Dear Stupid Parents,
It’s just shy of two years since I became a parent and five months since I became a parent to two, yet somehow, it’s only just dawned on me this week that there is no end to this learning curve I’m on. There’s so much to learn and know in this parenting malarkey, that I’ll probably never know it all.
It’s not that I’m especially desperate to know it all, but I kind of always thought when you become a parent – especially when you become a mother – the universe hands you a bucket load of knowledge and skills with which to solve and conquer all the problems that might crop up along the road of raising kiddies. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s ever thought something along those lines. In fact, I distinctly remember having this very conversation with friends years ago. We mused over how our mothers always seemed to know what to do, how they never seemed flummoxed or stumped by anything, they just always had the answers.
It’s a truism to say that having children makes you think of your own parent(s)/carers and all they did, and perhaps continue to do for you. Now that I’m a parent myself, I often wonder how my mother got through the sleep deprivation, teething, potty training, school starts, GCSEs, waving us off as we left home to become our own people – without losing her mind. I’m at the very beginning of this lark and I have no idea how I’m going to keep this up for the rest of my life. Because that’s the thing, once a mother, always a mother. I’m 32 years old and can still do very little without consulting my mummy; from what to wear on a night out, to how to wean the baby, to the back-to-work conundrum, I ask her advice before anyone else, ever. I don’t always take it but I like to know what she thinks and what her experience has taught her about the issue I’m grappling with at that time.
Admittedly, I’m desperately indecisive but it really isn’t that alone that makes me turn to her so often, it’s because she’s just so good at what she does. She seems to be the exact example of what my friends and I, all those years ago, marvelled at; she always seems to know what to do. Even when her initial response is “I don’t know,” by the time she’s spoken those 3 short words, her brain has somehow magicked the answer so that whenever she doesn’t know something, it’s never for very long.
As well as her incredible ability to handle all things ‘life,’ she knows exactly how to deal with each of us – myself and my 3 siblings – perfectly. She knows us so well even though we’re all very different. Actually, we sometimes joke that she’s so good at being a mummy that each of us genuinely believe we’re her favourite!
Don’t get me wrong, she’s not a perfect, Pinterest mum with hugs and patience in abundance. Growing up, our house wasn’t a haven of sing-songs and arts & crafts, and she definitely wouldn’t sacrifice her last bit of chocolate for any of us. Rather, she is a very typical Irish mother. Have you ever seen that YouTube video of the Irish guy who’s meant to be studying for his Irish oral exam but isn’t, so his mum screams and roars at him before swearing at him ‘fuck it, Robert!’ (If not, try this.) Read the comments below, most people from other nationalities claimed it was ‘cruel’ and ‘abusive’ but seek out the comments from the Irish viewers who all find it hilarious, “so true!” is what we exclaimed, because Irish mothers love deep and love true but don’t muck about. I’m not saying that they all swear in their children’s faces, (although, I’d put money on it happening to most people at least once!) I’m saying that there was a realness and an honesty in our family that I don’t know exists in every home. I remember being told about the importance of turning lights off and saving left overs because we didn’t have loads of money. And I remember getting a bollocking for poor school reports and parents’ evenings. There were frank conversations about money, politics, school, God, problems, job stress – the issues that we, like all families, went through weren’t hidden from us, we were part of the discussion.
What I didn’t realise then though, what we didn’t talk about, was just how much our mummy did every single day to keep things ticking over – to keep us alive and happy. Groceries were bought, meals were made. She washed and ironed our clothes, helped us with homework, dropped us off to football/dance/whatever. She was there with an ear when we needed to talk, she signed permissions slips, came to watch us in plays, took us to the dentist, stayed off work when we were sick. (I could go on but you get the point.) And she never told us how hard it was to balance it all or how exhausted even the thought of it made her. She did this, like so many mothers do this, while working full time, being there in other capacities for her 7 brothers and sisters, and taking responsibility in the way that you do, for her own mother. In short, she held the fort, almost entirely by herself. And she’s still doing it.
This week has been a bit of a disaster in my little life – not anything massively dramatic, certainly nothing most parents don’t deal with from time to time, but pretty challenging. We’re dealing with a hefty bout of toddler croup, baby teething and almost complete sleeplessness. I feel frazzled, lonely, emotionally exhausted, and have never more wondered how my mother got through this sort of stuff. But the funny thing is, I’m struggling even though I’m on maternity leave! I don’t have to go anywhere or do anything each day if I don’t want to, but she did. She had to do everything, every day for DECADES (there’s almost 20 years between my eldest and youngest siblings) and we had absolutely no idea. Much like the tired old cliche, she was the swan gracefully gliding along the lake making life look effortless, making it seem like she had it sussed and making us feel safe. Meanwhile, her legs were working overtime to get us all where we needed to be. Occasionally, she’d have to scream just to get us to get off our asses and tidy up after ourselves, and when I was very young, I remember thinking she walked so fast, I could barely keep up, but other than that, there was no sign of the sheer effort she put into it all, she just got on with the thankless task of being our mummy.
I’m sure if I spoke to her about this, she’d tell me that it was hard and she did struggle but growing up, whether consciously or not, she hid it from us. To be honest, part of me still thinks that bucketful of knowledge that I seem to have misplaced, really did make its way to her. She does it all too well for there to be any other logical explanation.
In the years ahead, as I hopefully figure out how to do parenthood and do it well – or at least better – I hope to be able to hide my stress from my children, I don’t want to burden them with complaints about the effort of it. I’ll probably never be the swan but wouldn’t it be just so brilliant if, twenty years from now, our kids looked back on their childhood and genuinely thought “you did all of that? But how?!” Just like lots of us think about our own mothers, fathers, grannies, uncles, or whoever it was that captained the ship.
I’d no clue how safe I was and how much my mother did to make it that way. That feeling of complete surrender to someone else is reserved only for the luckiest children, surely there can be no bigger compliment to a parent than their childrens’ absolute ignorance of their own vulnerability and just how looked after they really are.
So to my Mummy, this week has been a rotter, as I’ve told you on FaceTime about a million times. I realise now a little bit of what you’ve done for us. Thank you for taking on the job, thank you for bossing it everyday and thank you for making it look like you knew what you were doing even if you didn’t! I’ve no doubt you had horrible weeks and stressful times but I never knew a thing. For that reason, I can say with certainty that I’m learning from the best and I’m following in your footsteps in the hope that one day, I too will be able to take the L plates off.