“How are you finding motherhood?”
It’s a simple enough question.
Ted’s a toddler now so I’m not asked it that often anymore. But when I am, it can still throw me. It’s much trickier to answer than, say, ‘what’s your name?’ or ‘what’s your favourite biscuit?’, and I’d struggle enough with those. (Chocolate digestive. No, HobNob. Do I have to pick just one?).
I find that my response – re: motherhood, not re: biscuits – depends on who’s asking.
There’s a chance that the asker is simply being polite; a neighbour or a casual acquaintance, for example, probably doesn’t want a full run-down. It’s fair enough. I bore myself sometimes when relaying tales of Ted’s crap sleep patterns to my family, and try not to subject anyone else to them.
And my boy’s growing personality is a joy to behold, to ME, but I realise I am perhaps biased in seeing beauty in all of his little quirks, like when he farts loudly and then laughs.
So I usually tell the casual asker little more than ‘brilliant’/’great’, and wonder if it makes me sound like the ‘bovvered’ woman from Catherine Tate. (Apologies for the noughties cultural reference. I don’t watch much TV nowadays because I go to bed very early – see above re: crap sleep.)
Other times I’m asked the motherhood question, and I might as well be on another telly programme, this time a detective drama. I’m the accused, being cross-examined in a box room at the back of the police station, demanding to phone my lawyer. (It’s an American show.)
The asker of the question is the bad cop, waiting for a confession. Shining a light in my eyes to get a really good look into my soul.
So, Laura. How are you finding motherhood?
How are you really finding it?
Be honest now.
There’s no point lying, because we KNOW.
We KNOW that you sometimes scroll on your phone for ages, while your son plays with his MegaBloks, or looks at his books. On his own. On his own! What kind of mother are you?
We KNOW there are days when you count down the hours until Graham gets home so you’re not ‘solo parenting’ anymore.
We KNOW that some mornings you can hear your son in the next room, awake and wanting attention, but you stay in bed that bit longer, don’t you? DON’T YOU?
Oh yes, Laura.
It happened the other day, one of these ‘interrogations’, from a work associate I’d not seen in a while.
In reality, it was nothing of the sort, of course, and afterwards, I realised that these feelings – of being grilled like a common criminal – usually surface when I’m asked the motherhood question by someone from a specific demographic. Namely, another mum.
It’s usually a mum who I’m not necessarily friends with and often – as is the case with the work associate – one who became mother before me, who might already have this parenting lark sussed. More sussed than I have, anyway.
And so, in response to that simple question the other day, I found myself mumbling things like “oh it’s great, but my parents have him for two and a half days, I’m not sure I would cope otherwise.” Making myself out to be half a mum because I only have him solo for half the working week.
Why? Why couldn’t I have said: “it’s great, thank you. He’s the most wonderful thing on this earth; I feel lucky and grateful every day and wish I could capture all the tiniest details of him in my mind forever, but looking after him is occasionally tiring and dull”?
Because of the perceived judgement I’d expect to receive, from other people, other mums.
Motherhood is such an odd beast: so many of us going through the same experiences that ought to bind us. And sometimes they do, yet other times we might as well be pitching against one another. Who’s the best? Who’s the winner?
But that word ‘perceived’ is key. It’s perceived judgement, not actual judgement.
And so I recognise that the toughest interrogator in all of this is actually my old pal, the inner critic. Shining her big torch in my face.
Because now I’ve written about being grilled by other mums, I realise what a prat I sound.
I mean, AS IF other mums really give a monkey’s about what I’m doing with my kid! (And if they do, then can I have some of their spare time, please?) So next time I’m asked the question I will try not to be thrown. I will instruct my old pal Inner Critic to shut up.
I will remind myself that other mums, other people, really don’t care – in the nicest possible way – about Ted’s crap sleep or his post-fart laughs, or about how I sometimes count down those daytime hours.
Tell them or don’t tell them, it’s no big deal.
And I’ll remember that anyone who really does care – because they care about me, and Ted – will know that the real answers to the question cannot possibly be summed up in a sentence or two, anyway.
Find her on Instagram and Twitter under the handle @thelauraod.