There is a trend at the moment to be really ‘honest’ as a parent. What this means is, we talk about how hard and horrible it is to be a parent and how annoying children can be, and call it being candid or brave.
There is a tendancy to view children as an interruption, their demanding baby stage as something ‘to be got through’, and we make every effort to minimise the disruption children bring to adult life by using nurseries, nannies, and doing everything we can to get our babies to sleep so that we can go back to ‘normal life’ as quickly as possible.
While I find it helpful sometimes to talk with other parents and realise that I am not the only one who struggles with my temper, whose kids won’t put their shoes on when asked and interrupt conversations … I feel we are looking at only one side of the coin.
I talked to my mum about this the other day. She had a really good career in the civil service before I came along. She was gradually being promoted up the ranks, and when she fell pregnant actually had the higher wage out of my parents. In modern terms, it made no sense for her to give up work and stay home.
But that’s what she did. She gave up her career, a comfortable wage, and her independence, and stayed at home full time. I asked her if she ever regretted it, or missed working. I expected some wistfulness perhaps, or some words about being glad to give it up because she knew it was the right thing.
“Not at all,” she said. “I loved being at home.”
That’s all very well, a modern mum might argue. If someone loves being at home then great, that’s lovely for her and for her children. But not for me – I need to work, I need more than just caring for children.
But my mum didn’t stop there. She explained why she loved giving up a good career and staying at home full time with disobedient, frustrating kids (and believe me, I could be frustrating – I refused to go to sleep alone until I was well over three, and I would not wear wrinkled socks – my shoes had to be taken off and on until there were no wrinkles at all).
“Being a mother is an honour,” she exclaimed with passion. “These children have been entrusted to you. It’s a great blessing to be there to raise them and teach them.”
Wow. I don’t think anyone has ever said that to me in almost seven years of parenting. People have said how hard it is, how demanding, how it sucks the life out of you and leaves you with stretch-marks, bags under your eyes, and nothing resembling a life.
No one ever called it an honour. A privilege. A blessing.
My mum did a great deal that day to restore my sense of mission in motherhood. Before I had kids I wanted to be a good parent. I saw children as a blessing. But somehow over the years, the lack of sleep and our children’s resistance to love and discipline, not to mention the negative comments in the media and from other people, all ground me down until I wearily resigned myself to another fifteen years or so of not doing the things I loved, and perhaps working at a low-grade job for a few hours a week so that we could afford to pay for a holiday abroad, or university fees.
Amazing what a few words can do. I fully acknowledge that motherhood can feel like drudgery. It is hard work. It demands more than I feel I can give most days.
But I remind myself that I am honoured to bring new life into this world. I feel that more than ever right now as my little girl moves within me. Yes, pregnancy comes with pain and nausea and discomfort but also incredible blessing. I get to give life to someone. To three Someones, with souls and personality and potential to bring great joy into this world.
I remind myself that I am privileged to be one of the most significant people in the life of three human beings. It is my words that will guide my children to success or failure, to good character or weakness. It is my hands that will teach them kindness and love. It is my arms that will embrace them, my belief that will inspire them, my faith that will encourage them.
I remind myself that children are a blessing. They are a gift, not a right. There are thousands of women who would give anything to be woken tonight by the cries of a newborn, but who will sleep soundly because their womb remains empty, or because their baby never came home.
The needs and demands of my children, their mess, their disorganisation, their interruptions – these are blessings too. They have taught me more love and patience than I would ever have otherwise learned. I am so far from perfect but my children have also taught me about forgiveness. I can scream at them in the morning because they have not put their shoes on despite being asked seven times … yet at three o’ clock my son runs out to hug me as if I was the best person in the whole world.
And to him, for now, I am. To him I am the most beautiful woman, the best cook, the best mummy in the world. I’ll take that award.
So although I think it is helpful to acknowledge that motherhood is hard (in fact, soul-achingly painful at times) … let’s also remember that we are honoured, privileged, blessed. Yes, immense self-sacrifice is involved, but that is our gift to give. Our love, our advice, our support will make a world of difference to the next generation. Let us rise to the challenge and not be afraid.
6 thoughts on “Motherhood … a privilege?”
This was an uplifting read – thank you!
Lovely post. Totally agree that motherhood is an amazing blessing even when it is hard and, as you can see from your own mother, the privilege of being a mother and guiding your children doesn’t go away when they grow up and have children of their own.
