On stumbling through motherhood and getting stuff wrong – a lot.

The fabulous little people I get to hang out with every day. Sophie, 8 and Elisabeth, 6.
The fabulous little people I get to hang out with every day. Sophie, 8 and Elisabeth, 6.

My first ever outing with a newborn baby was to my husband’s family’s holiday house in Karrebaeksminde, Denmark. Apparently I had an ‘easy’ baby, though nothing about caring for a newborn felt easy to me. She barely slept, was constantly hungry and kept filling little nappies with large, mustard-coloured poo bombs. Yes, she was sweet, but the reality of the job horrified me and filled me with a kind of panic and dread nobody seemed to understand. It could be that I’m missing a gene, or maybe other women lie a lot, but really – what is even a little bit enjoyable about a cycle of endless fatigue, breastfeeding and nappy-changing? As far as I’m concerned, nada. I must definitely be missing a gene.

So, when the family started passing her around and oohing and aahing I was thrilled to have some respite. Yes! I thought. Take her, people of the village! Because this lady is fucking exhausted. But then, through some weird baby instinct, she seemed to figure out that the person rocking her was not the person whose uterus she had rented. She went red in the face and started yelling, and to my horror my sister-in-law (who had three children and was a professional) gave her back to me to make her stop. As if I should know how. And I wanted to say, don’t be mad, why are you giving her to me? Find a real mother! But I didn’t because one can’t. And that is how I feel still on bad days when the job of parenting feels overwhelming beyond the singing of it.

When you are constantly improvising (as one is as a parent because god knows they don’t come with a manual) you’re bound to get stuck sometimes. But what I do wonder about is whether other people find it as challenging as I do. And if they do, why don’t they say so? Who are we trying to fool, and is there a large Louboutin voucher at the end of it all? I don’t think so. Mostly I find it hard (if not impossible) to act one way when I feel another, so if good mothering is about martyrdom and fakery, I lose hands-down. I don’t know how to put on a big, game smile when I’m on the verge of a panic attack in Pick n Pay because the girls won’t stop bickering and I didn’t get enough sleep and my husband is overseas and they still don’t have Hellmann’s mayo.

So, I go down on my haunches and grab each one by the arm and tell them in a Rosemary’s Baby voice that if they don’t stop right now I’m delivering them to the nearest orphanage on the way home. And then as I stand at the till clutching my little blue Smart Shopper card and they’re all subdued, I’m consumed with guilt at my badmotherness and we get in the car and I start apologising and explaining how much I love them but that it’s not always easy, this job, and I’m feeling like I can’t cope so if they could please just go a little easy on me today that would be really great. And they do, and they’re amazing like that. And maybe it’s wrong to be this ‘real’ with your kids; maybe you’re supposed to pretend to always be in control and on top of everything. But then maybe it’s also cool that they know you’re human and that you have limits and that sometimes you also feel sad and scared. I don’t know the answer to this.

I guess the best you can do to gage how well or how crap you’re doing is by how your kids seem to feel about life (because for now you are their life, after all). If, for the most part, they’re happy and self-confident, I guess you can’t be failing completely. Sometimes I watch in astonishment as my girls talk to adults with complete self-assuredness (I would never have dared as a child), and I realize that this is probably because I speak to them that way and value their opinions and try hard never to dictate what they should think or feel. I’m crap at some stuff, but what I am good at is letting them be who they are, even if this means wearing bizarre outfits sometimes and saying things I don’t agree with. And maybe, after all, this is wherein the lesson lies – if we were all allowed to be who we really are – including less-than-perfect mothers who feel safe enough to tell it like it is – we’d be a lot better off.

20 thoughts on “On stumbling through motherhood and getting stuff wrong – a lot.

  1. Does anyone actually know where all the jars of Helmans mayo have disappeared to? I thought it was my imagination or a conspiracy theory…..

  2. Do I detect a little bit of Abba genealogy in the photo? Great stuff Susan – and you are a fabulous mom!

  3. Lovely reading your blog Sue. You,ve done a good job with your girls and I’m very proud of you. love Mom.

  4. I found your blog by way of Brittany Herself and this was the first topic that caught my eye. I will say that my 17 month old was NOT an easy baby. Just yesterday I was talking with my sister in law and she complained about how horrible and guilty she felt for working so much and never seeing her 4 year old and how she wanted a job closer to home so she could spend more time with her. And then I admitted what I’ve been feeling inside for everyday of the last 17 months….this is what I said:

    “I should have lowered my expectations about motherhood. It’s not as romantic as I thought it would be. Also I don’t feel guilty about not seeing her more. She’s at daycare till 5 no matter what time we are off of work. It’s the only way I enjoy her when I do see her. Nobody could have prepared me for this reality. And no one is more disappointed.”

