As a new mum, I quickly realised that I wasn’t capable of meeting my baby’s needs, staying alive/sane myself, and having a clean house and the garden the way I would like it. I’m not sure if that’s just me or if it was my baby (eventually three babies) or the way I chose to parent, but it was that simple. I made the only choice I thought I had: the mess ruled, and still does, the babies and I came/come first.
It cost me people: after my anti-natal coffee-group had been around on one particularly messy occasion, I had several in that group who never returned; I had someone close to me, on more than one occasion tell me she couldn’t live this (with dramatic gesture) way, and my ex-father-in-law was postively rude every time he walked in the door.
I care. I cared. It upset me. I like things to be clean and orderly, I’d love my garden to be gorgeous with trimmed lawns. I’d like it done and it drives me nuts that in my otherwise very well organised life, I can’t pull it all off. I’m not sure how others can. How do you?
Now the boys are older (15, 12 & 7.5 – don’t forget the half), and I’m a solo-mum. I work full-time equivalent between two jobs, and the kids and I still come as first as we can. The boys contribute to getting things done and daily/weekly I do the basics like loo and washing, but still outside and inside usually look like a tribe of elephants has been through. I still get people calling in and casting an eye and giving me the frosty-nostril – to the point I’ve never really had visitors come to the house for over two years.
I have lovely friends, and the vast majority would visit me and not my house, but that sense of not being enough remains constant. I rarely even have my parents around for a meal and I’m always watching people’s reactions as they walk in the door. I’m conscious of not meeting some ridiculous standard of perfection. All. The. Time.
I also have no inclination to exercise beyond the incidental 10,000 steps I do each day; none of us is fit – but apparently that’s a capital offense too.
And, there’s the new issue of having been separated for over two years of – why are you still single, have you met anyone yet, time to get online dating, he’s got a new girlfriend, why haven’t you…
And dammit,this all bugs me. I’m 49 years old and pretty damned happy with the way my life is panning out, the boys are well-adjusted and make me very proud (mostly because, kids), I love my work and I have great friends and enough of a social life to keep me feeling part of the world. But these things still get to me: why isn’t my house cleaner and tidier; why isn’t my garden looking pristine; why aren’t we all fit and gorgeous; why can’t I really be bothered to be out looking for a new partner?
And why do I care what other people think?
To be honest, it didn’t start well. The 11 year-old’s surfboard channeled too much wind and snapped before we’d even hit the main highway. There were tears at the devastation: his father had given it to him for Christmas and he’d yet to use it. It didn’t help that after moving the surfboards inside the car, I then accidentally shut the car door on his ankle. Calm apologies were made, and eventually accepted. (We bought a new surfboard a few days later.)
I was resolute. This trip had been a year in the planning: I felt it was the last chance I had to whisk the almost 15 year-old away for a long road trip; the accommodation had been booked for months, and there was a long overdue extended family gathering for Christmas planned.
So now we had three children, myself, all our gear, Christmas stuff and two surfboards in the car. The atmosphere settled and the first three hour drive of the adventure begun. It’s probably an asset that I hadn’t overthought the whole thing. Over 3000 km (A little more than 2000 miles) of travelling in the space of three weeks with three boys who are all respectful and strong-willed, polite and assertive, tall for their ages and cramped, and excited and easily annoyed by each other.
I must have been mad.
The adventures were great: rising at dawn to go and dig holes in the sand where boiling-hot geothermal water rises between the tide lines; roller-coaster rides and rides that made someone’s 48 year-old inner-ear fluid spin for hours; bush walks to see ancient trees, one with the girth of a water-tank; climbing a sand dune to boogie-board down; historic sites and wharf jumping near the two oldest buildings in the country; family and more family; rivers and lakes and swimming pools, and swimming on both coasts and fishing; a 70s party with the shiniest pants and the longest sideburns I’d seen in years; New Year’s in a flash hotel with room service and valet parking; barefoot games of pool in a pub and being invited to compete against the locals; and river rock-sliding on airbeds, including a few epic wipe outs.
The boys tell me it was 80% fun and worth doing, but please let’s not do it that way again.
For me, it was both wonderful and terrible. There were times when it was insanely exhausting. When we arrived somewhere, no matter how ratty we all were, there was a car to be unpacked and food to be found – at the very least fresh milk to be bought for the morning, and it was all my responsibility. There was washing to be done every few days and maps to be read, the car to be filled with petrol on long stretches of road with few service stations, and the budget to be managed, and it was all my responsibility. We took detours we shouldn’t have, had nights with inadequate sleep and we all had tantrums, and I was the only one who could sort it all out.
I had one night of adulting thanks to two wonderful cousins who kidnapped me and took me dancing, and my lovely aunt and uncle who babysat.
