We never know what kind of parent we will be before our children are with us. In this personal essay, Helen Gilby talks about the mother she thought she would be, and the mother she is.
I became a mother four years ago.
I feel like this sentence alone should be the beginning and the end of everything that has come after that monumental day in the middle of winter.
You were cut from my body in a hurried and unapologetic fashion, and I was catapulted into a world that I thought was going to consume me and soften over all the jagged edges of self-doubt that had nagged at me throughout my life.
Never sure what I should study, never sure what job I should apply for, never sure what colour I should dye my hair. I thought that motherhood would be such a higher calling to me that none of that old self-doubt would matter now. I had the ultimate calling – I am mother, hear me roar.
What a lot of pressure to put on 7 pounds 14 ounces of dark-haired fury and wonder. No wonder we didn’t get off to a very good start.
I remember looking at you, waiting for the lightning bolt of maternal love and desire to overtake me. I was ready to sign up to that mothers group. To be the ‘home made and home grown by mum’ mother.
The ‘I threw this three-course meal and three piece baby outfit together myself’ mother.
The ‘I never want to leave my baby and my home’ mother.
The ‘I find my complete happiness in looking after my happy family’ mother.
I never found her. Instead I found more questions than before, but now they were even bigger and more complex.
My love for my small bundle of dark hair was deep and joyous in how fierce and unrelenting it was, but it was not fulfilling.
Over time, the dark hair has slowly turned into a honey blonde, so like mine. And, as my child’s hair has changed, so have my expectations of total fulfilment from motherhood.
Like an all-consuming romantic love that slowly dulls over time, my maternal love does not fill the cracks and crevices that the rivers of self-doubt have made in my mind over a lifetime.
Rather than being ‘happy to be at home’ mum, I am a ‘happy to work outside the home’ mum. This has made me more balanced in the workplace, more focused on my tasks so I can make my time away from you count.
So I am the ‘juggle paid work and parenting’ mother;
The ‘happily wave goodbye to you at preschool’ mum, but also the ‘get the guilts in the car’ mum.
The ‘working on my laptop while you do drawing next to me’ mum.
The ‘I can’t always make everything, but I will make everything important’ mum.
But my how you and I have I have grown together over these four years. You are now tall and loving with me. You have given me a wonderful perspective on life, its fragility and how fleeting moments of joy are and how small things can be so profound. How much growth and change we are capable of if we keep moving forward and not lose our sense of discovery.
The biggest gift you have given me? You’ve renewed my ability to try, try and then try again. When I watch you master a new skill, I see you might fail a thousand times but you do not stop until you are triumphant.
When did I lose this drive to stop trying, I wonder?
Thank you for restoring it to me, and for being so forgiving of the mother I have turned out to be.
Helen Gilby is busy working mum of two and a communications student.