OPINION: It’s tough in the (mother)hood

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makchic’s publisher, Laych Koh shares her thoughts on culture, changes and current events in her monthly column, The Dilated Pupil. 

There is one thing that motivates me as a mother and a woman: the age gap between my daughter and I. 

My sweet daughter – my third and last child – has just turned one, and I am 44. Believe you me, I never stop thinking about this simple math. I wonder if and when she will have a baby, and if I can help her the way I want to when that happens. If she has a baby at, say, 30 (I had my first child at 36), I will be 74 years of age. I’m no ageist and am hopeful about my health, but I am also realistic. I worry about my creaky knees and problematic gums, and other things I definitely did not worry about over a decade ago.  It fills me with a little anxiety, that I hope I will be fit, healthy and able to help her in those intense and dark days of postpartum recovery. That I will have the strength and energy to help her look after her babies, if she should decide to have them.
I say this because I know motherhood is so hard, and filled with such intense challenges and emotional ups and downs. I simply would like to be there for her. Living overseas from my family meant I largely had to have and raise my babies away from my own mother, and having an older mother-in-law meant there was rarely any help from other women on the many long, drawn out days of motherhood. This is not a moan, as I feel I have learned so much on my own, and it has brought out the best of the partnership I have with my very hands-on husband. Nevertheless, the mother that I am now means I desperately want to support my daughter in the future. It has shaped everything about how I want to live and eat and breathe and love in the weeks,  months, and years ahead. It has also shaped the way I want to support other mums and women.

Then vs. now

Isn’t it all tough? We were biologically meant to have these babies much earlier, I suppose, when we had ‘good eggs’ and so our bodies would ‘bounce back’ easily. I certainly thought about this recently when I was reluctantly on my problem knees, crawling in the baby soft play after my toddling daughter. But us women also wanted to end up with the right partners, a pain-and-a-half right there – it certainly took me a while, and a move to another country! We also wanted to experience working life first, with all the exciting and maddening joys of independent adulthood. We wanted to earn, savour, challenge and rise in the working world, in ways our mothers didn’t, or couldn’t. If women had babies at a younger age, it certainly meant an easier time physically, but perhaps this meant other sacrifices to do with careers, opportunities or dreams. How hard it is though, to achieve all the dreams that we were told are achievable? The loving partner, the amazing job, the happy family, the purpose and passions – lean into it all!

I was feeling a little sorry for myself the other day and thinking this is all so hard. How am I going to be the best mother I want to be, but also work towards fulfilling the career and dreams I have? When will I feel strong again? When will the piles of laundry ever end? A thought flashed in my mind – women in the previous generations had it easier. At least they had their villages and family around them, many hands holding the babies. They didn’t have an overload of information on the Internet telling them mad tips like ‘you have to make sure the baby sleeps enough, but not too much, and get them tired but not overtired, communicate with them but not overstimulate them‘. They could just let the children go out and play in the streets, and not worry about screen time or rules about devices; they could live their mummy experiences in relative peace and ignorance, without being compared with, or judged, or trolled online.
Source: Ives Ives on Unsplash
But then I quickly corrected myself. The previous generations of mothers obviously had it tough, and I can only imagine that many women out there have a plethora of examples to give me. Our mothers did not even have the medical advances that we now have for safer deliveries, they probably did not have the mental health help or support to deal with challenges like postpartum depression, breastfeeding, or early childhood care. Many probably didn’t even have job opportunities to kiss goodbye. But most of all, it does not escape me that many in our mothers’ generation, now in their 70s and 80s, are experiencing a second round of parenthood as they help look after their young grandchildren. Some have no choice in the matter, caring for their grandkids full-time, while their children go to work.

Tough, for any generation

The media often highlights the ‘sandwich generation‘ – where people my age have to care for their parents as well as their own children. But this is nothing compared to listening to my own mother – now in her 70s – recently talk about her worries for her own mother (my grandmother, who is in her nineties). Imagine that, women out there who have effectively raised their own children and should be enjoying their old age, still bearing the responsibility of care for so many people. Looking after their grandchildren again, possibly their own elderly parents, siblings or partners. As quality of life improves and people live longer, and childcare costs continue to be pricey, perhaps our mothers’ generation will continue to have many challenges indeed.
Source: Raychan on Unsplash
And what about my daughter’s generation? Leaving aside the utter angst and unease about climate change, how will womanhood and motherhood be like for her? It is funny that we are rich with technological advances that help us communicate better, but we are lonelier than ever with our little screens in our big cities. I think about how she will find her people, find her village.
Perhaps, all of it boils down to this: motherhood is all tough, at any age, for any generation. Womanhood and the fulfilment of what it means to be a happy and successful woman is similarly tough. I have seen friends suffer in their struggles to have children, lose their babies, fight to find love, face heartbreak over their marriages, even lose their own life. It makes me weak with humility, thinking about just how tough it is for other women. It makes me think about my privilege as a mother who has choices and opportunities that other women do not have, hampered by poverty or pain, crushed by biology or tragedy.

Beauty in the process

Source: Melissa Askew on Unsplash
So it’s all tough, what are we going to do? Maybe I’ll continue exchanging hilarious and ridiculous motherhood memes with my good friends. Maybe I’ll have more compassion, patience and understanding for my mum and other women who may do or say things that rub me the wrong way. Maybe I’m going to be thrilled for younger women living their best life, happy that they are enjoying their bodies, freedoms, even their mistakes. Maybe I’m going to listen to other women’s stories and ask more questions, offer more support. Maybe I am going to build my own community to love and be loved by. And maybe I’ll try to worry less about the future, and savour the little moments today. Slow down, laugh, breathe, and put the phone down more. It’s all tough, but it’s also all beautiful.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you nurturing souls out there.

From our team of purposeful, multi-faceted mummies. For editorial or general enquiries, email to us at hello@makchic.com.