Do you look forward to the summer holidays or do you dread them?
When my son was young, I never looked forward to the school holidays.
Other mums would be excitedly discussing plans of meeting up, family holidays abroad or at Centre Parcs, gushing about having uninterrupted days of play and fun. I used to feel a mixture of horror at highlighting my incompetence, dread of not knowing how to fill the endless days, and a huge serving of guilt for not looking forward to it, and not being good enough at any of this.
Even writing now, I feel the nausea rising and the tension in my shoulders. My stomach clenches trying to steady me.
I found weekends hard enough. The prospect of keeping him alive and entertained for six and a half weeks just scared me literally sh**less.
It was no coincidence that in his first year of nursery I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. I felt out of control of my life, my body, and of my child. He wasn’t naughty, he was high spirited and didn’t always conform to social norms or the expectation of others, or me.
He sometimes sought the company of other children but more often than not he preferred adult attention. At nursery, he’d stay with the teacher or assistant. At break times, he wouldn’t go off and play; he used to walk around with the playground assistant. People used to think it was cute; they’d call him ‘a little old man’ when he’d address the elderly women at the bus stop “Morning ladies, where are we off to this fine day?” But he was only 3, not 73!
So, the summer holidays meant I’d have a shadow. Not a quiet, subservient shadow that followed and copied everything I did, but a wilful, overtly energetic, constantly curious and incessantly noisy shadow. Interrupting my life, my plans, my work, my every waking (and most of my sleeping) hours! It’s not that I didn’t love him. I did. I do! I would, and still would do anything to protect him, but it wasn’t how I wanted to spend my time. I loved working, being productive, networking and interacting with people – that was what I did. In every role I had ever had that’s the bit I found the most enjoyable – interaction. Yet here I was with this little person who pretended to be an adult but would scream a deafening, inconsolable screech if I or anyone else tried to get him to do something in a different order or at a different time or with different people than he was used to. I felt powerless and at a loss because I could not interact. I could not negotiate or placate, cajole, or pacify my own bloody son.
I felt useless and my emotions are all over the place!
I’d never felt SO useless except when trying to breast feed and giving up on week 4, exhausted, sore and emotionally beaten. Or at week 15 when his father insisted we called 111 and then we had an emergency call from the doctor and he was admitted to the children’s ward at the general hospital with suspected meningitis. I had felt sure he was just hot because the heating was on 22 degrees - he would be grizzly, wouldn’t he?
I was quickly realising I wasn’t good at this job called mothering and I didn’t like it (the not being good or the job!). I wanted to quit, hand my notice in, get a transfer, go on a long sabbatical but I knew they weren’t options and that scared me. And made me more depressed. I felt powerless, hopeless, and trapped.
Each holiday some of those same feelings arose again with the expectations of family, friends, and strangers that I would be looking forward to it. I could never let on. I cried every day for weeks in the shower (it’s amazing how often I got away with the ‘soap in my eye’ excuse!). The only time I felt remotely like me was at work (but I still felt on-call). I hated having to use my holiday to do another job that I didn’t want to do. It didn’t feel fair. The other half got to take holiday and have days out fishing and visiting his family. I just wanted a break. A break from life and responsibility. As I knew that wasn’t a possibility, I made plans. I arranged to go out every other day. I’d meet with my friends who had children so at least I could have a bit of adult conversation and he would have children to play with. It was hard finding places to go, things to do which didn’t cost too much and weren’t too far away. Occasionally, if I was feeling up to it and could get up early enough in the mornings, we would take the other half to work so I could have the car for the day. I sold my car to buy baby stuff, so it always felt so annoying that he still had transport/freedom/independence and I didn’t.
To rub salt in, we had to pick up his colleague and drop him home every night as his wife needed the car during the day for their children! He couldn’t see why that made me mad and sad in equal measures??!!
Why do some men live in a vacuum?
I honestly think that the disrespect and unappreciation of the job of motherhood by society as a whole added to my anger, frustration, sadness, and hopelessness about the role. If a woman feels at all ‘less than’ in any area of her life before having children, there is a risk that it will be magnified after the birth of her children. The huge expectations placed on her (sometimes also by her) can highlight so much that is wrong in the world. The injustices faced and the inadequacy of services. The thoughtless actions and comments of people. The lack of understanding and the need for more genuine connection.
In time I have learned a coping strategy on dealing with emotions SAFELY.
I guess the thing is it was bloody tough. And there are still those of you that will be struggling today. Looking to the summer break, hoping that it won’t be the thing that breaks you. Please don’t let that happen. There is a lot more support available these days. It is still hard to access it at times, but the Facebook group Good Enough Mums is here to offer support, tips, advice, friendship. Click here to join and meet other mum’s that are evolving from believing they aren’t good enough to KNOWING that they are.
One of the things that helped me calm during a stressful situation is doing some meditation. If you are interested to learn more on how you can start a regular meditation practice, click here.
With hope and healing,