Published on: 15/09/2020
Words by Carola Kolbeck
I stand in my kitchen, clutching my tea in one hand whilst stirring the porridge with the other.My partner and I barely say goodbye to each other as he heads out the door, both kids and the dog hanging from him, so I rush away to gather the little people inside the house.Whilst the first load of washing is spinning, I answer the first 300 questions of the day: Can I have a drink? Can I have a biscuit? Can I watch TV? Can I wear my Elsa outfit? Can I see my friend after school? Can you wipe my bum? A few minutes later, both kids are screaming and crying, fighting over the dog’s toy.Meanwhile, the dog is destroying our lawn by digging multiple holes in it.There is a lot of noise as my oldest drops her drink, followed by suspicious silence from my youngest.When I run to check, leaving the goop of oats to fend for itself, I find that one of my kids has knocked a drink over, dangerously close to the laptop, and the other has taken his nappy off and peed all over the floor.As I compose myself for a moment, I see the dog now covered in mud, destroying one of the kids’ space hoppers.I want to scream but I am too tired. It’s not even 8am yet.
After days like this, when I collapse on the sofa late in the evening, knowing that I still have to make packed lunches and sort clothes for the next day, I think back to when I was single, living by myself, with no one but myself to think of.I longingly pine for those evenings of doing absolutely nothing, of days spent with friends in the pub, at festivals, house parties, without a care in the world, not bothering when I rolled into bed. Weekends were for sleeping and if I wanted to stay in bed till 2pm and read, watch TV or just chill out, then so be it.About 10 years ago, having children was something quite farfetched, something even unachievable. At 22 I was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries, and I had resigned myself to the fact I may not have kids of my own.But then I got pregnant once, and again, and my life turned around in a flash.I had the most wonderful pregnancies and uncomplicated births, both of which I am forever grateful for.However, not everyone’s experience is as positive.
I am speaking to Andrea, a single mother of one and a successful professional, kick-ass journalist, globe trotter and extreme sports woman. Getting married or having a child was never on her agenda.A chance encounter and whirlwind romance resulted in a pregnancy that changed her life forever.
“I think I am still trying to put the pieces together”, she tells me candidly. “I felt absolutely awful and spent all my pregnancy feeling unhappy. I had been living my dream life.Now I felt like my life was over.” Did her feelings change when she finally met her son?
“I loved him so much, but I still wasn’t happy.And knowing that I wasn’t happy being a mother made me feel even worse.Everyone and everything tells us we should be happy and love our children more than ourselves.And I was struggling with this new life.”
Andrea’s dilemma resonates, as I had similar experiences as a new mother.Holding my babies the first time was absolutely magical, and I felt inexplicably euphoric, but it wasn’t long until reality greeted me with a bump.Both my infants screamed all the time and I could never put them down. They hated the pram, the Moses basket, the sling, and, so it seemed, me.Being carried everywhere and attached to my boobs was the only thing that worked.My mother flew over to stay with me for a few weeks, but when she left, I crumbled.I vividly remember sitting on the sofa in tears, unable to stop crying.I was totally and utterly overwhelmed and lost.Instead of my idyllic image of going to mum and baby groups, meeting new mums and sipping coffee whilst the baby slept, I spent most of my maternity leave walking outside, gritting my teeth, hiding my tired eyes behind dark sunglasses and hoping that I didn’t have to grin through another well-meant but unhelpful comment from strangers.When my partner took over after 6 months at home with my second baby, starting his paternity leave, I couldn’t wait to get back to work.I needed some time for myself, moments to think and just be me again.I had always been ambitious and felt like motherhood, whilst giving me so much else, had taken my identity as an independent, fierce and driven career woman away.Being back at work had its own challenges, such as sore boobs by 11am and nowhere to express the milk, as well as constant feelings of guilt and inadequacy as a mother, but going back to staying at home wasn’t an option.
This also rings true for Andrea. “I wanted my old life back! I wanted my body back! My head was in a mess, I felt so alone, and I carried all the weight on my shoulders, the guilt, the shame, regret and love, all at the same time.”
Such conflicting feelings are not new to Caroline, a single mother of 4, who is studying to be a counsellor.“It’s a rollercoaster of all kinds of feelings”, she tells me. “I have experienced immense joy and euphoria while also feeling extremely claustrophobic from being needed in a way I had never encountered before.”
My own longing and fantasising about escaping to a remote hotel and spa by myself come to mind and I shake my head when I remember planning all those great things I was going to achieve once I became a mother and was at home with my kids.None of it came true.
“Society and the media are telling you what motherhood will be like but it’s nothing like it”, Caroline opines.“The reality is ugly, chaotic, messy and beautiful all at the same time.”
How does she make time for herself?
“I have to work really hard to make sure I am not forgotten, and to maintain my own life, including friendships, work and relationships.”
Andrea has since managed to find some peace with her role as a mother.Acceptance and stopping negative belief systems were the first step towards a more fulfilled life.
“It took me a long time to realise that wanting to have time for myself didn’t equate to loving my son less.” Andrea is constantly educating herself on positive thinking and is seeing some progress.
“The moment I stopped judging myself, motherhood started to flow more naturally, with less guilt and more love and happiness.”
I want to hear a man’s experience of modern parenthood and the challenges they face.I speak to my partner who was a stay at home father for over two years.Whilst I have seen and heard of many more men taking on the role of the primary caregiver, it’s still roughly only 2% of fathers in the UK who take up the offer of shared parental leave.As a man, my partner felt stereotyped by his employer and people he encountered during his time as a stay at home dad. He loved his time at home with the kids but acknowledged the relentless pace of looking after them all the time.
“It’s non-stop, never ending.You don’t have one minute to yourself to do anything, no shower in peace, no warm meals or drinks, no DIY or other jobs you can to start, let alone finish.”
Does he miss his single life?
“I wouldn’t trade my kids for anything, but I do miss the spontaneity of doing things, as well as being able to finish a conversation without being interrupted.Not to mention getting out the door without having to pack up the whole house, just to go for a quick walk in the park.”
As I reflect on my conversations with a few parents, I notice that, whilst we all have different experiences, we all have our unique struggles, ups and downs, trials and tribulations.We all barley have time for ourselves and acknowledge the sheer exhaustion this is creating for us. Nevertheless, our kids have helped us grow, battle through personal crises and shown us that, no matter how much we miss our old lives at times, they are our absolute world, and are making our existence more colourful, lively and joyful.Most of all, we are not alone in this.As parents, we’re in this together, so supporting each other and offering help and a listening ear are the first step to make parenting in the 21st century a successful feat.
Carola is a freelance writer, content and copywriter.Her own blog, including ‘The Lockdown Diaries’ can be found on www.chameleoninhighheels.com.You can also follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter @chameleoninhighheels.