Wednesday 20 July 2016

"I should never have had children"

"I should never have had children," she said to me with anguish in her face. I was shocked that a lady in her nineties could be so filled with regret, not least about the two lives she had created.

"I just couldn't cope," she sighed.

Maybe there was evidence of mental health issues undealt with: Maybe it was being forced to move away from home at a young age to do a profession she didn't want to do. Maybe it was the trauma of witnessing war first hand; of nursing injured patients who'd had limbs blown off. Maybe it was having her husband die of illness and marrying into a second abusive marriage.

"You could understand why he hit her," people would say. 

Maybe she never really wanted children at all. No doubt it was even more taboo to choose not to as a childbearing woman in the 1940s. Society didn't allow for women who wanted to make choices. Society didn't allow for trauma or mental health issues. Many have praised the time as more positive than today: Mental illness didn't exist in our day, they say, we just had to crack on.

And crack on she did. 

She's the same woman who told me I'd always suffer too, that I'd never be able to make a good decision. "It's a curse," she would say to me. And I don't think what she meant was the curse of a bad decision, but the curse of not being able to accept any sort of outcome. Every decision feels like the wrong one: inflicted with the deep rooted perfectionism that has plagued my life too. Perhaps she was right.

"I should never have had children," I found myself saying in my head this week. I suddenly caught the thought and named it for what it was; utterly ridiculous. Of course I'd never say that to anyone else - people would misinterpret that as me wishing my children away, which is an entirely different thing altogether. Perhaps only perfectionists will truly understand that juxtaposition; that feeling of things not being altogether right, and so your brain instantly writes it all off as useless. You fall off your bike and you're reluctant to ever get back on it again. What could I have done differently? Perhaps never have got on a bike in the first place? And you say these things to yourself in a split second; a ridiculous moment of self loathing for not being good enough: you should never have got on a bike in the first place, you say to yourself, despite the fact that of course you will, and the fact that you will have countless more enjoyable bike rides thereafter.

"I should never have had children."

And what that meant was: I'm not a good enough mother. I'd not had time to bake cakes for my son's school like every other parent seemed to. Who am I kidding, I can't even bake. The last time I baked something it welded so hard to the tray you could pass it as kryptonite. Except less edible. I can't bake, I'm not fit to be a mother. Why didn't anyone tell me that baking was a requirement? I arrived to school late again. My 18 month old had had me chasing him round the house waving a pair of Clarkes shoes at him, until I had to pin him down and force them on his deliberately curled up toes. Meanwhile my five year old was not cleaning his teeth as I'd asked, he was instead distracted - stood in the middle of the lego bricks he's left out with his jaw open, gawping at whether the pictures on the wall were straight. See, he has it too. There's only so long before I start to hate my own raised voice amidst the screams and moans and the general chaos. Its only a matter of time before I can't even hear myself think and I feel like screaming so loud that all the universe can hear. I don't, of course. I just crack on.

I find myself longing to be at my work desk, a place of escape. I feel guilty at the pleasure I get from silence, deep down knowing I'll look back with rose tinted glasses at a time when my children curled up their toes to stop me putting their shoes on. I sometimes think about whether I'd have children had I not felt pressure from society. Maybe I wouldn't. I believed it when people told me I was selfish. I loved children, but I found them exhausting. What's wrong with me? Where's this maternal gene I'm supposed to have? I felt like an anomaly, like if I owned up to the truth no one would accept me as a decent human being. But everyone was always on at me: "when are you going to have a baby? When are you going to have a baby? Your body clock is ticking." I got told I was selfish not to want children.

Now I just get told I'm selfish if I don't enjoy every minute.

Or bake scones. 

It seems utterly ridiculous now that I would make a choice simply out of fear of what others thought of me, and that's of course not the main reason I had children. I remember when my husband and I decided to have a baby - It was out of a place of love and trust. We told each other we would be there for one another despite the hardships and the judgements and the sleeplessness. We told each other we would do things differently; that we would shut out the expectations and the need to be perfect. I forgot all about the lack of desire to hang out with kids, and thought about the love I have for people, for relationships, for fun and stupidity, for water fights and silly dancing, and for my man who would make an amazing Dad. I secretly hoped that it would bring me more joy than pain; that it would bring me a new sense of purpose; that I would have a greater capacity for love.

And it did.

But it's been hard. I sometimes feel like I'm not coping. I sometimes wonder whether my kids will grow up to hate me. I've realised that the old lady's regrets are not out of a selfishness, but out of a desire to do things right. Deep down perhaps she knows that she wasn't always there for her children; that she had a lot of other stuff to deal with. I don't for a second think that her regret means she wishes her children don't exist. I don't for a second think that she doesn't love them. I feel a deep sense of empathy for her and I wish I could have helped her before her life got so full of regret; I wish I could have been that friend that told her it's okay to be imperfect. I wish she could have read a blog post that told her it's okay to find things hard sometimes. I wish, amongst the perfect housewife personas, someone could have stood with her and said 'I've got your back.'

So what if I find things hard? So what if I don't match up to the kind of mother society says I should be? I may be imperfect but I love these little people in my life and I want them to know that no matter how screwed up their mother is, she wants them to live lives without regret: lives free of expectation and pressure. She wants them to look at the wonky photos on the wall and find acceptance. She wants them to know that all the shouting and screaming and toe curling in the world won't stop her loving them. May they live lives without regret and without perfection. My life would be less without them, and there's not a day I am not thankful for the lessons that they teach me.

So here's to imperfect mothers everywhere. I've got your back.

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