    Then, I felt a sort of burden released. From just saying it.

    I refuse to live up to the standards of these moms who look so put together all the time and post pictures on Instagram and Facebook of their toddler happily finger painting while listening to classical music in the background. F that shit. That is NOT my life. My 17 month old STILL doesn’t sleep through the night. Wearing makeup to work has become a ‘only on days when I will see my client’ type of thing.

    Sorry to have hijacked your blog post.

    But I can definitely relate!



    1. Hey Sarah

      thanks so much for sharing your story, and I totally relate! I found the role very, very hard and also, nothing like I expected. It was bizarre to me that nobody had warned me of the potentiality, even, of not enjoying motherhood. I remember people saying to me, ‘isn’t it just wonderful having a baby?’ and I would want to say, no, actually I think it’s quite shit. But as a woman you’re not allowed to say things like that. The more honest we are about how we feel, the better we’ll make it for our daughters. We just need to be brave about speaking up. And it’s okay to have boundaries and know what you can cope with. And I know this is a terrible cliché, but it really gets easier as they get older. 17 months is a very difficult age. Hang in there, girlfriend! You’re doing a better job than you think :-)

      1. Thanks Susan!   It’s such a blessing to know I’m not alone in feeling this way.   Also – zoloft is a blessing. :)   Looking forward to reading more from you!   ~Sarah, Houston, TX, USA


  5. Oh Lord in a Heaven. Mothering is hard, hard, hard. I have three kids, aged 9, 4 and 18 months. I love them more than life itself, but the two older ones have special needs and if I have to hear one more time from a teacher or anyone else about how they have “poor social skills” or “are disruptive in class” or whatever else I won’t be responsible for my actions. Really, do you think I quietly whisper in my son’s ear that he should bite his playmates and throw tantrums in class when I drop him off at preschool in the morning, Ms Teacher?

    You see, my kids’ …um…”quirks” make me feel like I am failing as a mother. That’s on top of feeling like I’m failing at my job because my kids require me to take lots of time off work, and failing as a wife because catching up the work I missed to take one of my kids to the doctor or therapy happens in the evenings and on weekends (not to mention the fact that I am so exhausted that the idea of a romantic liaison with my husband is about as appealing as cold gravy). That enduring sense of failure is a hallmark of motherhood for me.

    But you know what? The flashes of joy and ocean of love I feel for my kids keep me going. I’ve learned more about people through parenting special needs kids, than in 7 years of psychology degree courses, and I don’t regret motherhood or the challenges it has brought me for an instant. Go figure.

  6. Am a South African expat living in China (no not Shanghai! More like the pit-sonder-water of China). I am almost 7 months pregnant and scared out of my wits about doing this without the support structure of a real mom (or any English-speaking person for that matter) on the other side of the planet. Loved reading this and love your other stories. Keep them coming! It keeps people like me sane.

    1. You make me laugh! I also had my girls overseas with no family around and yes, it was hard at times, I understand how you feel. It’s all going to be okay, I promise. I send you a big, supportive hug from across the miles xxxxx

  7. So I just want you to know you saved my day today. I was really torn up deciding whether or not to follow your blog after reading your ‘viral’ post about moving back to SA (it’s not an easy read when it is not an option anymore). But then after a ‘bad mother’ end to the day today I consoled myself with your therapeutic and insightful posts… and this one really was the tonic! The irony is that one of my thoughts this afternoon was whether my girls would be more polite, happier, more caring individuals if they were being brought up in SA, rather than here in the UK (where people aspire to ‘keep calm’ but really just harden up to deal with it all). And whether I would then actually be a better mum by default. And yes, I think to some degree maybe we would be better daughters and mothers in a different environment… but there is more to it than that. We’re all trying to cope. Some of us are just blessed with a little more sunshine whilst doing it than others :-/

    1. Thank you, Tracy. At the end of the day we’re all just doing the best we can. And no, I don’t think they would be, necessarily. There are no rights and wrongs, and they probably enjoy so many benefits living there. I honestly had no idea I was going to ruffle so many feathers with that piece, I was just putting my personal thoughts and observations down. I guess it was my therapy, in a way. Anyhow, I’m sure you’re doing an amazing job, and you don’t give yourself enough credit for the sacrifices you have made, and continue to make. So, sending you a big hug from one imperfect mom to another :-)

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