When being Mummy is only one of the many faces you have to wear, it can be tremendously difficult to remember to remove the other masks before donning “mummy”
When ‘Mummy’ is merely one of many roles you play, the act of just being Mummy can so terribly difficult to achieve. As a serial perfectionist and under/over-achiever, living separately from close family ties, I find it so hard to discard all of the other ‘crap’ and simply enjoy my time with my boy. The act of just being Mummy is the hardest lesson I have had to learn, and I’m still working on it every day.
Being Mummy A World Apart
In comparison with the rest of my family (and extended family friends), I am an anomaly. My mother takes great pains to describe how close her female friends are to their daughters and their grandchildren, and how much they depend on “Nanny” (a strange coincidence that all three women share the same grandmother nomenclature).
“Comparison is the thief of joy”Theodore Roosevelt
So, I will not dwell on the comparison, merely highlight the differences in my immediate circle of experience. My brother has twin girls with his fiancée, my quasi cousins* (I call their mums Auntie and they are my mum’s best friends) have a multitude of children (5,5,3,2,2) between them. All of them have a dependent relationship with the grandparents on both sides. I’m not casting aspersions, I have enough on my plate with one, I can’t imagine having FIVE without a significant support system.
However, it is an indication that the grandparent influence and support system assists in allowing the parents the ability to cast off certain masks without fear of dropping the ball (a very scrambled metaphor there).
The dynamic within close and extended family differs wildly from the system within a self-contained family unit.
Family Dynamics Make Quick Costume Changes Essential
In this family, Mum and Dad have to be everything. Mummy, Daddy, breadwinner, cleaner, cook, playmate, disciplinarian (yes, there has to be someone saying “No, you can’t jump from halfway up the stairs” or “Don’t throw your cars at the cat”), comfort-giver, teacher, husband/wife, person-in-their-own-right.
Occasionally, we have Auntie Moo (my sister), but that is infrequent and has an interesting effect on his behaviour, and approximately once a year we have Nanny and Grandpa (my parents) to visit. We have a minuscule social circle and we have no contact with the paternal side of the family (not through lack of trying).
This long list of roles that we have to play (sometimes simultaneously), is draining, but if we try to do too many at once they get in the way of each other. Trying to do and be too many things at once means that you don’t do any of them well. I dare anyone to say that they don’t want to be an excellent Mummy (or Daddy) to their child. However, trying to be everything means that we don’t excel at anything.
Let it Go! – more than a Disney anthem
Learning to let go of some smaller things has been the hardest part of my Mummy journey. I cannot do and be everything and everyone at all times. I can’t be a perfect housewife and homemaker at the same time as working a full-time job at the same time as being an involved, loving, and engaged parent and spouse.
There are only so many hours in a day.
What’s going to give?
If we work on the premise that there are 24 hours in a day, 8 should be asleep and 8 are work (for the full-timer), that leaves a whopping 8 hours per day in which to fit the rest of life. That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Lets break that down:
- 8 hours working + 1 hour for compulsory lunch breaks = 9
- Commuting (for me) 1-hour commute each way = 2 hours
- 1 hour showering, washing, dressing, eating breakfast (drinking a coffee) and doing that for a two-year-old
- Work total = 12 hours
We have just taken that 8 hours and halved it to 4 hours.
4 precious hours…
- Cooking and eating dinner – 1 hour
- Cleaning kitchen, stacking dishwasher (let’s not think about not having one) – 0.5 hours
- Toddler bedtime – 0.25 – 1 hour (depends on his mood and whether he slept at nursery)
- Daily cleaning (as recommended by Good Housekeeping May 2019 Cleaning schedule, Hack 25) – 0.5 hour
- total = 3 hours
And now that free time has reduced to 1 hour. One single hour to spend quality time with my son and my husband. That isn’t going to work for me. I’m not going to neglect my son and my husband, and my relationship with both of them. So what gives? It was sleep.
Not a good plan
We need to sleep. When we don’t get enough sleep, it affects every aspect of our lives. Too little sleep means we do nothing well; we don’t work well; we don’t continue beneficial relationships with our family, our emotional state deteriorates, we get short-tempered.
As a result, the work we’re paid to perform becomes substandard, then that single hour that I might stretch to two or even three hours, isn’t quality time at all. Exhausted quality time becomes a period of frustration, frayed tempers, ignoring a partner, and possibly falling asleep next to the toddler (fully clothed), and there goes any time with the spouse.
Taking stock of the precious things in life
I stopped, I looked, I realised. Having a perfectly tidy home is not an option (without a cleaner), when I want to have a healthy and functional relationship with my husband on my son.
I had to stop thinking about the laundry that needed folding and putting in different bedrooms while playing legos with my boy (he wants BIG bridges). I also had to halt my “one toy only” ruling. What is the point of making an epic bridge if I won’t allow him to send his cars over and under it? What is the point of making a very interesting dinner (baby rubber ducks and plastic crisps/Pringles, dubbed ‘Crispy Duck’) if he can’t feed it to his stuffed toys?
I had to look intensely at my boy and my husband to realise that they were so much more important than whether I had emptied the dishwasher before leaving for work. Remember that enjoying their company and their time for me was so much more precious than knowing I had a spotless floor (which doesn’t stay that way for more than an hour when the boy is awake and in the house).
I realised that I have so much more than cleaning, laundry and cooking to offer my family, that is more vital than ironed clothes, a complex meal on the table every night, or the knowledge that I descale the taps every week.
Life is sweeter when you don’t sweat the small stuff
Will the sky fall down if I don’t sweep daily? No, it will stay resolutely above our heads. Will we die of malnutrition if we have soup and sandwiches or beans on toast a few times per week? No, it just makes life that little bit more manageable.
Just being mummy means giving all of your attention to this little growing person who wants to feel validated, appreciated and loved. They want to show off their new accomplishments, they want your full attention focused on them when they are trying to achieve something.
The question I have to ask myself is, “Do I want to remember the day when I had a spotless house or the day my baby learned something new?” I have had to learn what is important to our lives and happiness.
T: Mummy! It’s a dinosaur*!
Me: Really? That’s amazing!
T: It’s a stegosaurus.
T: Mummy, Mummy, I drawed a chicken. Look!
Me: Wow! I have never seen a green chicken before.
*It actually looked like a diagram of lacto baccillus.
It was the first time that he started drawing things that had a passing (stylised or abstract) resemblance to the object he was trying to draw. I want that memory untainted because I might previously have been trying to stack the dishwasher, hang laundry or clean the bathroom. I want to remember the day that my boy learned about structural reinforcement while building a giant bridge out of Duplo; I don’t want to have missed it because I was trying to fit the rest of my chores around spending time with my boy.
Making being mummy and everything else fit
Some things just can’t be left. However, the desire to be validated and learn new things extends to some of our chores. My little man has his own sweeping brush (a full-size head on a shortened handle) and he loves to sweep the rugs. He is very good at cleaning the (non-breakable) things that don’t fit in the dishwasher – in addition, it’s a grand reason to play with water and splash with mummy’s permission. He enjoys cleaning the tables with a damp cloth and then drying them with a tea-towel.
Now I’ve got just being mummy down, and I keep working at it every day, we’ll see how I remember to just be me.