Motherhood, you wench

I got the cot well before time and prettied it up with lace and ribbons. 

It sat centre stage in the nursery with lots of fluffy pink things, a pile of carefully folded soft cloth nappies and a quaint, recycled rocker that I pictured myself settling into for long, pleasurable hours of night feeding.

Well. Baby.

Along came Emma, a first-born who was kind enough to give me one week’s peace, lulling me into a sense of post-natal bliss that had me thinking “This is easy”. 

Oh motherhood you wench, you age-old trickster, delivering us women hysterical highs and lows, making us laugh and cry, joy and pain in equal measure. 

I didn’t have a name for it, and Google was itself a couple years off being born, so it was six weeks before I discovered the very little word for my very big problem: colic. And with the unreasonable screaming came a bonus: projectile vomiting, destroying carpets, clothes and cleanliness wherever we dared venture. 

And then came advice. Desperation for solution made me an indulgent listener and avid reader, too eager to try everything I stumbled upon.

I learnt the hard way: advice is only good when it works. The rest of the time it’s a cruel task-master eroding our confidence and building confusion. 

At its simplest, motherhood is about keeping a little one alive, until they grow into something bigger and can go fend for themselves in the world.

Asking plenty and of many is the premise of today’s social masses; it’s also the thief of our belief in ourselves and our abilities. This drive for knowledge and advice is killing our greatest asset, that instinctive feel you have for what’s right for your own baby.

Nuggets of gold are what we pan for when we reach out online.What we often find is advice that’s well-intended but outdated, irrelevant or plain useless. Or worse, we get petty judgement disguised as poorly-worded helpful advice. 

I suspect that for all the advice we now have access to, motherhood hasn’t changed much, ever.

Here’s what my world looked like in the mid to late 1990s: 

A daily grind filled with tasks so tedious that I wished away the one thing that’s truly irretrievable – time.

Some distressing hours that I knew would pass but in the moment felt like they would never end.

Sanity stripped bare by raw sleep and burnt hormones, mixed with a level of tension I couldn’t get rid of no matter how many times I told myself to relax and enjoy.

A busy kind of boredom with 100 things to do, that individually lack depth yet collectively, I now know add up to the essence of motherhood – protecting, nurturing, preparing new lives to set the world on fire.

Here’s what hindsight looks like for me in 2020:

Seeking perfection in motherhood is pointless because it’s an intangible that looks different to everyone. Take that track and you’ll be lost in a maze with no end.

While it is good to treasure the wisdom of a select few sometimes, it is always good to back yourself first, to have confidence of your rightful place in your child’s world as parent.

You are their everything and while that’s scary in its enormity, take heart – no one knows your child better than you do; chances are you are doing a wonderful job.

Feel your way through the messy, tough days and know that those are the moments where solid parenting is born.

Remember that how you start out isn’t necessarily how it’s going to end. Despite the odds of a less-than-stellar background, poor example, and with little support, I muddled through the early months, did my best with the early years and then found myself growing in capability as the girls did. I even started enjoying it.

I learnt not to fear what’s around the corner. I found out that it is curious toddlers, chameleon-like children and teens who will frustrate and delight. There is nothing you can’t handle.

Cherish the moments that are easy to enjoy, and don’t let the tough ones cast a shadow over the rest. Handled well, it’s those tricky times that are going to shape you into the kind of parent your child will want to become. 

And I have discovered there’s no better compliment than that.

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  1. When I got lots of well intended advice from bother mother and mother-in-law I would bring the conversation back to “the Plunkett nurse said” because she held authority with them both and got me off the hook. Great piece Jennifer.

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