If we have these children, then why can it feel so lonely?
I have been stressing out over the prospect and processes of re-entering full-time work as a teacher. I know many mothers probably experience these back-to-work anxieties all the time, but these doubts and fears feel like they are mine alone. They sit there huddled together, like a dead weight in my chest.
I know I’m not the only one sometimes feeling like motherhood is a myth we are desperately trying to realise every day with a smile. Because we chose this, didn’t we? Most of us, anyway? And if so many of us feel the same way, and with the kids we decided to raise clinging to our bodies like molluscs, why can we still feel isolated?
Why, despite the joy and laughter and sweetness with our babies, can it feel like we are a little dreary, a little lost?
As many of my friends are mothers as well, I know and connect with their anxieties and pain. Not doing right by our kids. Working too hard. Marital troubles. Mum Guilt of every shade, stripe and spectrum. Feeling overwhelmed. Depleted. Feeling like we don’t know what the hell we are doing. We have these conversations every day. They aren’t just an article off Scary Mommy or Mumsnet – this is real life, these are our lives.
The secrets we keep
We promised anonymity, and we expected some interesting, maybe funny responses. We had no idea that a simple question would elicit such an intense response from our mothers.
Our team received more than 122 replies from mothers on our actual Mama Secrets question sticker, but our message inbox blew up. It did not stop filling up, receiving messages every few minutes. Mums, young women, fathers, partners – they came with their secrets, replies and comments. We went from around 6,000 followers that Monday April 15th, and by Friday we were at 25,000 followers. We started losing count of how many messages we had that Wednesday.
You may have seen some of the secrets we published last month, but there were so many more we did not get to air.
Mothers were exhausted. Some feeling alone. Feeling unloved. Desperate for their husbands to support them. To share the burden. Some hated their in-laws. Wanted out of their marriages. Some cried regularly in the showers. Some wrote long confessionals to us, seemingly just looking for a release.
I asked counselling psychologist Sharan Kaur, who specialises in family, relationship and marriage counselling, what she thought about the intense response we received for Mama Secrets.
“The basic reason why someone chooses not to say something is that they believe they will not get the response they want or require,” she said, adding later that she thought some of the responses were not actually ‘secrets’.
“It’s all about seeking something from their partner, either actual support and/or emotional support. I also can guarantee that they have said this a hundred times (to their partner).”
The mothers’ mental load
Does it surprise any of us that mothers and women are desperate for real support and connection from their partners? If women like me, who already have supportive, hands-on husbands, can feel a little wobbly about motherhood, what of the women and mothers who do not?
Research has shown being a mum is like working 2.5 full-time jobs. People may think that is just hyperbole, but one only has to think about a day they’ve had to deal with emotional drama or socially stressful situations to understand how draining this can feel.
The mental load is real. Women take on more of the intellectual, mental and emotional work of childcare and household maintenance. Beyond the basic mum tasks, we are the ones to remember the birthdays, wrap the bloody presents, nurture extended family ties. Would Raya or Christmas even happen if mothers just threw away their To Do lists?
Basic human needs
We get so used to the mental strain that it’s almost like we have been programmed to internalise it. Like how we never bothered to tell the men in our lives that we sometimes fear just walking down an empty lane, because we are women. Men don’t think to ask, and we don’t think to tell them how it feels to us.
So perhaps this is why it can feel lonely and empty as a mother, regardless of how many people are around us and how many babies we cuddle. We aren’t really connecting even though we think we are – to our partners, to our friends, and maybe often, to ourselves.
Intellectual and existential philosopher Simone de Beauvoir believes that setting and pursuing our own goals is a basic human need, and that motherhood condemns a woman to domestic labour, “which locks her into repetition and immanence”.
If pursuing our own goals and dreams is something that humans need, is it any wonder that we also feel a little lost and lonely inside when everything takes a back seat? Our babies are here, and everything stops. But we continue being us – wanting to spend time with just ourselves too. We still want to belong to the wider world. We still want to earn our own money. We still want to achieve our ambitions. We still want to be loved for ourselves.
A mother’s reminder
I write this now as a reminder to myself, as a mother and woman who needs to give herself a break.
That I am afraid of so many things in the future, but for now I shall be brave. Just like how I tell my child to try and be brave.
That I am feeling low on some days, and it is okay, but then I shall not let it consume me. Just like how I tell my crying child to acknowledge his pain and then just breathe.
That I can doubt myself on some days, but I know I will need to lift myself up. Just like how I tell my child he is wonderful and can do anything he sets his mind to.
That I can fight with my husband, but then I should do my best to communicate better with him. Just like how I tell my children now (and every single day): ‘Please, just use your words’.
That I can feel guilty about parenting, but then I shall tell myself to take these as lessons moving forward. Just like how I encourage my child to do better.
How does she do it?
When mothers talk about single mothers, we often say “I don’t know how she does it.” This is hogwash. We know exactly how they do it. It’s rather an expression of slight horror because we know they are probably killing themselves every day with sheer grit and Herculean toil.
But we are mums, and if we are frank with ourselves, we know that we could do whatever is necessary for us to sustain ourselves and our children. Motherhood may be incredibly diverse, but we all came into being with one singular experience – one of pain and trial-by-fire learning.
If there’s anything we have learned, it is that we can do mind-blowing things. We can withstand the world. Our children are proof of the miracle that is a woman’s body, mind and spirit. Perhaps it is the trick of modern life and capitalism that we feel like women are just living in their own homes, in their own rooms, staring at their own phones, bearing things alone in their own minds.
But as Mama Secrets proved, we are certainly not alone, and we need to really connect to be seen. Let’s seek the authentic fullness and connections we desire.
Happy Mother’s Day, you amazing mothers.