Mothering

I've been musing about mothering this week. I did not immediately take well to motherhood. Did I have postnatal depression? I'm not sure and even if I did it was not profound but I did struggle with the sense that I did not know what to do. I loved my baby from the start but she cried and cried and I couldn't seem to stop her. We moved when she was six weeks old to a town where I knew no one and my husband was working long hours as a junior doctor. I remember vividly the sense of desperation and isolation and the feeling that I had given away a life I had been happy with in exchange for this relentless anguish. But by the time she was six months old things had improved. I had come to know how to care for her and made some friends. She laughed at me when I went into her.

With the second baby we had again moved just before he was born and his first few months are a blur of utter exhaustion in my mind. I envy those who have easy babies and settle comfortably into a milky world of early motherhood. That's not at all how it was for me.

But once my children were no longer tiny babies I loved being a mother (and loved escaping from it too). With every stage I have thought "This is the best bit yet". I loved it when they started to talk, adored it when they went to school and I got some time back for myself yet still knew myself the centre of their world. As they got older I loved sharing my favourite books with them, reading aloud from Swallows and Amazons, watching my daughter explore Lucy M Boston's Green Knowe, my son learning the Stanley Bagshawe books by heart, reciting nonsense poetry with them until we collapsed giggling. I loved taking them to the Science Museum, camping with them, walking and picnicking with them.

When they went to secondary school I loved seeing them grow and change, beginning to know things I didn't, becoming increasingly competent and incompetent. When I married again I acquired another two children and I always felt that this was very cunning. I had always wanted a large family but having discovered that I was not very good at pregnancy and having tiny babies I would not have gone on to have any more. This way I found myself with four children and having four altered the dynamic between my own two for the better, stopped them fighting and competing jealously for attention.

They were all teenagers this new family. Sometimes it was easy, sometimes it was hard. Sometimes I wanted to tear my hair out but more often it was rich and funny and satisfying. We felt our way to becoming a family and didn't all move at the same pace but we did it I think and now it is as impossible to imagine life without my stepchildren as it is to imagine life without my own. It has been extraordinary to discover you can feel just as much a mother to a child you have not borne. It's not always easy making a new family but it's good.

When they left for university I started working away from home, distracting myself I now see from the empty nest and relishing the chance to throw my energies at work. I liked the university years too but now again I find myself thinking "This is the best yet" with adult children.

Adult children are so interesting. In some ways they are like friends, you look forward to seeing them, like to do things with them, enjoy a chat about what is going on, but because they are family you know how they work in a very special way. You laugh at the same things, you share much of the same history. They have a perspective on their childhood which is like yours yet utterly different. They remember different things yet so often you find that the things you hoped they would remember when they were younger are indeed the things that made an impression: the campfire on the beach, the den in the woods, the holidays in the campervan (as well as the accident with the knife and the time you forgot to pick them up).

In some ways their lives are their own now. They may live miles away, they have jobs and flats and houses and they are not dependent on you. Yet the phone still goes with questions: When should seed potatoes go in? do I remember where the recipe for such and such is? do you need both buildings and contents insurance? And the connection is as strong as ever, deep in the gut. When they are happy you still find yourself smiling for them, when they are worried or stressed you still wake up in the night thinking about them. But you can lie in bed in the morning. You can read without interruption. You can wander quietly around the garden. You don't have to sit by the swimming pool watching them plough up and down for what feels like years. You don't have to talk to people with whom the only common ground is that you are both parents. You don't have to make lunches, fail to find notes from school, harrass them about home work, operate a taxi service. And that freedom makes up for the loss of the everyday closeness in a way that I would never have imagined, particularly as what replaces it is an attachment as powerful and enduring as anything you felt when they were younger. They remain your people, your tribe, the glue that holds your universe together. You would drive across continents for them and throw yourself out of the balloon to save them. But they don't generally wake you at five in the morning.

Comments

  1. Oh Elizabeth, brilliant blog - and that last line... no they don't wake me at five in the morning, instead the dog did! 5.12 am this morning it was. He did his business and then flopped back into bed and started snoring loudly and I couldnt get back to sleep for an hour! I know exactly what you mean in your blog. I LOVE my children being grownup, just as I loved my babies, littles, teens (well sort of!) and I'm very much looking forward to being a granny one day - God willing!

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  2. You put it so well..at the moment it seems i'm the one wanting to sit up all night in the woods to watch badgers Etc 10 yrs ago it would have been an adventure for them and me now i'm just batty and they don't want to play. i'm missing my little friends but i know they'll be back soon older but younger [that sounds mad].xx

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  3. So right Elizabeth and so beautifully put.

