Tuesday, April 7, 2009

My Dirty Little Secret

So in my week of no-children bliss I was chilling out yesterday watching Oprah during what would usually be the kids bath and bedtime. While drinking vodka. I can't tell you how decadent it felt. The subject was motherhood - the warts and all version. It was reassuring to watch this programme and feel SANE. As sane as every woman featured who was openly admitting how bloody tough it was. The focus of the hour was mums dirty little secrets. Here are a few of them that made me chortle:

'I fear being alone with all three of my kids for any extended period of time...like an hour or more'

'We forgot to buckle our 2 year old into his car seat. When we went round the corner, he flew over to the next seat and screamed 'fuckers!''

'Sometimes I purposefully stay at work one hour longer at the end of the day so I 'miss' the bedtime routine'

'My son threw a colossal tantrum in the middle of a nice boutique. To stop the screaming I took the gum out of my mouth and shoved it into his. Then I realised that all 5 people in the shop including the manager were looking at me completely horrified'

'I do my son's homework just so we can get through it faster. I grab his pencil and he looks at me like I've lost my mind'

'One morning I couldn't find my travel mug, so I poured coffee into my son's sippy cup and drank it in the car on the way to work'

'Planning dinner usually throws me over the edge. One night I was stressing out and my 4 year old just looked up at me and said 'just order a fucking pizza!'

'Note to husband: Dinner? Don't even ask. There is no dinner. There will never be dinner. Just stop coming home hungry. Unless YOU have a plan, there will be no plan. And by the way, I'm hungry too'

The overall consensus was that most mothers feel alone, inadequate and overwhelmed. Now I don't know if it is the same in the UK because I have been raising my boys in the US, pretty much without any support, but in my experience American women just aren't as candid and open as their British counterparts. This side of motherhood is rarely discussed in America. Most of the mothers that I have come across find it incredibly difficult to admit that their life is less than perfect. In general, people here seem just more cheery. They prefer to put on a brave face. All the time. There is not the tendency to let your guard down easily. It appears to me that many women are uncomfortable being honest about their true thoughts and feelings, for fear of being judged as anything less than perfect. And I find that really hard to be around It is exhausting keeping up the appearance that everything is A-OK when in reality it can often be the polar opposite.

A few of my friends in the UK, who had their children around the same time that I did, would openly admit that motherhood was not a dream come true. Unless you were refering to a pretty bloody horrific nightmare that you couldn't wake yourself up from. These smart, funny, successful women were quite open about the fact that they were struggling with it every day. Loving their baby was easy. Loving being a mother...not so much.

I remember at the beginning one well-intentioned mum telling me to 'just trust your instincts'. Well, the only prevailing instinct I had at that time was to leave my inconsolable colicky baby on a church doorstep and run screaming for the hills. So it was obvious that my maternal instincts were a little off kilter and couldn't be trusted. Now I wouldn't say that my instincts serve me any better and even now the boys are older I usually rely on a combination of good old common sense and the boundaries of the law to restrict my 'instinctual' behaviour where motherhood is concerned.

Out of all the new American mums that I met, only one would readily confess that she was finding the whole experience 'brutal'. Needless to say, we spoke every day and compared notes on how fucking awful the day had been. Then she got a full time nanny and went back to work and that made things a little less brutal for her. She was still knackered, but she was able to drink hot liquids, go to the bathroom by herself and maintain an adult conversation for longer than 30 seconds without interruption and her life felt a little more balanced. I was so envious.

It has taken a long while for me to be able to admit it but I actually find being a mum incredibly dull and tedious most of the time. I really love my boys but find their company a little too...infantile for my liking. All that endless squabbling. The endless 'knock, knock, who's there, poo-poo-head, poo-poo-head who? poo-poo-head garbage can!' jokes which, no matter which way you look at it and irrespective of how cutely they're relayed, are just not funny. The ever growing laundry mountain, the never ending meal and snack preparation, the constant tidying up, the repetitive trips to the playground. None of these things do ANYTHING for me.

I have never particularly enjoyed playing 'house'. So the fact that I feel tied to the house for many hours of the day and night really gets my goat. I don't bake. I used to love cooking for dinner parties, but those days are long gone. I don't do crafts. I don't garden. I don't clean. I like travelling, shoe shopping, sparkly things, make-up, eating out, lying in and being self-sufficient. HA! Not a good combination of ingredients for maximising the 'joys' of motherhood me thinks.

