Because you are more than a mother. Because you’re doing enough. Because you just don’t feel like it – you’re allowed to say no to your kids, says Spinoff Parents editor Emily Writes.
I was sent an article and told it would change my life. This happens a fair bit. It’s not that I don’t believe in the life-changing power of words, I do. And actually, words have changed my life many times over. But as soon as I saw the title my head began to throb.
I didn’t make it all the way to the end. And it wasn’t the writer’s fault or the person who sent it to me. I really do believe we all need to parent the way that works best for us. But I have to say – sometimes these how-to-parent pieces just bring me to my knees. The weight feels so heavy with every sinking demand.
Do this, do that. More, more, more. Less you. More mum. Soften your sharp edges until there’s nothing at all left of you. Be a shell your children can live in. As long as they’re happy it doesn’t matter if you’re just a whisper.
Say yes to your children.
Say yes more.
Yes to every need.
Yes to every want.
Just try it.
Just do more.
How about no?
How about fuck no.
How about I listen to the voice that sometimes screams in my head that I AM DOING FUCKING ENOUGH.
I say yes plenty. I have never turned down a cuddle nor would I. I find the energy when I have none. I have sung until my voice is hoarse, carried until my arms ache, been everything I could be and more. I say yes to Chipmunks when I’m tired. Yes to another trip to the zoo even though I’ve got a sore tooth and it’s freezing cold. Yes, to another meal made, another bed made, just one more book, just one more jump on the trampoline, just one more muddy puddle (thanks Peppa you swine), one more bike ride, one more swim, just this thing or that thing even when my bones are breaking with exhaustion, five minutes more, ten minutes more, 20 minutes more.
And then as if we’re not socially conditioned enough to serve unfailingly of our families: we’re not done yet! It’s paid work too and our friends and their kids and their families and everybody else and all of this emotional labour and physical labour and labour and labour and no.
I want to say no sometimes.
And I will.
And here’s my secret: I do.
I say no because you’re clean and fed and you had a good day and that’s enough.
I say no because I’m allowed to be tired!
I say no because I will not teach my kids to listen to their bodies while I ignore mine.
I say no because I deserve to still live a bit in myself in the glory and wonder of my children.
No because these stories aren’t aimed at so many dads who are allowed to have quiet time and sit on the couch and they are definitely allowed late nights and stolen moments and time “off”. No because I’m tired of hearing women tell me Sunday morning swimming is all he does. Tired of hearing “he sometimes changes nappies”. I say no because I get told I’m lucky my husband lets me see movies in the evenings.
You’re allowed to say no.
You’re allowed to not be consumed. To not be eaten alive by a guilt that tries to tell you that you don’t do enough for your kids when all day it’s kids, kids, kids, kids.
When a bath or a shower alone is suddenly considered “self-care” for mums – we’ve gone too far.
When a glass of wine is begrudged a breastfeeding mother because “you just don’t know” but then you have to breastfeed for 18 years because it’s not enough, enough, enough – it’s time to pull way the fuck back.
When chocolate is naughty but you only ate the corners of a Marmite sandwich that was sitting on the bench half the day – ‘No’ is what you need.
When a mother says she’s going away for the weekend and she’s immediately told “I’d never leave my baby that young”.
When we’re told we can’t leave our children with anyone else lest they learn some lesson about how it really does take a village – and not the theoretical kind, the literal “drop-your-damn-kids-off” kind.
You can’t breathe for the need to say yes all the damn time. To be everything to everyone all the damn time.
It’s OK to say no – this, what you insist of me, is not what I signed up for.
It’s by grace I get to be called mother by these two babies but it’s not all that I am. And I will wear it like my favourite dress, but sometimes let me take it off.
Don’t force on me more, more, more.
Don’t insist I be perfect when my life has always been imperfect.
I birthed a baby not a mother.
I understand the striving, I really, truly do. I stand at the door to my baby’s room – I think, my god, please don’t let me fuck this up. I read the books and the articles and listen to the podcasts, the tapes, ask advice, listen, take notes – dear god, I don’t want to fuck this up.
I lie in the dark breathing in my baby and my mind says this is the most important thing you’ll ever do. Parenting these children is your life’s work. It is.
But I will not destroy myself for it.
Because they need me, me the mother who birthed them.
And me the mother who birthed them is flawed and selfish and she makes stupid decisions and she is self-absorbed sometimes and tired and cranky and loving and kind and unkind and she loves being their mum.
She adores them.
And they need to see me.
All of me.
I deserve to be seen just as you do.
They need to see that we are allowed to be flawed, to be frustrated, to be furious sometimes.
We are allowed to say no.
We are allowed to be complex.
To snap like a rubber band.
To break sometimes.
To crumble and be rebuilt.
They need to know that’s possible.
I cannot erase who I am for them because they need me as I am.
Nobody will love your children more than you do.
Nobody will try as hard.
But you’re there too.
Flawed, furious, kind, unkind, loved, loving, complex, changed.
Emily Writes is editor of The Spinoff Parents. Her book Rants in the Dark is out now. Buy it here. Or support The Neonatal Trust by buying a signed copy for Mother’s Day here. Follow her on Facebook here.
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The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.