I have a good life: my children (6, 2.5 and 1) are healthy and happy (most of the time), my husband is gorgeous, clever and funny (most of the time), we are financially secure, and have a loving and supportive extended family and good friends. My life is good – I should be completely happy, and I really love being a Mum. But somehow I believe I would be a much better one if I saw my children just a little less… Can I say that? Can I think it?
I know my children will only be young for such a short time, and I should savour the moment with delight and enthusiasm. Sometimes it’s easy – I love the questions they ask, the smiles they radiate, the stories I get to read while lying together in a cosy warm bed, the handstands I must score out of 10…
But increasingly, I find myself irritated and irritable. Why won’t my 2.5 year old daughter stop scratching her siblings? Will she ever get into the car without writhing about and kicking me in the face? When will she stop calling me a poo poo bum bum? And what of her 6 year old sister? Will she ever have a bath or shower at night without argument? Will she ever clean her teeth when I ask her to? Just once? Will she always ignore me when I ask her a question? And while my love affair with my 1 year old son has been able to withstand him crying whenever I leave the room, how will it cope when he learns to talk (back)?
Sometimes I find myself frustrated to my core. Fights that erupt the moment I go downstairs to hang out the washing, the washing itself which materialises relentlessly day after day after day after day, the children who change their clothes 5 times in 2 hours, flinging discarded outfits into the washing pile with gay abandon because it is much easier to do that than put them away… not to mention the Mt Everest of clean washing that perpetually goads me when I walk through our living room, asking me in a whiney voice (is there any other type of voice?) when it might expect to be folded. And washing is just the beginning. How can there be this much housework to be done every single day??
I want to be the type of Mum who has fun with her children – who supports them and laughs with them and guides them calmly through the ups and downs of growing up. But despite all my best efforts (I read Buddhism for Mothers on a perpetual loop) I’m not sure I’m being the type of Mum I want to be. I get the sense right now that my children will be left not with comforting memories of a joyous time filled with laughter and learning, but rather will remember their mother’s angst and frustration, the sense of her always being in a hurry to do the next job, an uneasy awareness of a Mum nearby who is quick to anger over childhood infractions.
My first sign from the universe that something needed to change came one recent Saturday afternoon when my husband was picking up the dog poo in our back yard (not a small job, given we have 2 beagles who are walked far too infrequently). Some wives might appreciate their husband carrying out this unsavoury task – might even provide some recognition of a job well done. Not me. I found myself so in need of time away from our children that I proceeded to march out to our back yard and fight him for the pleasure of performing the job myself if he would just go and look after the kids, for goodness sake.
Sign #2 was a slow burn. I didn’t recognise it overnight. In fact, it took a number of weeks for me to realise the message I was being sent. It only dawned on me when I noticed I had gone through two or three large jars of Nutella in as many weeks. With my husband away on business three nights each week, I was so mentally and physically exhausted by the time I had finished the evening routine that I would gorge on chocolate without even thinking. Indeed the only thought I had was one of disbelief that I hadn’t thought to melt Nutella in the microwave and pour it over ice cream before! Don’t get me wrong, I stand by it as a fantastic idea – I just think three large jars in three weeks is excessive. The quantities make sense when you consider the 1:1 ratio of warm Nutella to ice-cream, but all the same…
The final sign from the universe was the most frightening. It was the wake up call I needed to seek to rebalance my life. It happened one quiet Friday evening at home when I decided we needed wine. The local bottle shop is not far, but on the way there I found myself seriously contemplating what would happen if I just kept on driving. Where would I go? What would I do? Could I leave? In the end, I settled on buying not one but two bottles of wine, and I drove straight home to drink them with my loving husband. But the thoughts that went through my mind on that short car trip were enough to shock me into realising that something needed to change.
Being a full time stay-at-home Mum is one of the hardest jobs I have ever done. I wish I could be calmer, more patient, more centred – if I were, I would be much better at it. I have nothing but the utmost respect for those who do it well and only wish I could be more like them. But having given it a shot, I realise it is not for me long term. I need some balance in my world that I don’t have right now. I need to be able to spend some time alone with my thoughts, and I need them not to be thoughts about my children’s tantrums or what’s for dinner. I need to feel a sense of tangible achievement stemming from things I do outside my home and family if for no other reason than that it will make me kinder, more appreciative, and more loving toward them – helping myself and those I cherish be happier each and every day.
It is true that my children will be little for such a short time, and during that time I want to be loving, patient, calm, engaged. Isn’t it better for this time to seem like it is over in a happy, delicious moment than for it to drag by in one long, irritable tirade of ‘why-can’t-you-just-be-more-helpful!!??’ The challenges will still exist, of course, but I think I will be much better equipped to deal with them when they arise with patience and kindness if I also have somewhere else to go where I can be challenged, and feel smart, engaging and perhaps even appreciated.
It is possible that going back to work won’t be all it’s cracked up to be. I know it’s a juggling act that can leave one feeling exhausted and guilt-ridden – I’ve done it before. And I haven’t even thought about how to find and secure my dream job which has loads of responsibility and is extremely fulfilling but only requires me for 3 days a week (ok, maybe a fourth from home). Plus, having recently moved cities we have no childcare in place yet and I have visions of phone conversations with recruiters while my children scream for me in the background, conveying that I am not a woman who has everything (or indeed anything) under control.
There is much work to be done to re-establish my sense of balance. Truth be told, given my nature I suspect this will always be a work in progress. But when the universe communicates with me via dog poo fights, Nutella gluttony, and anxious trips to the bottle shop – I can but listen, adjust and go forth…
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