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  4. Fab blog Elizabeth, even though I'm still mired in the early childhood bit I could relate to much of this. I always wanted a big family too yet, like you, I don't think me and newborns went together very well. Mine were both fractious and unsettled too, and six months was a bit of a turning point .... yet every stage on from that had been magical. As my son is 41/2 years older than my daughter, I find mself excited rather than sad about her growing older, as I know how much fun each new stage is (yet at the same time I don't want to change these early years of hers either). I'm past the stage of sleepless nights, thank goodness, though I've got the angst of the teenage years ahead .. it's reassuring to think of al the positive things that lie ahead.

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  5. fascinating to read from my perspective. Miscarriages stopped me from having well, not 4, but I would have adored 3. My 2 are wondrous, and I am sure my feelings stem from having endured about 6 miscarriages before T11 and 2 thoroughly evil ones after F9. Am a rubbish mother and berate myself for my terrifyingly short fuse, my inability to deal with saying something about 50 x (why can't they get it first time???) and was thoroughly shocked when staying away with a friend recently who has their 4 year old cousin (don't ask, v complicated) when she had the nerve to comment on my patience - nerve because a) NOT and b the implication that their behaviour somehow warranted my patience. I know I'd never deal with steps, although I remember having a long chat with a friend's 6 year old before we had children when her parents were going through tough times (leading, ultimately to VILE divorce, such as to put the Mccartneys in the shade) when she was anxious that no-one would take her on with her dad if their mum left. I really really hope that I struck the right balance betw yes of course you're fab and what's not to love and let's make biscuits AND oooh, no, your parents won't split up... scary stuff the step bit, well done for managing it so well. certainly the idea of extra people to adore and be interested in is most intriguing xx

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  6. Ah,
    Lovely, lovely, lovely.
    I enjoy 'idle jack'SO much more now he is older. The little one is a delight just as he is and I don't want him to grow up at all, ever!
    Interestingly that may be just because I enjoyed motherhood so much more second time around...altogether more relaxed and enjoyed every aspect of the experience, even the sleepless nights.
    Hand on heart I know that my only regret when I am old will be that I wish I had at least another one child, possibly two...
    Of course, (with events) it wasn't 'meant to be'so I will have to wait and hope that the boys have children.

    In the meantime I have somehow ended up as godmother to 5 children so they are my little surrogates!
    xx

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  7. I echo what has been said. I can recognise so much here - though I've only been married once so only two offspring, but plenty of others seemed to join the party. For me there was the horrible loss when they were 12/13 or thereabouts when they suddenly turned from wanting to be with you all day long and do the things you wanted to do - to finding friends they wanted to be with. A natural process, and I was happy for them, but there was loss also.

    There's another phase that I think you haven't come to yet. It's when you start asking them questions - 'how do I do.....?' The parenting baton passes, as it were, down the generation - for parenting works upwards as well as downwards. In little ways they start to care for you as you cared for them. Will I ever be seated in a chair with a bib while they feed me, I wonder?

    And yet the time has gone so quickly.

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  8. Well, I'm not really in blogland anymore but just had to say how much this struck a chord.
    I have loved all the stages of their growing years and love this emerging adulthood, but was daughters birthday yesterday and Baggy bottomed second son's tomorrow and for the first time neither have been at home - she in her new found and well fitting home, he on his gap year adventures in NZ. A strange emptiness sits in the well of my stomach, but at the same time I swell with pride at the young adults they have become.

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  9. Wonderful. I have two teenagers and one who's still fairly young. It is odd how they are so different. I can't imagine being where you are, but I know it's just a matter of time.

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  10. Great blog Elizabeth. I loved the paragraph about them being like friends but with a shared history etc. I found each stage wonderful and I adore babies, new ones especially but we are all different . I had no family before I had my children so they are extra special to me. I worry about them just as much now though, that never ends, wish someone had warned me! And that they grow up and leave home too quickly, I would not have agonised about the tiredness etc if I had known that.

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  11. That was a brilliant post that I can truly identify with too!
    Who ever said, when your kids grow up & leave home that you would sever the connection, was totally wrong! It goes on forever, this connection!
    Had to smile a bit though, when you said no more early mornings etc! As my family are "temporarily" (nearly a year) living with us! However I love it now I'm used to it! Having grandchildren live with you, either finishes you completely or helps you to come to life & I reckon I've come to life!

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  12. I found this really comforting somehow. I too didn't 'do' babies (well, baby singular) well - too much anxiety, not enough sleep. But have loved it all since that point though would never describe myself as a 'natural' mother. I think I will enjoy the teenager years (possibly a rash thing to say) and the grown-up bit too.....and think this blog shows it is possible and something to look forward to...

