Let’s Just Be Mothers, Not Martyrs

14 January 2015

perfect motherWe all need time to ourselves. Sometimes motherhood is like being part of a ridiculous circus where you’re the juggler, the tightrope walker, the clown, the seal balancing a ball on its nose and the person who sells the hot dogs in the interval - (oh yeah, and sometimes you feel like the elephant, too.)

So it’s not surprising that every so often we want to stop the madness and go and do our own thing for a while. OK, so usually that means walking around the supermarket with your gob open rather than wallowing in a luxurious hotel spa, but time to yourself is vital.

Personally, I have to take mental health days from motherhood on a regular basis, otherwise I turn into a mixture between Stalin and Katie Hopkins – shouting, lecturing, being vicious, finding fault, and generally being a massive ratbag. My favourite way to unwind is probably not the healthiest, and usually involves finding my closest friends and a bar, but it works for me (until 7.30 the next morning, anyway, when I look like Gollum and smell like the drinks tray at O’Drunky’s Irish Fun Bar).

Some people might tut at that, but sod ‘em. After all, why should we martyr ourselves on the altar of motherhood? We are parents, not saints. Just because my body can have a baby doesn’t mean I have to devote my entire life and soul to it, 24/7. Men don’t. Men go off and have independent lives, then come back, wrestle their kids to the ground, play Lego, and put their feet up with a beer and properly relax.

Mothers meanwhile, are always ON, usually in emergency mode, like nervous meerkats. In their quest to be ‘good’ virtuous mothers, they wring their hands and feel guilty for enjoying themselves, sit for hours working out what to have for dinner next Tuesday and berate themselves for the tiniest little thing – whether it’s a forgotten school bag or a meal that doesn’t contain more than 2 of their 5 a day.

Why do we do it? Instead of literally giving ourselves a break by running screaming out of the house towards the nearest cinema/yoga class/cocktail bar/gym/church, why don’t we give ourselves a break every day in our heads?

Science, probably, has the answer. I read a very interesting article the other day that showed that mothers’ brains change during pregnancy. Basically, the middle of our brain, the amygdala, becomes more active, making us more anxious, more empathetic, and more susceptible to emotion.

This goes some way to explaining why the attitudes of mothers and fathers are so different. It also explains why mothers are up out of bed like a shot when they hear their babies cry, while  fathers lie there like a useless sack of spuds. All that neurological activity though, leads to a lot of anxiety, stress, depression, hard work and middle-of-the-night loneliness. And let’s face it, we’ve got enough to deal with, haven’t we?

So I say IGNORE YOUR BRAIN. Yes, biology wants us to do things to keep our kids safe and bond with them. But although it’s right sometimes, human biology is outdated. It’s millions of years old. Our biology has no idea about the stress of keeping up your profile on Facebook, or getting your roots done, or making sure your child is wearing organic cotton. It still thinks we live in caves and hunt wildebeests. It hasn’t got a bloody clue how to get a chewed up Percy Pig off an Elsa dress while potty training a toddler. And it’s no help at all when you’re trying to set up Netflix for an army of exhausted children who want to watch Adventure Time.

Maybe it’s time we kicked our annoying, overworked amgydalas to the kerb and EVOLVED. Stop paying attention to its constant threats and ask for help when we need it. Forget that forgotten homework. Have no clue what’s for dinner, but wing it anyway. Throw out that tatty rule book full of guilt and worry and frustration. Stop creeping around trying not to wake the kids up, as tense as if we were walking on a window ledge at 1000 feet.

Instead of getting to the end of our tethers and having to ‘escape’, why don’t we chill out and try to enjoy ourselves more while we’re parenting? Kids are resilient, they’ll manage without our micromanagement. They used to work down the mine, for crying out loud.

Yes. Let’s do it, sistahs! Let’s stop being martyrs and beating ourselves up. And as soon as I stop worrying that I only gave my son one piece of fruit in his packed lunch, and freaking out that the wind is going to blow a tree down onto the roof of his school, I will do the same…

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