“How are you finding motherhood?”
It’s a simple enough question.
Ted’s eighteen months now so I’m not asked it that often anymore anyway. But when I am, it can throw me, as much as being asked to choose my favourite biscuit. (Chocolate digestive. No, custard cream. No, HobNob. PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME PICK ONE.)
I find that my response – to the motherhood question, not the biscuit question – depends on who the asker is.
There’s a chance that they have asked it only as a pleasantry; a neighbour or a casual acquaintance maybe doesn’t want details. Fair enough. Ted’s growing personality is a joy to behold, to ME, but I realise I am biased in seeing miraculous beauty in all of his little quirks, like when he farts and then laughs.
And I bore myself sometimes when relaying tales of Ted’s crap sleep patterns to my family, and try not to subject anyone else to them.
So I tell the casual asker little more than ‘brilliant’/’great’, and wonder if it makes me sound like the ‘bovvered’ character from Catherine Tate.
(Apologies for the noughties cultural reference. I don’t watch much TV nowadays because I go to bed very early – see above re: crap sleep.)
Other times I’m asked the motherhood question, and I might as well be on another telly programme, this time a detective drama. I’m the accused, being cross-examined in a box room at the back of the police station, demanding to phone my lawyer. (It’s an American show.)
The asker of the question is the bad cop, waiting for a confession. Shining a light into my eyes and able to see right into my soul.
So, Laura. How are you finding motherhood?
How are you really finding it?
Be honest now.
There’s no point lying, because we KNOW.
We KNOW that you sometimes scroll mindlessly on your phone while your son plays with his MegaBloks, or looks at his books. On his own. On his own! What kind of mother are you?
We KNOW there are days when you count down the hours until Graham gets home so you’re not ‘solo parenting’ anymore.
We KNOW that some mornings you can hear your son in the next room, awake and demanding attention, but you stay in bed that little bit longer, desperate to eke out those last precious seconds of time alone.
Oh yes, Laura.
It happened the other day – an ‘interrogation’, from a work associate I’d not seen in a while.
In reality, it was nothing of the sort, and afterwards, I realised that these feelings – of being grilled like a common criminal – often surface when I’m asked the motherhood question by other mums.
Mums who I’m not necessarily friends with and maybe – as is the case with the work associate – ones who became mothers before me, who might have this parenting lark sussed.
More sussed than I have, anyway.
And so I found myself mumbling things like “oh it’s great, but my parents have him for two and a half days, I’m not sure I would have coped otherwise.” Making myself out to be half a mum because I only have him solo for half the working week.
Why? Why can’t I simply say “It’s great, thank you. He’s the most wonderful thing on this earth; I feel lucky and grateful every day and wish I could capture all the tiniest details of him in my mind forever, but looking after him is occasionally tiring and dull.”
It’s judgement, of course. Perceived judgement from other people, from other mums.
Motherhood is a funny beast: so many of us are going through the exact same experiences that ought to bind us. And sometimes they do, yet other times it’s like we’re pitching against one another. Who’s the best? Who’s the winner?
But note the word ‘perceived’. Perceived judgement. Not actual judgement.
And so I recognise that the biggest interrogator here is my old pal, the inner critic. Shining her massive torch in my face.
Because now I’ve written about being grilled by other mums, I realise what a twit I sound.
I mean, AS IF other mums really give a monkey’s about what I’m doing with my kid! (And if they do, then can I have some of their spare time, please?)
So next time I’m asked the question I will try not to be thrown. I will instruct my old pal, the inner critic to shut up.
I will remind myself that other mums, other people, really don’t care (in the nicest possible way) about Ted’s crap sleep or his post-fart chortles – so tell them or don’t tell them, no big deal.
And I’ll remember that anyone who really does care – because they care about me, and Ted – will know that the real answers to the question cannot possibly be summed up in a sentence or two, anyway.