The mother on the nursery run who hasn’t brushed her hair, with the children who won’t walk without being dragged. The mother who gets to school late and the gates are closed, with the children who refused to wear their coats despite the rain. The mother at the park who is answering work emails on her phone, with the children who want her to chase them around the climbing frame. These mothers look like us.
The mother breastfeeding her baby while reading her toddler a book, the mother managing to cook three different dinners at the same time so they’re all eaten without fuss, the mother remembering the library books and signed permission slips on the right days. The mother who made the simplest but sweetest outfit for dress-up day, the mother who woke up early to make their favourite packed lunch, the mother whose children held her hands all the way home.
The mother who stayed up past midnight folding their clothes and laying out uniforms for the next day, the mother who washes their hair without getting any soap in their eyes, the mother who goes down the slide with her children at soft play. The mother who sings their favourite songs as they fall asleep, the mother who kisses it all better when they’re hurt.
The mother who cries when they’re finally asleep because she’s just so tired from a day where she hardly got to see them. The mother who snaps at them over the mess they made, the mother who shouts at them because they won’t listen, the mother who says awful things to them even though she knows she’s not being fair, they’re just children. The mother who scared them when she got angry, the mother who threatened to take away toys even though she wishes she could show them love without conditions. The mother who wishes she could stay calm even when they push her.
The mother who knows she should stop apologising, the mother who knows she should stop being hard on herself, the mother who knows she’s doing her best. The mother who wants time to slow down, the mother who wants more hours with her children, the mother who cried on the train after she left them. The mother who knows she’s the luckiest person in the world, the mother who wishes she could make things better, the mother who worries their tough times won’t end and she doesn’t have the answers. These mothers look like us.
We all have the good days and the bad, the darkest hours and the happiest of moments. I wish I’d known, on those days which felt like they were dragging on forever while all I wanted to do was cry, that they would end months before I realised they’d gone. Whether we’re laughing about the bad times, and pretending they’re a bit of a joke – or whether we’re showing off the best of our days which look so idyllic – we’re all together in these ups and downs.
We might not feel like there’s anyone we can tell how rubbish it is, and we might have no-one in that moment we need them. We might filter our surface-perfect lives to cover up the cracks, we might laugh at the bad bits to hide our heartache – but we all do this.
This exhausting brand new world is one none of us were prepared for. It didn’t matter for any of us how many books and articles we read, how many friends we spoke to, how many babies we’d looked after. None of us knew what we were doing. When we hadn’t slept for hours and hours for weeks and months and years, when we tried to find our way and cried and shouted because we didn’t know what to do, when we worried ourselves sick at night, when we shut the world out because it was just too hard – we were all doing this.
More than four years after the birth of my son, I have read thousands and thousands of words about our lives, about the lives of mothers like us. We’re all lost, we’re all exhausted, we’re all crazy in love, we’re all up and down and happy and sad.
There’s a euphoria to life, a middle stage of not being high or low but coasting somewhere through the centre, and then there’s the darkness too. There’s the feeling that we’re only just managing, that we’re not sure we can cope for much longer by grasping at the only solid, safe bits of life we can find in the haze. There’s the heartache that comes with love.
We’re all doing this. At different times, in different places, with different worries, good days and bad. These mothers, who make it look tough and easy and like no fun and brilliant – they’re just like us.