Hello…There’s something I’d really like to talk to you about. Something I wish someone had told me about motherhood. Something I’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 that’s just about perfect. You spend so many years creating who you are and then kids come along and burn it down…
I don’t mean for this letter to be scary. It’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 baby’s bedroom should be, how to soothe them and whether their first food should be avocado or mashed pumpkin.
That’s the advice you’ll get too much of, Mum to Be. It’s the sort of advice that you’ll be given by old ladies at the Post Office or that you’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. It’s a craft. It’s a relationship. The aim is not perfection or success. It’s a long game. One that will require you to let go of the need to be in control. Not that I’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 doesn’t like baths? This shall pass. Whilst every phase seems like it will never end; it does. Doing it “right” doesn’t matter. What I see in hindsight is that that it’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 didn’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 don’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 don’t think that children are meant to be raised by their parents alone, Mum to Be. This feature of modern life—the white picket fence, private lives within the family home, “doing it all”—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.
I’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 “local nanna”.
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 held—all whilst holding a wriggling toddler.