I spend most of my time trying to maintain a facade of enthusiasm for things that just bore me ridged. I guess my fear is if I don't work this hard to pretend to the boys that looking after them is anything other than relentless and brain numbing I will end up exhibiting the same nonchalant indifference that my mum displayed. My mum was, and is, a lovely,vibrant, loving woman. There was no shortage of hugs and kisses in our house. But looking back, there wasn't much about motherhood that particularly inspired or fulfilled her. I can't remember her ever really delighting in our company. If I ever told my mum I was bored (of just entertaining myself all day) she would glibly respond, 'only boring people are bored' before returning back to whatever she was doing. If I persisted she would advise me 'well, go do something useful - maybe you can find some traffic to play with'.

I remember very clearly how this made me feel - that spending time with me was not high on her list of priorities and that I just needed to suck it up and get out of her way. I do not want my boys to feel this way.

But at the same time, I need to acknowledge that being mother hasn't really changed the core of me. I have always been a person who loves a challenge, loves change. Doesn't really like standing still too often and loves the opportunity to just get on and do things. When left to my own devices I am not prone to fannying about or taking my time over anything. So the phaffing about that I experience now I am a mother on a daily basis frequently tips me over into crazy-doolallylady-land.

And I guess that is okay. So I find being a mother predominantly DUUUUULLLLL. That doesn't mean to say that I find my children dull in the slightest. Quite the opposite. They are the most imaginative, inspiring, playful, unique, adorable people that I have ever lived with in my life. I love them to bits. But I need to find a way to break the monotony and predictability of my life - something that injects energy and passion into 'Nicola' which will make this whole mum thing a little less of a permanent chore and a little bit more of pleasure.


  1. I have the opposite mother baggage. My mother adored small children, adored home-making, was the ultimate SAHM. All my friends loved coming to our house. I see her play a game with my kids over and over and over, and I know she isn't doing it out of duty. She's genuinely enjoying it. The net result is that I have spent years wishing my children could have the same experience as I did as a child. Yes, we were expected to entertain ourselves. Yes, she was sometimes busy and told us so. But mostly, she was just there, and available, and we knew she loved being with us. And she never shouted at us. I've come to realise that we're all different, and if I'm not doing it just like her, then I don't need to feel inadequate all the time.

    Bits of motherhood can be tedious, and I guess we all have different coping strategies. For me, it's having companionship. I can't bear being on my own with the kids too much. If I had my way, I'd be out of our house at other people's all the time. Obviously this isn't practical, and would look a bit desperate! So I don't overdo it. But I really find the time goes so much quicker if I'm either out, or some of my kids are out, or we have other children around.

    I also think it's very important to have things to look forward to. Can you do that? A holiday, a week-end, a day away, a night out? Anything really, so long as it breaks the routine.

    Thanks for your honesty.

  2. Iota - thank you so much for your comment. You're right, it is the company that I miss. I sometimes think I hanker too much for being home so I can have the company of my family and my friends. I love being around my kids when there are other people around to share the experience. I really miss having my friends over for a weekend so we can have the kid time but also the adult time too when the kids are in bed. And I don't have that opportunity here. I think that would make a big difference in my life. And I do have something to look forward to - I am going home for 3-4 weeks in July and I can't wait. I'm also working harder at trying to create more opportunities to hang out with friends after school or at weekends - but it's hard.

    I really really appreciate your advice tho. Being a part of this blogging community is a great lifeline for me. It's so wonderful to feel understood and to know that people have similar feelings and challenges. x

  3. Oh Gorjus Sister

    'We forgot to buckle our 2 year old into his car seat. When we went round the corner, he flew over to the next seat and screamed 'fuckers!''

    Now although I read the rest of your post and you know how I empathise, I still had to keep stopping to chuckle at that one. Going to tiddle myself at this rate.

    If I am lucky, I guess I have all of the same emotions to look forward to myself. Or even worse, given that I get bored of the snack and meal making by day 2 of any of my visits. What is it about us and low boredom threshold???

    Can't wait to see you in July.... xxx

  4. I have always hated going to the playground, that doesn't make me a bad mother, but I hate, hate, hate it. If you're missing your friends can't you do video calls on skype or instant messenger...at least you would get to see them. If you hate being at home.
    Of all the things you do like - face painting the kids while teaching (via a youtube how to tutuorial) them how to make shoes would help non?
    Happy Easter from London!

  5. I kid you not about the shoes, see this...

  6. What an interesting post. I love the dirty little secrets!! Motherhood has definitely changed me for the better although it's fair to say that for the first 3 years I did find it incredibly dull, and as a single mum I lost my identity for a very long time. I'm only just starting to develop a life for myself now. I love my daughter to bits though and wouldn't change it for the world, it's been a hard slog though.