing together, thinking ahead to good times, dreaming big and making plans. Thinking of the immediate future – when the honeymoon period ends and they have had enough of each other and the fighting starts – how they can work through that. But even the future beyond that, the worry that comes with the removal of predictability indicators. Thankfully social media allows them to stay socially connected with their friends. But the kids’ lives have been changed. Their patterns have been disrupted – they’ve not finished school term as they otherwise would.
I have had to be tough and I’ve had to be fair. I’ve had to be challenged and I’ve made mistakes along the way. I’m pretty sure that with children aged 18, 15, 13 and 10, I still have a lot of mistakes to make. We can forgive ourselves for our mistakes and learn from them to be better. Parenting is one of the hardest jobs we will ever do, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Will mothers ever stop worrying? I guess the answer is no, all we can do is our best.