It’s a strange thing isn’t it? That mum means, well, to be a mum, but to keep mum means being silent. How does that work? Mums are supposed to be silent? Granted, the origins of the two ‘mums’ are different, but it seems like a pretty neat coincident considering mums are being shushed wherever we go. Like children of the olden days – seen but not heard, and not really seen if we’re doing things like breastfeeding, thank you very much.
There are so many phrases to keep us quiet. He’ll grow out of it; it’s just a phase; focus on what you have; be grateful. I rarely bother answering the question ‘how are you’ anymore. I’ve had too many responses telling me how to feel. Too many answers that jump to conclusions of what I mean before I’ve had a chance to explain. Ears glaze over, people start to hear what they want to hear – what they think you should be saying, not what you are actually saying. If I’m honest, I don’t really understand why. Perhaps it’s boring to hear about another person’s parenting challenges. Maybe, because there are so many mums out there, people don’t want to hear how hard it is. Maybe it’s a lack of empathy – no-one can understand your struggle unless they are in it, and no-one’s struggle is identical. All those things may be true, but it doesn’t remove our right to be heard and it certainly doesn’t erase our desire to be listened to. And here’s the most important thing people: you don’t need to get it. You don’t need to know how fucking exhausted it’s possible to feel, yet still suffer insomnia. You don’t need to know how frustrating the latest phase is. All you need to know mums like to talk about and give us the space and grace to off load without feeling like a burden.
It’s hard to keep quiet about something that is so all encompassing as motherhood. I’m sure to friends without children it can sound like whingeing, hell it probably sounds like that to friends with kids a lot of the time – perhaps they never had that phase, or they have passed through it and forgotten. The thing is though, mums need to off load. Those of us without partners (who listen) can often feel this even more intensely than others. Motherhood isn’t a job we can change, or a relationship we need to get out of. Motherhood is my life. For.The.Rest.Of.My.Life. I have a shadow now. A shadow that won’t let me do what I want. A shadow that doesn’t walk in line with me. A shadow that pushes and pulls me in a thousand different physical and emotional directions everyday and I’m supposed to keep quiet about that? Are you fucking kidding me?
I want to talk about it. I mean really talk about it. I want to talk about the hard parts. The sleepless nights. The noise. The constant, constant noise. The fears I have for him as he grows up. I want to share the burden of my worries of his behaviour. My concerns about his nursery. I want to discuss the opportunities he may not have. Moan about the never ending movement – why, oh why, can’t he just sit still? I don’t want to be told what I could do better, or that it’s just a phase. I just want someone to allow the words to flow out of me and nod, in that caring, listening way that some folks have. I want to be allowed the space to release the feelings of frustration that this mothering can bring us, can bring all of us, at one point or another, no matter how much we love our children. I want to let it out knowing I won’t be judged – knowing people won’t tell me that I’m doing something wrong. That my child is bad. That I’m not a good mother.
You know what, I also want to talk about the good bits. About how proud I am of him. How he’s an amazing drawer. How great he is at swimming. How pleased I am that he is (sometimes at least) so polite. How he is loving and how proud I am of when he tires to cheer up his friends. How chuffed I feel when he asks to take turns instead of snatching. And all the other amazing things he does day in day out. But we aren’t supposed to do that either. It’s showing off. It’s competing with other mums. Or so I’ve been told. Only that’s not what it is. Mum’s aren’t saying their child is better. Mums are just saying how proud they are. All mums are proud, it doesn’t matter what their child actually does. One child’s drawing will be another childs smile. All children are amazing in their own way. Just as much as they are all challenging. I want to be able to shout it from the rooftop that my son makes me so proud, just as much as he infuriates me, but I want to do it without the eye rolls.
As a single mum I can’t curl up and tell my partner about it in the evening so all these thoughts go nowhere, they just sit in my brain; this frustration and pride churning up together. This isn’t just about single parents though. I know many, many mums feel unable to share their joys and their frustrations. We need to be allowed to talk about that. To write about that. To cry about that. To laugh about that. To share about that.
Us mums aren’t only mums. We are people too. Individuals, workers, sportspeople, friends, partners, writers, jokers and so many things beside. We have good lives, bad lives, hard lives and fun lives. When our mum experiences are shushed it becomes very hard to talk about anything else, after all mothering is a part of us that we carry everywhere. If we can’t be free to share our pain and joy of the mothering moments, how will we open up about our depression, or our relationship struggles or work challenges? We won’t. We will start to believe that our feelings don’t matter, not just those emotions connected to being a mum, but all of our crazy, complex emotions day in day out. Once you’ve become a mum it’s hard to separate other things from that. I no longer know if I find work challenging because it genuinely is, or because I’m just a sleep deprived mess most of the time I’m there. So if I complain about work, am I actually just complaining about being a mum? I can’t complain about work without my motherhood status being an influencer because it’s never just about work, it’s also about the lack of sleep and space I get at home as a parent to a toddler. Inevitably I decide that perhaps I should just keep quiet about it, lest someone thinks I’m on a mum-whinge again. Once you learn to keep quiet about mothering it suddenly becomes hard not to stay quiet about everything.
So I say, let’s not keep mum anymore. Let’s be loud, proud and struggling mums. Let’s talk about the tough times, the lonely times and the proud as punch times. Let’s talk about all of it.