Thereâ€™s something Iâ€™d really like to talk to you about. Something I wish someone had told me about motherhood. Something Iâ€™m still figuring out.
And that is that motherhood can feel like the disintegration of the self, after which the original form is quite gone. Sarah Manguso calls it the grand shattering, and I think thatâ€™s just about perfect.Â You spend so many years creating who you are and then kids come along and burn it downâ€¦
I donâ€™t mean for this letter to be scary. Itâ€™s ok, we are designed to survive these fires. We are just never the same afterwards. And that can be a difficult and beautiful thing.
Once your baby is born, everyone will give you advice. Advice on what temperature your babyâ€™s bedroom should be, how to soothe them and whether their first food should be avocado or mashed pumpkin.
Thatâ€™s the advice youâ€™ll get too much of, Mum to Be. Itâ€™s the sort of advice that youâ€™ll be given by old ladies at the Post Office or that youâ€™ll Google in a panic at 2:26am. But all too rarely will people talk to you about you. About becoming a parent. About the shattering, the survival and the rebuilding.
I am writing from beyond the ashes (although I still have a fair bit of soot here and there), as the mum of a two-year-old.
I want to share with you the sort of advice that could be a companion to you as you become a parent. Not advice about the baby, but words you might reach for in the dark of the night. Words that might make you feel less alone. Words that might challenge you too.
The first thing I would say is that becoming a parent is not easy. Unlike almost anything else in your life, it is not something you can learn from a book or simply master. Itâ€™s a craft. Itâ€™s a relationship.Â The aim is not perfection or success. Itâ€™s a long game. One that will require you to let go of the need to be in control. Not that Iâ€™m suggesting this is easy! In my experience however, I have found three words to be very helpful: This shall pass.
Long-term, none of the small stuff really matters. The sleep they refused that one afternoon in mid-July? This shall pass. That your baby doesnâ€™t like baths? This shall pass. Whilst every phase seems like it will never end; it does. Doing it “right” doesnâ€™t matter. What I see in hindsight is that that itâ€™s all as simple and difficult as forming a relationship with another person. A small person. Your small person.
So my advice is, go gently Mum to Be. Breathe a bit more. And know that this time passes quickly. I still remember holding my daughter moments after she was born when she started to cry. I remember genuinely being surprised: I didnâ€™t think that my baby would cry. Well, they all do. And then, after the longest shortest two years, your baby, out of the blue, counts to nine in the bath.
In my first year as a mother, I felt really topsy-turvy. Even today I would say that, like struggling AFL side, I am in the rebuilding phase. I am still trying to see how I can be bold, adventurous and also be a present parent to my daughter. What kind of work can I do part-time and still make a difference? How and where should we raise our daughter? I am grappling with my priorities and the unshakeable responsibility of being a parent. I am still wondering: Who am I now?
I donâ€™t have all the answers to these big questions; far from it. So far, though, I have come to two important realisations (at least for myself).
The first is that we do not want to be a nuclear family. I donâ€™t think that children are meant to be raised by their parents alone, Mum to Be. This feature of modern lifeâ€”the white picket fence, private lives within the family home, â€śdoing it allâ€ťâ€”just feels like isolation, pressure and madness to me. Yet our extended family lives interstate, so our task is to nurture a village of our own. Since our daughter was born, we have instituted our own version of Friday Night Meatballs, a weekly drop-in dinner for friends, which has sparked offers of babysitting and the idea of a food co-op.
Iâ€™ve started a weekly play date with our neighbours and their kids. And, inspired by Carolyn Creswell (the founder of Carman’s Muesli), we are drafting an ad for our local newspaper searching for a â€ślocal nannaâ€ť.
For me, Mum to Be, becoming a Mum has forced me to reject self-sufficiency and invite in help and community in a way I never would have imagined. Having a community gives me the space to be me, as well as a Mum. It gives me a forum in which to talk about the big stuff. It makes me feel bold, and heldâ€”all whilst holding a wriggling toddler.
The second realisation is that I am now seeing my life in seasons.
There is a season for working like a mad person and a season for slowing down and enjoying being around little people. I feel like I am in a season where I prioritise mothering, while also knowing that in the next season I can have more independence. Seeing life in seasons helps me feel less anxious, Mum to Be, and more able to accept the now.
I am grappling with some big unknowns, Mum to Be, asking a lot of questions, and trying out some new ways of being. There arenâ€™t many times in life you get the chance to rebuild yourself from the ground up. The birth of our children presents this opportunity. Itâ€™s the chance to evaluate life to date and reassess what you need. Â
I hope that when your little one comes along, youâ€™re never the same again. And not just that your house is messy, and your hair ainâ€™t right and you donâ€™t sleep in anymore. I hope that being a Mum lets you ask some of lifeâ€™s big questions.
Thatâ€™s my advice.
Another mum who’s two years in (and rebuilding)
Further reading and listening:
- The Longest Shortest Time podcast
- “The Grand Shattering” by Sarah Manguso
- The New Better OffÂ by Courtney E. Martin
If you’re struggling with parenthood or pregnancy, the PANDA website has lots of resources.
Feature image by Haley Phelps via Unsplash.