    Not sure I can even go into my relationship with my mother though....jxx

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  13. Wonderful blog, so much touching chords with so many of us. I was bewildered by my feelings when H was born, but have never been interested in talking about contents of nappies etc with other mummies which is why I avoided all the mums-and-tots things with a steely determination. I loved the 9 monthe stage, and the 14 months stage, and the sweetness of twos and threes, but the cheeky sulky stages have been wearing. I love now how H can make me laugh out loud and even at 8 he tells me things I didn't know, I am really looking forward to the journey that we still have ahead of us, although I am at the moment quietly mourning the passing of his 'little boy' stage, he is growing up too fast.

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  14. I was with you every step of the way, Elizabeth - including that screaming for the first 3 months - they both did it! I too would have like more, but high blood pressure in both cases made it dangerous. Now I have 3 steps, so we are 5 in all. Did not have the pleasure of bringing them up though. And Kitty - talk about growing up too fast - my elder grandson has just had his 16th birthday and the other is rising 14 and it only seems like the other day that they were born!

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  15. Hmmmmm - Elizabeth, great blog and I want to respond without sounding preachy - lots of what you wrote struck a chord with me. But..... Because my children were adopted as infants I was always aware of the huge gift and responsibility that they were as infants - never quite got over the whole "am I worthy of being a mother" thing. Of course, I didn't have the post partum challenges, so wasn't exhausted and hormonally battered. I was, however, in a whirl because one day I was at work and the next I had a phone call telling me I was going to be a mother - and in those days working adoptive mothers were not allowed. I always found it odd that the social worker who visited regularly to make sure that all was well, and who asked "are you working outside the home?" was herself hugely pregnant and intending to continue to work.
    Fast forward to this week. My youngest is poised to leave home at the end of the week. I think we're all ready for this, but I will miss the everyday things about having her here. Son and Heir and DIL live 10 minutes away, and like you, I'd "drive across continents for them and throw [myself] out of the balloon to save them" - but I'm looking forward to having that extra room upstairs to do with as I please!

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  16. Brilliant Elizabeth. And yes it is lovely to watch them grow and move away and be independent - but there is a warm feeling too isn't there when they phone up with a question . . . cos we are still needed.

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  17. Oh, I remember the isolation of being a new mother in a strange (and rather unfriendly) place! And I think I was a pretty rotten mother, though I was home for the early years for both sons, but we are close, and I love the phone calls about recipes - don't expect I'll ever be a grandmother though!

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  18. Hi Elizabeth. That first paragraph was exactly my experience! I did have PND and had medication which helped a great deal. My eldest is off to senior school in Sept so I read on with interest! I have a long way to go to catch you up yet but I agree, every stage (since babyhood) has been great.

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  19. How weird - this is another of those 'this is my life' moments! You describe my circumstances and my feelings exactly (down to first born crying incessantly!).

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  20. That feeling of 'new mother' bewilderment I felt with the first baby has never entirely left me. I am mother to three wonderful and remarkable young men. Each stage of our relationships has brought treasured moments - none to be regretted - but I still feel, even now, a slight anxiety at each new step of our now adult lives. Am I doing this properly when I feel little more than an adolescent myself? I do wish I had a 'mum' to ask difficult questions of as they do of me.

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  21. Aah, very sweet. I have teens and a 4 year old so have a lot going on emotionally, plus my mother staying with us!!!
    And it's my husband trying to do a day trip from Chicago to Washington DC and back who's waking me up at 5am to catch the first flight. Oy, oy, oy.

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  22. Golly I'm so glad I didn't read this when I was poorly as I would have blubbed for Britain! Making a different family with step-children is hard sometimes but, as you say, so rewarding in the end.

    With such a huge family myself I can honestly say no stage is better or worse than another - I love them all and can be utterly frustrated by them all. I wish endlessly for more energy and time, and worry endlessly that one or other isn't missing out or needing help. Oh I must stop as I can feel a little cry coming on!!! xxx

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  23. Reading this is like looking into the future but seeing my past.

    I'm assuming a junior doctor over there is similar to residency over here. I had the Impling at the end of my husbands first year of residency over here.

    I still don't know how we did it.

    Can't wait to see what happens next, though.

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  24. Oh elizabeth, yes, you are so right. My eldest has just, like this Tuesday, gone to live in France with his family. And I feel bereft! Stupid - they're not that far away, crazy - I'll probably see him more. But somewhere there's a tug in my gut, he's in another country, another culture - I feel some ether connection has been severed and it's illogical.

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