It was a one-off adventure, and I’m very aware that we are lucky we had the opportunity to do it. I am pleased I chose to spend the money I saved so ardently on seeing a chunk of our country, rather than heading overseas. We made some great memories and will have stories to retell for years to come. As for the surfing: 3000 kms with surfboards in the car, and because of the waves we encountered, they used them once. Mad. I tell you.
Have you ever traveled a long way with children alone? Was it easier than you imagined it would be?
This is an original post written for World Moms Network by Karyn Willis.
Maybe you’re the same? I get teased a lot about my Facebook use. But not by people who get it.
Five years ago, I was in a miserable marriage and experiencing phenomenally low energy levels. I wonder now if I was bordering on depression. I had a nine year-old, a six year-old and a two year-old, and my life pretty much revolved around them because I had to choose to do one thing well. I was 43 and experiencing some intense bleeding as part of peri-menopause and my iron levels were teeny as a result, I was seriously sleep-deprived and I was trying to convince the world I was right about everything.
I was prickly to those who annoyed me and many people annoyed me. I was very, very fragile. I was trying to keep my boys protected from some intense dysfunction within their wider world, and ensure they felt loved but not entitled. I felt isolated and I had some serious self-development to do. I had baggage I needed to sort out. It wasn’t my fault I was in this state but it was my responsibility to change it.
To be clear: I have many dear friends in real life and lots of things I can talk about. I am interested in stuff. But most of my people are busy parents who aren’t always available. My interests have always been eclectic, so finding those who can sensibly discuss things I want to discuss is rare, when in survival mode, it was impossible. Personal development wasn’t new to me but it was on the backburner because there was no space in my head. So I joined Facebook, and it began.
Have you changed after using Facebook? It may seem weird to those who haven’t had it as a lifeline. I did. I found one mini tribe after another that shared my interests: I could be part of a group that got *this* but didn’t have to know *that* about me. I was given new information and new skills to learn. I became more circumspect about whom I told what. I could chat with people at 5.00am or 12.00pm, when no one in my real world was around. I had proper fun for the first time in years. I learned to laugh and tease and flirt with men, and to put in boundaries to maintain greater self-respect, and not be fazed when people didn’t resonate with me and ghosted. I learned a lot about speaking in a way that I could be heard and listening to understand, not to respond. I learned about some really alternative ways of looking at the world.
I learned to be the me I had been before other people had convinced me to be something else that suited them. I ditched the shell and found a spine.
And the response has been outstandingly positive. My sense of self has soared. I have slowly translated all my new self into the real world and am loving life in a way I could never have predicted. I am healthy all round. How about you? Does your online life reflect your real life? It’s an interesting thing to ponder.
As things do, this has cycled around: I am now faced with the reality that some of my online people are Trump people and therefore, not my people. The internet has limitations: no tone of voice, no body language, no instantaneous vibe to resonate with… or not. Interpersonal cues take longer to decipher. It’s a curious thing and I understand why those who don’t get it, don’t get it. In the end it comes down to this: I value my mini-tribes in ways that anti-Facebook people will probably never understand. Cheers to you all and a heartfelt, thank you.
What’s your Facebook experience been like? Are you even on Facebook?
It was a very short time ago that I was seven years old imagining that 10 was very grown-up and close to being a teenager, and the Millennium was so far in the future that my head hurt to think about it. Yesterday, or thereabouts, I was 19 recovering from a minor relationship breakup, wondering whether I’d find someone to marry and trying to imagine what it would be like to be a person’s Mum.
Today I am 48 and alone again. I get to be the parent of three incredible human beings and I, pretty much, get to do everything that comes with that. And I’ve never been happier.
I get to get up in the night with my youngest who needs to go to the loo and anyone who has a nightmare or wants a hug. I get calls at random hours to go look at the stars or the moon – “Look I got you a duvet, Mum. Come join me.” It’s not entirely beyond the consciousness of these mini-mes that I am up at 4.50am week days. They know I am also being woken by hot-flushes. They have seen me have sudden moments of realization that the cat isn’t able to get to the litter-box, if I don’t get up immediately and open the door to the garage. They know I suddenly rush about organizing something, right now, right this second before I forget. But they don’t realize I also do all this at 3.00am or 2.10am or 12.55am.
I haven’t read a fiction book for myself for years, though I used to read one a day at times. I rarely exercise, or clothes shop, or get my haircut.
I work where I can laugh and sometimes get real, adult conversation. After work there are the countless errands of groceries or pharmacy visits or book stores or stationers, maybe if I’m lucky catching up with friends. There’s people to call when organizing four lives, the washing to get in and a house to be kept if not clean, at least hygienic. There’s meals to prepare most nights and children to teach how to prepare them on other nights. There’s homework and school meetings and fundraising and parent-teacher interviews to be a part of. And when I get home at night after I’ve been at a school meeting, if the dishes aren’t done it’s my job to at least wash them, and meat to get out of the freezer for the next night’s dinner.
