What sort of Mother are you?!’ She shouted at me, only centimetres from my face. I could smell her stale coffee breath, see the open pores of her skin and the deep, dark circles under her cold, hard blue eyes.
‘I beg your pardon?’ I resisted the urge to take a step back from the unexpected verbal onslaught.
‘I SAID ‘what sort of Mother are you?!’ You’ve just had the nerve to introduce yourself to me. Our daughters have played together almost every afternoon at after school care for the entire school year. Your daughter knows me by name. Yet you do not. I very rarely see you at school drop off or pick up. What sort of Mother does THAT?!’
‘A Mother who works full time and studies part-time.’ I replied curtly. ‘A Mother who has her husband help with the parenting.’
‘Well that’s incredibly selfish. Has it occurred to you that maybe your daughter would be better at reading and writing if you worked part-time and picked her up after school? And then helped her?’
Yes it had. My husband and I had tried it. And my daughter hated it. She loved playing at after school care…they had crafts, games, fantastic play equipment and dress ups. Who’d want to do homework over that? My daughter certinaly didn’t…and told me in no uncertain terms. But I wasn’t going to tell this cow that. I owed her no explaination or justification for our parenting decisions.
‘And you study? Even less time with your children! When do you tidy your home?’
‘The study occurs after the kids are in bed. And the house can wait.’ I replied, giving what I hoped was a withering glare as my gaze swept over her lank and dishelved hair, plump body squeezed into clothes a size too small. I wanted to say so much, but instead I merely turned my back on her and walked away. I wanted to keep my calm and false poise intact, I wasn’t going to make a scene in front of the children. I also knew I had to bury my burning anger and simmering guilt down low so I could walk into work with a smile on my face. I had to get on with the rest of the day.
But it was a horrible start to the morning.
And it never happened.
Nope. None of it happened. The entire conversation had only taken place in a vivid nightmare. And when I woke I was still shaking with barely contained rage.
I groaned, now the fight or fight response had ceased the adrenaline dispersed and I felt even more tired than usual. I’d need an extra coffee just to get out the door. But I knew the dull ache of guilt would remain heavy in my chest for the rest of the day.
I knew my subconscious was being a complete bitch and throwing all my parenting self doubt at me in an impressive five minute snapshot. I knew I shouldn’t feel any of it. But evidently I did, and burying it just bought it out in the form of a Shakespearean drama in technicolor splendour around 4:30am when I had a temperature with the flu.
You can be warned by experienced and sensible Mothers about the guilt behind Motherhood…but nothing can prepare you for it. At its worse for me, the guilt was physically and emotionally crippling to the point I wouldn’t leave the house with my baby daughter in case I made a parenting mistake that I couldn’t fix. I will always be so grateful to the friends who realised this and came to visit, one who even bought coffee and sandwiches for me when she drank and ate neither.
Little did I know back then the guilt would never go away, you just learn to tame it and survive through each ‘guilt cycle’.
The difficulty is that people have no idea at what point you may be during your ‘guilt cycle’ when they make ‘helpful’ parenting suggestions.
‘Maybe you should change Doctors?’
(Ok-he thinks I’m not taking good enough care of my child.)
‘Have you thought of asking your husband to help more?’
(Does she know he’s taking all the carers days for our kids because I have no more paid sick leave left?)
‘Your kids are so tired, maybe you should take them for a holiday?’
(Brilliant suggestion, I’d never thought of that myself. Now will you give me your credit card to pay for it?)
‘Should you be studying when your son gets sick so often?’
(Yep as we’ve stopped a few asthma attacks because we’ve still been awake studying when the attack hits…including 30 minutes before an assignment was due.)
And these are just the ones I’ve had in the last fortnight.
These comments/suggestions/observations take their toll when you are tired and vulnerable. As the saying goes, everyone is facing a battle you don’t know about, so be kind always. Be aware. Be supportive. And if in doubt…just stay silent.
After my third morning coffee, I looked at myself in the mirror just before putting on my makeup. My blue eyes were still hard from remembering the dream and rimmed by deep, dark circles. My pores were wide from the high temperature induced night sweats. My hair was dishelved and lank. I was plumper than I’d like to be when facing the impending Summer. And I sighed…it didn’t take Freud to figure out who the cow was from my nightmare.
But since I had to live with her, I’d just straighten my back, hold my head high, smile and face the day and be the best everything I could be for that day. And do that day by day. Repeat.
And failing that…I’d just shut the bitch up at night with chocolate and champagne. And when you struggle, I suggest you do the same.
Have a great week Mums. Never forget you are doing a great job.