Friday, October 27, 2006

The Good Enough Mummy: Part I

Being a mum is really fantastic. My Little Dude is the sweetest, handsomest, cleverest little man you can imagine. He really is good company, with a great sense of humour all his own, and I truly enjoy having him around. He is a lot of work, but he is worth it.

This is my basic view of motherhood. Its hard, but its wonderful. I can gripe about the hard work, the isolation, the loneliness, the lack of money and the lack of time to myself, and its all true, but that fact remains that I really love being my son's mummy.

But there is an ideology abroad that is frankly a threat to much of my pleasure in my son. This is the myth of the perfect mummy.

The perfect mummy always knows what to do, and she always does it well the first time. She always nurtures and protects her child, guided by some bottomless well of mummy wisdom and unconditional mummy love. The perfect mummy doesn’t get fed up with being in the house all day doing housework and she doesn’t complain. She never pops her son in front of a baby video or feeds him out of a jar because she is tired. She makes her son tasty, nutritious home-cooked meals and doesn't get upset when he just tips his food onto the floor. She looks forward to playing with the correct educational toys with her son. She doesn’t think about all the years she put into her own education and wonder if she couldn’t be doing something better with that brain. She is ceaselessly patient when he is having one of those grizzly days where nothing seems to go right.

And when it comes to even the slightest conflict between her own wellbeing and feelings and those of her family, the perfect mummy doesn’t even hesitate. She always makes that sacrifice.

Oh, I want to be her. I do. And I could have sworn, while I was doing all those months of fertility treatment, that I would be that perfect, selfless mummy. If you just do this one thing for me, God, I prayed, I will never ask you for anything ever again.

Ha! Fat chance!

Because there is a problem here. There is a human being involved. I am flawed because I am a human being and so my mothering is flawed, too. Sometimes I get truly fed up with being a mummy.

Sometimes my fondest, most secret wish is for my son to just disappear for a little while so that I can have, say, 20 hours sleep in a row. Not forever, obviously, and I would never want anything bad to happen to him. I just have this little fantasy where I pop my son into the cupboard as if he is a teddy bear. He goes into the cupboard very happily for a little rest. Then I pop him out again a few hours later, and he emerges very happy, very well rested, very pleased to see his mummy, at a time when I am feeling more able to enjoy him and to perform to the proper mummy specifications.

Being a mummy is painful at times, because it brings me up so hard against my own limitations. All the little selfishnesses, all the grumpiness, and even just the human needs for sleep, for variation in the routine, for adult conversation, these are all limitations that I can feel very keenly.

In most areas of my life I can acknowledge that, while some aspects of my performance could be better, I am mostly pretty good at my chosen activities and this is good enough. But mothering is different, because the stakes are so much higher. I could fail at my job and it would be humiliating. I could fail at my relationship and it would be painful. But to fail as a mummy would be completely devastating. It feels like there is nothing worse a woman can be than a bad mummy.

Thinking about myself as a mother brings out the perfectionist in me - the hard taskmistress who notices every moment of weakness, does not accept any excuses and brings out the whip at the slightest sign of faltering. I have always tended to be too hard on myself. But I have never been so hard on myself as I have been in the last year.

But I think there is a problem with the ideology this taskmistress holds, too. In fact, I quietly think that there is something seriously out of balance in the modern approach to childrearing.

I was just about to develop this theme but now, of course, my son is waking up. So I will have to finish this another time.


Blogger Rob said...

Like everything else in our lives, all one can do is to try very hard to do the best that you can do at something, and then not to worry any further about whether you have been "good enough". If you can truly say that you have tried your best then be happy and give yourself credit. Whether it's being a parent, or a worker, or a friend, or a lover. For you can do no more.

3:49 AM  
Blogger Desmond Jones said...

Very insightful post, Emily, especially for someone as new to the 'mothering game' as you are.

Absolutely - just give up on the notion of being a 'perfect mother'. In the long run (and even in the shorter run than that), that whole idea does more harm than good. At the bottom, it ends up treating the child like a commodity - "I did my part, so you'd better be perfect, too."

I'm here to tell you that you can do everything 'just right' and your kids can still rebel, can still get screwed-up, if for no other reason than that they've got free wills of their own.

And it's also true, that, as perfect as we try to be, all us parents are still weak and sinful human beings, and even at our very best, with the very best of intentions, we still fall far, far short of perfection, and that very lack of perfection is having its effect on our kids, whether we want it to or not.

No matter how you dress it up, there is something inevitably tragic about life in this world. God's grace, teaching us the deep meaning of love, is how we deal with it in anything approaching a constructive way. . .

(And, you remind me of another instance of us being 'divided by a common language; in the US, 'mummy' conjures up images of horror movies. . .)

8:01 AM  
Blogger Desmond Jones said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:01 AM  
Blogger O272 said...

Striving to be the perfect mother will only land you in a room with padded walls!

My vision of the perfect mother - or mama (as I'm called here - yeah, I hate it, too) is one who makes mistakes, hides in the bathroom, and puts her needs before those of her kids as often as possible (we all know that's almost never, but it's good to try!).

11:59 AM  
Blogger oldbear said...

Hi Emily, when your son is old, say at your funeral, he will not remeber or care about the perect things. He will remember some silly or goofy or just plain affectioneate moment.

Or perhaps it will be some idiosyncratic thing you think is a defficeincy but over time will be source of fond remeberance and affection for him.

I KNOW these things becuase my brother and I , especally him but me too, ae often asked by our peeps to write eulogies for delivery at funereal masses or the protestant equivalent (funeral service?).

His life is the most prcious of gifts, you were accepted to fill that role, and you have done what you could. No motehr has ever been the best, it is, like any other love relationship, what goes back and forth between the two.

it will be some sort of dance, no matter how things shape up in the future. But we all know you will lead, follow, or just slam dance with him with Love and consideration, and joy and affection. He will not want for a mother's touch either.

Feel how you feel, do as you will or as you would, we can all see you are doing good Mom-ing!

Hug, and empathy at your worries despite th fact we have no kids. OB.

4:17 AM  

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