Every time someone tells me they are in lockdown with their kids I tell them how much I admire them. My three are young adults now and I love with all my heart but I would not have survived 6 weeks of lockdown with them when they were school aged! My eldest would have been living out the fears of coronavirus as the perpetual worrier, my extroverted middle one wouldn’t cope without her constant stream of friends and playtime and my youngest most chilled out child would have found a way to convince me to buy him a play station and let him play it 24/7.
So why I don’t have lockdown to compare my parenting experience with, I do have a move as a single mum to a new city with no friends and limited family with a 9, 7 and 5 year old in tow. For three years it was just me and them navigating our way through life one day at a time. While it was a hard time it also taught me a lot about the type of mother I was but more importantly what type of mother I wanted to be. I experimented, changed and adapted along the way but in celebration of Mothers Day here’s the five big life changing lessons I learnt about motherhood during that time:
1. They don’t belong to us. This was a big one for me and I cried a lot at this realisation. It did however, allow me to let go of the leash and let my kids explore, experiment and learn without the crippling fears that I might somehow let them down or not be there when they needed me most. It helped me when I waved them off at the airport for the first time to return to their “other” family, it helped me when my daughter decided she wanted to go and live with her dad, it helped me when they fell in love and I was no longer their number one. But most of all it helped me see them as a gift, and while there were plenty of times I wanted to give them back, I cherished the time I had them and felt blessed that I was the one to lovingly guide them through their formative years.
2. They have their own story to tell: And it’s not up to me to decide how that story goes. This lesson has served me well in the most difficult of times. As parents we have an innate need to protect our children, even when they’re in no real physical danger. I believe that our experiences shape who we are and if we don’t allow our children to have life affirming experiences then we rob them from the full experience of life. When my kids where young the one thing I wanted to teach them was to trust their instincts and as they grew up, I had to trust them too – even if I didn’t agree with them. It’s their life and their story. Who am I to decide how it goes?
3. Family is who we get to learn and practice hard things with. Did you ever watch “The Nest” on SBS? It was a social experiment testing whether it really was the cost of living that kept kids home well onto their 20’s. I hate to admit it but a TV show had a profound impact on my parenting. The parents in the experiment concluded that they played a significant role in their kids being unable to leave home. There were many and varying reasons, but my takeaway was they had no idea how to live outside the family home. They didn’t have the know how to find out how to do simple tasks (like getting the electricity connected), they didn’t know how to deal with failure, and they had no coping skills for dealing with hard things. That’s when I really learnt the power of no – not as a power trip or a frustrated parental answer but as a life lesson. A lesson in learning how to deal with disappointment, how to compromise and work to find alternatives and how to dust yourself off, pick yourself up and keep going. I started to say no a lot and it was hard and heartbreaking. But the idea of them not living up to their full potential or being scared or fearful of giving things a go was harder and even more heartbreaking. So I kept saying it and I still say it and it still hurts as much as it did the first time.
4. We are their role models: do I stay or do I go, was the prominent thought as my marriage fell apart. If I go what will this do to my children? What impact will it have on them growing up in a “broken” family? Was I selfish to leave? Was I a bad mother to put my own needs over theirs? You make your bed you lie in it right? Or is it? But isn’t it better to show them that its ok to walk away from something that makes you unhappy, that life is for living and that its ok to say thank you, but I’m done here? And in here lay the conundrum that kept me awake night after night. And then I realised that I was taking on other people’s ideas on how a family should be constructed and that ours didn’t need to break it just needed to be different. And so we sat down and worked it out. It was hard, I cried a lot, I didn’t always do what I said I would do but we redefined what our family would look like and how it would work and we told them it would be ok and in the main it was. We showed them that life is a blessing and we all deserved to be happy. That we can survive and even thrive in hard times and that no matter comes our way we can deal with it.
5. They grow up really fast: my three are all in their twenties now and I really don’t know when that happened. I still remember being in the trenches and it feeling like a never ending cycle of washing, cleaning, cooking and driving. And then driving some more. One of the things I am most grateful for as a result of being a single parent is that I learnt through survival the importance of compartmentalising my life. There wasn’t time for overtime, there was no back up plan for collecting them, there was little money for babysitters so mostly it was just us. Hanging out, doing our thing, making it work. I got really good at leaving work and coming home, at getting focussed and getting stuff done, and most importantly deriving pleasure from watching them play, choosing not to argue with them about completing their homework and waking up with all three snuggled in my bed… every.single.morning.
As women with the roles of mum, stepmum, aunty, caregiver, teacher and friend we do the most important work when we stay in our lane. When we make the decision to parent with intent and step into our feminine energy as playmate, peace maker, negotiator and problem solver we not only nurture and heal our own children but build a generation of others who appreciate and celebrate the balance women bring into the world.
You’re doing the most important work. Happy Mothers Day.