A friend of mine lent me a copy of Naomi Stadlen’s book What Mothers Do – Especially When It Looks Like Nothing just at the right time. My baby was six weeks old, which felt like a lifetime at that stage, and I was starting to worry why I didn’t have my shit together yet when it felt like I should. In fact, I was a total mess but I know now that’s what mothers of six week old babies should be like.
The book was a breathe of fresh air and at times I gripped it in my hands as a source of comfort to remind myself that I was doing okay and my son had a good mother.
One really interesting idea that stuck with me was how a lot of modern women live in a project-based, short term goal orientated world. We’re aiming for targets all the time: finishing school, graduating from college, getting a promotion, completing a big project at work, losing x amount of pounds, training for a triathlon etc (this is not me 🙂 ). We set them in our sights, achieve them or don’t achieve them, and then move on to the next one. That’s why for many women becoming a mother is such a challenging time. We had the end goal of 40 weeks of pregnancy (tick), then the end goal of labour and birth (tick) but then there’s no more box ticking. Mothers just are. To comfort ourselves we can continue to create short term goals in motherhood but really I can see how those goals can just as easily become a source of stress and loss of confidence if they’re not met by our measurable perimeters. Sleeping through the night, first teeth, sitting up, crawling, weaning to solids, first steps, first words…these are things that are all going to happen anyway or in the baby’s own time and yet sometimes we think we’re in control or indeed failing. At the other end of the scale, when is the end of Project Baby? Is it turning out a well rounded, happy adult who ticks your boxes of child raising success?
I do remind myself from time to time when I get caught up in my own mind and lose the run of myself that this isn’t a project with milestones to be achieved. I remind myself that being a mother is an everyday way of being. Each mothering moment is exactly that – a happening right now for its own sake rather than a smaller part of a big project with an end date. I have to remind myself because it’s easy to forget. My life has been a series of one short term goal after another. Mothering is so far removed from this I’ve had to adjust my way of thinking. Not because I think I’m not any good at it but because I try to apply the same set of rules to two completely different things. And it just doesn’t work.
It’s a really wonderful book and very unlike any other parenting book you’ll come across. There’s no advice in there on which you can fall on your mothering sword when it doesn’t work for you. It reminds you of the incredible, unseen, unrecognised work that mothers do everyday and it makes you feel good. I recommend it.