Today I felt like I was a great mum. Yes. "Great". Honestly. Something I rarely, if ever, feel. Why? Because I spent all day with just one of my three children. It wasn’t purely one-on-one attention. I volunteered to help out on a school trip. But wow. What a difference. My middle daughter was a joy to be around. I was a joy to be around. Sure, I couldn’t (and don’t generally) shout at my kids when surrounded by others – I save that for the pure overwhelming exasperation I feel when left on my own with all three - but it wasn’t just that. I felt calm. She was calm. There was no need to shout. I was actually fun to be around! It felt great. And then I felt depressed. I got to thinking about why I couldn’t be this way when all three are there. And I realised that when they are, in my mind, they become a unit. They are just ‘the kids’ – something to be marshalled through the late afternoon and evening by ticking various boxes: supper (not too unhealthy/varied (ie not what we had yesterday)/not too complicated; wash (without soaking the entire bathroom with various bath toys/water pistols/splashing); bedtime story (not too long/appeals to 2, 4 and 6 year old, male and female audience/not too taxing read). The “unit” is in a battle with “time”; more time spent on getting the “unit” into bed = less time I have as a conscious human being before conking out due to exhaustion. I need time to myself and therefore it becomes supremely precious. Therefore I lose sight of who each of them truly is. They are no longer gorgeous little people in their own right. They are a mass of bickering, violent, loud energy determined to encroach upon my allocated (but gradually shrinking) right to the evening.
And that sucks. I realised how much it sucks tonight. When I tried to spend some quality time with the others having spent all day with one and they started fighting about how fair / unfair it was that I was colouring in with one and not the other. It also suddenly dawned on me why they often talk about how worried they are about death. When my eldest first voiced her concerns, I was so touched that I lay down in bed with her for 5 or so minutes, soothing her fears and holding her close. The others soon clocked on that this was the only way mummy actually spends time with you, so they then started up. It makes me so sad that I can’t give them the time they crave with me purely because there is more than one of them. But at the same time it made me see that so much of me feeling like a bad mother is because I am simply overwhelmed by their power as a unit. They become more than the total of their parts. I can feel myself ‘hunkering down’ in order to ‘deal’ with them and get through the evening until I have a scrap of time left to myself.
Well, I don’t want to do that anymore. Today I thought that my middle child should have been born first. She was meant to be an only child. She needs that much attention. And then I thought that actually ALL children probably feel like that. I know that I did. Their requirements for love are boundless. And then I realised that that is her path in life. She was born second because that is what she needs to learn. And I have three because giving each of them the attention and affection they deserve is what I need to learn.
I have no idea how to do that yet but at least I know it’s what I need to work on. And for now, it will just mean signing up to helping out on more school trips!
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Artwork: 'Casting the Net' by Joyce Huntington