Mummy Says… Notes on motherhood and family life

How tough is motherhood?

I’m forced awake before 6am everyday for another round of this thing that is life. I’m always woken by screams after a night of perhaps five broken hours of sleep. I tend to the basic necessities of two small human beings – I feed, wash and clothe them. I express my love for them. Over the next couple of hours, I lift one or both of them continuously, I reason with the larger one using negotiating skills that would make my country proud. I settle disputes, I calm anger, I kiss away pain. I make decisions for them, I make choices about the things that matter most in their lives. At the time that most London office workers sit down at their desks for the day, I drink my second cup of cold but strong coffee. No-one ever says thank you.

This is motherhood. It is not the world’s hardest job. It is not some cult for over-achievers. It is not some clique of amazing super-human women. It is not a club of martyrs. It is motherhood, and billions of us do it every day.

A fake job listing for a director of operations by a US advertising went viral this week. It asked people to apply for a 24-hour, 7 day a week role which was unpaid. Unsurprisingly, while thousands of people read the job description,  few clicked through to apply. Why would they? The advert, which was of course a tongue-in-cheek look at the role of a mother, made the job sound like hell.

But here’s the thing. I’m a mother of two, and it’s isn’t hell. It’s hard, yes; it’s tough some days, yes, it’s exhausting, often thankless, confusing, difficult, frustrating – it’s all of these things. But it’s not the toughest job in the world.

There are more complex jobs. The astrophysicist thinks far harder than I ever do. There are more difficult jobs. The surgeon separating conjoined twins has a more complicated job to do than me. There are tougher jobs. The cleaner emptying out sanitary bins at 3am who still can’t afford a decent meal for his elderly father – his job is tough. These are just obvious examples. But what of the men and women who every day work in jobs they dislike, or the men and women who must make hard decisions which affect the lives of hundreds?The policy makers, the finance directors, the editors, the soldiers, the carers, the teachers – they are never described as having ‘the toughest job in the world’.

I have a baby and a toddler and they are both completely dependent on me to feed them, nurture them, and keep them safe. What I do will affect their lives. The decisions I make today will have an impact on their futures. I want them to grow up to be kind and thoughtful and generous and brave – and it is I that must teach them to be these things. It is I that must spend each day giving them the tools they need to make it in this world. It is a role that carries with it a great deal of responsibility.

But being a mother is also a role that is filled with love and laughter and infinite joy. It cannot be the toughest job in the world, because for every sleepless night and hour spent distracting a toddler on the verge of a tantrum, there is a lifetime of holding in your arms the being you made. No-one will ever love you in the way your child will. This gift to you will be forever yours. Knowing this, I defy you to tell me that being a mother is tougher than anything else.

Being a mother is not a job. It is not something you get a P60 for and clock in and clock out for. It is not something you train for and get a degree in. It is not something that can be measured by KPIs and performance reviews. It is not this cult-like thing you aren’t really a part of until you know how exhausting/challenging/thankless it is. Let’s not pretend that motherhood is anything other than the journey we find ourselves on when we have children. It doesn’t need to be about how many hours we were awake for, or how quickly we resolved a tantrum. It doesn’t need to be about how cleverly we juggle all the arts and crafts and toddler entertainment with running a perfect home and holding the family together.

All of this is just life. We have good days and bad days of it. We are mothers.

Billions of women before us, and billions of women after us – have done this and will do this. They will be mothers. And yes, being a mother is hard – but it isn’t the toughest job in the world. It’s just a particularly special one. Enjoy it. X

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