Ask anyone who’s become a mum what it’s like, and I can guarantee they’ll never be able to describe the magnitude of how it feels.
Firstly, please don’t misunderstand, I realise how lucky I am to have had the good fortune to bear three healthy children, and I will be forever grateful. But, if anyone had been able to adequately describe how joyous, yet simultaneously soul-destroying and difficult it is, I’m not sure I’d have taken on the task so willingly.
From the first day your gorgeous smelling bundle arrives, you are overwhelmed with a love you could never imagine. You cannot bear to be parted for a second, which is lucky because the first shock is that you are on duty 24 hours a day. The never-ending feeding and excruciatingly endless broken nights last a very long time. Luckily, at this point when you wake every morning it feels like Christmas day, as you become more obsessed and in love with your baby as each day passes. At this stage the feeling is mutual, your baby’s face lights up whenever they see you, and there isn’t anything you wouldn’t do to keep your tiny bundle of joy satisfied and happy. The fact that you are on autopilot walking around in a daze most of the time is irrelevant.
Then, as the years go by and each milestone passes, you find yourself immersed into the world of small children. Any interests you may have had before parenthood are usually long forgotten, and your time is taken up with facilitating every new obsession your child develops; be it Thomas the Tank Engine, Toy Story or Peppa Pig. Weekly food budgets may suffer as the must-have toy of the moment is sought, and the satisfaction achieved when you see the smiling face of your little one when you bestow the gift is all the reward you need.
Once you’ve become a tight little unit and can read your little one’s signals like a book, another one or two bundles of joy may pop along to make your family complete and upset the newly found balance. This is when mum’s role of expert multi-tasker comes into full force. There are so many different needs to meet, each day can easily become a blur of cooking, school runs, after school activities, washing, shopping. Then Yippee – repeat it all again tomorrow!
At one point I had to get my children to three different educational establishments every weekday, then a little further down the line there were 12 different outside school activity sessions per week to attend, on time and with the right kit, while costing a whopping amount for the privilege. When your youngster shows talent at swimming, obviously you don’t mind at all when they want to join the local swimming club, and to begin with once sounds perfectly fine, but little did you realise it would eventually become thrice weekly. Along with music lessons, extra tuition, football, basketball, tennis, judo and rugby, I often found it hard to remember where I needed to drive to next as I jumped into the car for the 14th time that day.
Christmas is, of course, a time of great joy and the months spent secretly selecting items for Christmas stockings are soon over–shadowed when you realise you have 60 extra presents to wrap, which you won’t even get any credit for because Santa brought them!
But then the sadness slowly begins to creep in even before you’ve finished enjoying the annual event of birthdays, making the individualised cake (from scratch of course), deciding on a party theme each year, trying to better their friend’s celebrations, while not appearing competitive in the least, and painstakingly preparing party bags for their pesky little friends. Then finding the thing that they want most in the world for their ‘big’ present. At the time I purchased the much longed for dozen horse-riding lessons, how was I to know that riding would become ‘boring’ after the very first lesson had been taken?
The day your child no longer wants to hold your hand, or they don’t want you to read them a bed-time story, and when they refuse to watch the Gruffalo for the umpteenth time with you, is the time when the knife in the heart slowly starts to twist. When your child becomes so tall, they no longer need to look up at you, and the realisation dawns on you that your offspring really does know more than you, and doesn’t just think they do, the agony begins to grow.
The next challenge is adolescence, and it’s a mother’s job to know that you should never do, wear, or say anything which could be construed by them as being embarrassing. How you’re supposed to ‘know’ this stuff I still haven’t worked out, but seemingly you have overnight morphed from the person they once looked up to adoringly and were quite happy to spend all their time with, into one they cannot be seen with, for fear of being humiliated by you; inadvertently or otherwise. They insist on walking way ahead, pretending they don’t belong to you and have never even met you before!
It’s around this time that Mother Nature reveals her cruellest blow, as you begin to notice the first signs of aging, and the crow’s feet which appear on your face can no longer be laughed off as laughter lines. Just as you start to feel a little self-doubt in your own appearance, and the years of broken nights start to take their toll, your daughter blossoms into the most beautiful creature you’ve ever seen on earth, and the salt is really rubbed into those ever-growing wounds.
Over time you also need to precisely memorise each child’s ever–changing food foibles – what they love and what they’ll flatly refuse to consider, despite having pudding enticements within your armoury. With three children you can be sure they’ll all have different dislikes, making the prospect of cooking an evening meal, every day, simply a nightmare. Long gone are the days when you ate what was put on your plate and didn’t complain about it and were told to be grateful because ‘there are children starving in Africa’. These days you must cater for the needs of vegetarians, pescatarians and vegans because it’s ‘their human right!’
Throughout the childhood years, those of us who are not strong willed enough will find themselves succumbing to several persistent requests for various pets. We started off with fish – not too difficult. This then progressed to a cat, a rabbit, a tortoise, two mercifully short-lived hamsters, a guinea pig, a dog, another cat, then yet another when the first one died. All these animals came with promises that they would be fed, cleaned out and walked by the children who pleaded for them. But, of course, this never happens and it’s Mum (or Muggins) who gets left with the additional duties to add to the never-ending daily to-do list, and will spend every day thereafter, like some kind of Pied Piper figure, with a trail of animals following constantly, waiting expectantly, to be fed.
Naturally, of course, all the above is done with love, because from the moment your child is born, it becomes, and will forever be, the most important thing in your universe, and there isn’t a thing you wouldn’t do for them. You’d never want your child to miss out or fare less well than their BFF’s, yet even while the years are speeding by, you are already acutely aware of the sound of the clock slowly ticking towards the time when they’ll be gone and all the effort, thought, time, money and patience you persisted with for so many years, will be forgotten as they walk away from you.
And walk away they will, because that’s what they’re supposed to do right? And the only saving grace is when you discover, as fully fledged adults and they’re doing their own online food shopping, they voluntarily choose to buy bread of the brown variety with the bits in, that they flatly refused to go near when they were seven. The meals they’re preparing for themselves which they, very occasionally, yet proudly, send you WhatsApp photos of, appear to be near replicas of those meals you made for them throughout the duration of their childhoods. And finally, as you overhear them echoing your own words ‘I’m not paying that much for that!’ when it’s their own coffers that are being coughed up – you know you’ve done your job well. Even though, heart-breakingly, they may not give you a backward glance…..