There’s food scraps to be buried and a garden that really needs to be weeded. There’s children to be taught how to organize themselves and supervised to do so, once that’s learned. There’s chores to supervise or check are completed. There’s a cat to be fed and watered.
It’s all on me to get the car to the garage for servicing or repairs. If the house breaks, it’s my responsibility to get it fixed and to pay for those bills. The doctors visits are mine. The dentists visits are mine. The trips to the recycling depot and the dump are all mine. No one changes a light-bulb without me asking it to be done. Sometimes, things have to be ignored, at least temporarily for six months or so. It never ends.
And, it’s true, I’ve never been happier.
I know who I am and I am more likely now to call people on their b.s. that I ever have been before. I adore my house, live minutes from shops and an easy drive to the ocean, and can’t imagine living anywhere else. I have work I love and friends I think are just wonderful. I get out enough with just grown-ups. I have support I could call on, if I really have to. My boys are fabulous when consciousness over-rides testosterone, which is most of the time. And we laugh together hard. And often.
This week my house is an utter mess, my car needs to be taken to the garage, I was in bed at 7.45pm on Monday after 5 and a half hours sleep on Sunday night, I have paperwork that should have been finished a week ago, the cat has a dodgy tummy and my it was my youngest’s turn to become seven.
And, it’s absolutely true:
I’ve never been happier.
It’s one of those things I never saw coming before I was a mother: The value of adults behaving badly around my children.
In fairness, most of the adults my boys get to interact with are fine people, who behave with maturity, have decent principles and who take responsibility for their actions. And I’m not talking about those who swear, or drink alcohol or smoke, or who have different beliefs or ways of raising their own children. Accepting that others are different in many ways is something the boys are well on the way to understanding, and these things are superficial when all said and done.
I’m talking about: the value of experiencing adults letting them down; the importance of hearing adults blame others for their own inaction or mistakes; the usefulness of having an adult’s words and actions not line up with one another; and the great learning involved when they are around adults who are manipulative, bratty, unreasonable, show blatant racism or sexism, or who are down right mean and nasty.
With these, the boys all go through the stages of mourning. Sometimes the mourning process is longer than others, depending on the closeness of the relationship they have with the adult in question. When it’s a distant relationship, it might be a casual comment or discussion in passing – the emotional impact is minor and the processing, swift. With a closer relationship, they are usually are angry or sad enough to tell me what has happened, although I have also occasionally had to remind them not to simply tell me what they think I want to hear. There seems little value in processing half-truths, and there is no value at all in having me take on a rescuer role merely because that’s what they imagine I want to happen.
There is immeasurable value, however, in discussing unhealthy drama triangles where those roles of rescuer, victim and persecutor play out, in order for the boys to recognise them and avoid them, or at least extricate themselves from in the early stages. It is useful to recognise narcissistic tendencies, adult bullies, and the difference between genuine remorse and manipulation. It is good for them to know that there is a big difference between passive-aggressively saying yes, while meaning, no, and politely but honestly declining. (That doesn’t work for me, is often enough.) They have learned who can be relied upon to keep their word or who is worthy of respect. It is to those adults whom they turn for protection and advice. Equally, they are learning which people are not principled or who consistently cannot be relied upon.
As a solo Mum, I often have times when others are caring for my children. It seems vital that they know which adults are safe and which are unsafe, not just physically but emotionally, too.
Sadly, the have had experiences where they needed to know those differences. I don’t belabour the points, but we have been through it all more than once. The 14 and 11 year-olds get the full works, the six year-old gets a very watered down version. We always discuss any positive aspects they think the person has and we then go on to list the many adults they know who don’t behave in these ways. The experience always comes before the lesson.
I finish these discussions by pointing out they can choose the behaviours they wish to embrace and those they wish to reject.
I’m all for a magical early childhood where all adults are heroes and heroines and imaginary beings are real things, but from around the age of nine this magic seems to naturally begin to subside. Rudolf Steiner called this the Nine Year Change and I have found that to be a useful label. From around then, my older boys have come out of their dream-world and into a world that is quite scary and overwhelming at times; a world in which they realise I cannot always protect them; a world in which they realise they must learn to look out for themselves. Like other life skills, I am a firm believer in helping them to recognise healthy and unhealthy people of all sizes and those adults behaving badly are a wonderful learning tool. A tool I never expected, but one I value all the same.
Have you had to help your children reach an understanding around an adult’s bad behaviour?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Karyn Wills of New Zealand. Photo courtesy of idreamlikecrazy / Flickr.