Sorry – found it a little bit nauseating. Couldn’t help but notice your “othering” of the infertile and bereaved. People always do that – seemingly forgetting that they too could be standing in those shoes one day. There’s a lot more heartache than not being able to go out for pizza, or getting up for a night feed, and you may well find yourself not taking your baby home this time either, or losing a child to sickness or accidents. Mothering is hard because immense love involved huge risk and terrible pain – and it usually beyond our control.
Immense self-sacrifice that is your gift to give is not really immense self-sacrifice at all, is it? Women have children, not becuase they are great selfless people, but to fulfill needs within themselves, and it bores me senseless how they want to whine incessantly about how hard/traumatic/difficult it is for them. You forgot your kids were a blessing – even whilst you’re having another.. Really?
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Thank you for your thoughts, Sarah. I had no intention of ‘othering’ anyone, and since my friend lost her baby two years ago I have been very conscious of how uncertain even a healthy pregnancy can be, and of how deeply such a loss can hurt. I simply wrote this entry to encourage mothers who are struggling to see the purpose (as I did for a while) in raising their own children, when the media and many politicians seem to think it not a worthwhile use of time, and continually push mothers to believe that anyone can replace them. Earning money seems to be the mark of value in our culture, and as a stay-at-home mum I felt very voiceless and ignored by our culture. I had hoped to counter that.
I’d disagree with your opposing ‘gift’ and ‘self-sacrifice’. Surely that is the very nature of self-sacrifice – something costly that is willingly given. I have ‘sacrificed’ a career, or at least a wage, material possessions, the respect of many people (because I have faced criticism for staying at home), my time, energy, health, sleep, physical appearance … and much more, in order to be with my children as much as possible while they are young. Sometimes I have wondered if I made the right choice, but on the whole it’s a no-brainer. I don’t miss any of those things (apart from maybe my 32dds!)
I would also contend with your assumption that women have children for self-fulfillment. Many do, but my decision to have our third was very difficult. We almost lost our first son at birth, and every time I have a child it damages my body (my Crohn’s disease gets worse). However, I believe very strongly that being a mother is worthwhile, and felt it was worth making the sacrifices listed above to bring another life into the world. So I did it for her as well as for myself.
Lastly, the conversation I had with my mother took place before I became pregnant. We were weighing up whether to have another, and her attitude was partly what swayed me in favour of going for it. I think what I was trying to get at here is that our culture makes it very difficult for mothers to enjoy their children – in fact, I was trying to counter the very culture that ‘bores you senseless’ – the tendency to focus on the hard side of raising children, as opposed to remembering that no one has a right to a child, as you pointed out also.
I hope this helps clarify what I was trying to say.
I don’t agree with your blog post. While I agree it’s a blessing to have a child that doesn’t mean that mums who don’t stay at home are any less a mum, or are avoiding ‘real’ motherhood. It is hard bringing up kids, and you judging other mums that way doesn’t help parents who are struggling with issues such as insecurity, isolation and adverse personal circumstances.
I probably should have made it clearer that although my mother chose to stay home full time, that was not the thrust of this blog entry. I do happen to believe that children under three should be with their mothers as much as they possibly can, however, I understand that circumstances do not always allow this. I would never suggest that being a full-time-mum makes me, or anyone else, a ‘better’ mum (who can judge that anyway?)
You are right that bringing up kids is hard, but one of the reasons I would advocate being at home as much as possible is because it facilitates a closer relationship between parent and child, which then makes the rest of parenting smoother. The better I know my boys the better I’ve been able to parent them. The closer they feel to me the more willingly they respond to my attempts to guide them.
I try not to judge individuals as a rule – we can know so little of a person’s circumstances that it is generally best to avoid making assumptions about any one person. For example, you didn’t know that I actually went back to work after my first son was born. What I do judge, however, are our cultural assumptions that small children are looked after just as well by strangers as they are by their mothers (or extended family, or a child minder who knows them well); and the other assumption that some parents make, that children should not be allowed to interrupt their ‘right’ to personal fulfillment.
But as I said – the issue of staying at home versus working was not really what I was getting at … rather, I wanted to encourage any mother who has been feeling undervalued lately, to remember that the trouble you are going to for your children is worthwhile.