On a recent walk with one of my friends, also a mum, who co-parents with her ex-partner, we had a heart to heart about parenting and the ups and downs of being a mother in this modern day and age. We are both immigrants in this country and don’t have family around. Our experiences are quite similar but also very different, but the thing that unites us it that we are generally just utterly exhausted and worn out from being Mama, working full time and managing everything else in our and our children’s lives. I confided in my friend, that, whilst my children are the most precious and wanted things in my life, they also cause me huge bouts of guilt about all sorts of stuff: that I am not being a good enough mother, that I am often working more than I see them, that I am totally behind with any jobs in and on the house and that I have an ever simmering feeling of missing my own life which is racing by with lots of fabulous opportunities, most of which I can’t tend to because I am a mother. This cocktail of guilt and frustration isn’t a good mix, let me tell you. Whilst a lot of people don’t understand my complaints and even some other mothers, whom I have shared this with, reacted surprised, my friend totally got me. “Of course! You do need some time to yourself. It’s important that you do. You need to look after your own needs. If you are happy, your kids are happy.”
As so often in life, coincidence or maybe even some higher entity, decided that I had been complaining enough and that help was on the way. A friend of mine (let’s face it, she’s more like family) text me out of her own accord and offered to look after the kids whilst the boyfriend and I stay at her place over night. I had to read the message twice and rewrite the reply three times, from asking “Are you sure?”, over to tentatively toying with the idea, to happily accepting and starting to plan what to do with hours without the little people. My friend popped over for dinner and we chatted about her stay at ours, and by that time the kids were already so excited, they were ready to move us out and her in there and then. My friend has numerous nieces and nephews and knows a thing or two about parenting and staying with kids, and recounted an episode from her sister who told her that parents often shy away from having a night away because of all the prep work that goes into it. I nodded and mentally added cleaning and tidying to my to-do-list which was getting longer by the minute. By the evening before our night off, I was cleaning, scrubbing, washing and dusting in places that hadn’t seen a cloth or duster for months, and by the morning of THE day, I was so frazzled with all the last minute jobs to do, the things to pack and the notes to write, that I burst into tears on more than one occasion. Granted, it didn’t help that my youngest spat smoothie all over the freshly mopped floor, the dog dug up half the garden and trotted back into the house covered in gunk and grass, and my oldest decided to put on a fashion show and pull out each and every single one of her dresses.
Sadly, when you are on a schedule, being upset isn’t incredibly helpful, and so, as I sat, for the second time that day, on my bedroom floor in floods of tears, all I could think of was that I didn’t really have time to cry, as the dog needed walking and the holdall was still waiting to be packed.
By the time my friend arrived, I was neither packed and ready nor in the right frame of mind to go, but as always, throwing in the towel isn’t an option. Also, my kids would have never forgiven me, had I deprived them of some quality time with such an important person in their lives. After my friend nearly chucked us out the house, I felt so tired I could have gone to sleep there and then. Luckily, a delicious take-away and the thoughtful prep of my friend at her house provided a much-needed pick-me-up and, after a sip of Champagne and another cry, confessing to my boyfriend how tough I found it all, the evening started looking up. We ate our food hot and without having to take someone for a poo. We talked without interruptions and finished a conversation without wiping up a spillage, having to feed one to the kids or remind them that shoving pasta up your or anyone else’s nose is not acceptable table etiquette. We drank (maybe a little too much) bubbles knowing that no one would wake us up either during the night or at half 5 in the morning. We went for a walk at night because, well, we could. And the next morning we stayed in bed until 10am, no schedule, no duties or little people in sight, only hot cups of tea and some toast, a mooch around the house and a chuckle about my friend’s message, telling me that our son had done the most colossal poo for her.
Now what’s the moral of the story, you ask me? Well, even though the run up to our first night together as a couple away from the kids in over three years was rather quite stressful and chaotic (through no fault other than my own), the actual time was absolutely brilliant. We didn’t do anything ground breaking and were home by lunch time the next day but we felt refreshed and calmer than in a long time. I realised that I really missed my kids (and the dog) but also just quite how much of my life they take over. I observed that I could still let go, have fun and be just me, despite being responsible for two small humans along the way. Most of all, I confirmed to myself that I would never stop working hard for my own dreams and ambitions, and that being a mother doesn’t cancel that one out. However, and it is a big HOWEVER: having time for yourself is not easy as a parent, yet it is so very important and precious, and if you don’t have that regularly, things can get tough and you’ll end up, like me, crying on the bedroom floor. So, if you have family around you who can help out – grab that help with both hands so you can get a breather. And if you don’t, like me, then never ever say no when one of your trusted friends offers to lend you a hand. I used to struggle accepting help and I am still quite proud and too scared to reach out. But our short break from everyday life showed me that I am, indeed, worthy of such time and don’t love my kids any less. I don’t ditch them off every weekend or any opportunity I get. And generally, wherever I go, they go. But Mama needed a break, and Mama got one. It was great. Mama feels better now. Mama will have another break, hopefully one day soon. Because, you know, I am bloody worth it (and all the Papas, too, may I add!).