There are not many (any?) maps of motherhood that trace out the way I want to be living it.
It’s just after 9pm on a Sunday. It’s been a good night. My kitchen is clean and well-stocked for the week to come (a loaf of spelt bread made for my daughter who can’t tolerate wheat, porridge oats soaking overnight for the baby, a grocery delivery has left us with full cupboards and fridge, and overflowing fruit bowl). The children’s clothes are washed and ready for morning. Toys are tidied away. I *think* homework has been done. And most importantly all four are asleep in bed.
On a bad or even average night, none of this would happen…and just so you know there’s no superiority here and I’m savouring every moment of this and feeling infinitely blessed. (AND my baby woke up about ten minutes after I wrote this bit so I’ve been comforting him back to sleep…but he nursed down again quickly, so it’s still a good night sleep-wise thus far).
When people talk about hitting rock bottom and rising, it’s a narrative that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s too simple, too linear, too unreal for me in terms of lived experience. My experience of the bottom, and yes, bottom it is, is that I’ve been skating along it for a number of years now…that bottom for me could be summed up as the underside of motherhood in so many ways. The shape of the landscape changes. My head is mostly facing up. But how do you know, really know, it’s ‘rock bottom’ when there are blind drops and hidden edges waiting.
It’s taken me about a year and more, of betrayals, disappointments, and failures, to accept and really deeply understand that in this most recent manifestation I’m not just a separated or single mother, (after many years on the cusp of legal divorce), but a sole parent which is an entirely different thing. (I do have some shared support from my older children’s father, my soon to be ex-husband, but with the father of my youngest we have at present no contact, through his choice and action.)
I’ve had to accept that the shape of what *is* is not and never will be one of equal partnership in parenting. That’s okay, in the sense that the current arrangements are what is healthiest and happiest for the children under the circumstances – but it has also meant the very real re-writing of my understanding and expectations about what it means to be a mother outside of this model.
And it means that the past months and year really have been hitting up against every cliche of divorced / single motherhood:
*changes in visitation that have left me stranded for work (and ultimately requiring me to change my work patterns entirely)
*late and then unpaid child maintenance, that leaves us in real danger of not eating (thankfully resolved a few times over with help in various ways)
*the irony of being told condescendingly by my husband’s solicitor that ‘now I can learn to stand on my own two feet’ financially, even as previous arrangements for sharing responsibilities for our children were eroded
*the sheer exhaustion of what’s required in terms of looking after a home and four children, one still a breastfeeding baby, the stress of not being physically able to meet their needs and my own.
What this means for me now is that there are pieces of my life which will not make sense to many – and that places which once would have provided me solace simply don’t as my experience is too different now from what it once was. It probably also means that my mere existance is hard for some who don’t want to see this side of motherhood. I never expected to be here either.
I could easily eat up every moment of every day ‘just’ being a mother, that I could drive myself mad trying to ‘earn a living’ in the old school way alongside that, it means that in recent months I’ve spent a fair number of days of utter despair at the impossibility of what is needed from me and the lack of freedom inherent in my current existence.
It also means for me right now that I’m feeling a call to reinvent what motherhood looks like for me and how I live it. I know what I want it to feel like, at least the rough sketch of what I’d like to to feel like – free, powerful, sacred, loving, creative, nurturing, protective, honest, restful, kind. Something that makes me more, not less. I know the old maps for my situation won’t give me that (though I am certain many women have quietly walked that way and successfully before me, some visibly so). I’m willing to wait in the space of visioning until I can start to trace the path that will.
I know my allies as I begin are in the presence I bring to my own life, in the things that strengthen that presence, physically, emotionally, spiritually. I know they are in the connection with others – other women, other mothers, other men and families – but only where these connections are grounded in respect and kindness.
I have no tolerance left for meanness, hypocrisy, gossip, dishonesty. I don’t take those things personally anymore because I know now so clearly that when people approach relationship in these ways that a) they are not for me and b) it’s not about me. I also will not hesitate to protect myself from these things in whatever ways I must because these things are pernicious and cause harm far beyond what is commonly acknowledged.
I have every space in my heart and my life for the connections that are vital, full of integrity and shared purpose, and most of all truth, compassion, respect, and genuine love and kindness. These things too have the capacity to ripple outwards and deserve to be nurtured in every way.
There are a lot of things I haven’t figured out yet, like how the time for looking after all the things that require looking after will happen. I trust that there are ways that will start to open when I take time to sit in stillness and listen. I trust that following the heart of my own work and renewal and the pace it comes at will in all cases bring me to a better place of resolution than denying the very real work and responsibilities I carry day to day would do – and by that I mean, I hold responsibility to my children, myself and my home, as much as I do to ‘earning a living’ or fulfilling a calling.
These last two are not separate for me, and the calling is as essential to me as eating and breathing…but what I’m coming to in a round about manner is that I’m looking to live these things in ways that are no longer at odds with my self-sustaining, child-nurturing, home-creating which are equally and even more important, and which take REAL WORK, real time, real energy to keep going.
I don’t know how to get there yet. But I’m burning the old maps, the ones that won’t work. I’m giving myself permission to take the time I need to vision and to heal. I want this to come with ease, with joy, with freedom. I feel it can be done, though I don’t yet know how. But that feeling, that conviction, and sitting down to write it, is my starting point.