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So this last week saw me take what I feel is a pretty momentous step, and which I’m both delighted with and terrified about.

I qualified as a community education worker 8 years ago, and that role has both defined me and expressed what is important to me ever since.  It took me a long time to ‘find’ the profession too, I’d had my fair share of years in the wilderness wondering what I was supposed to be doing with my time here on earth, and I suppose it was no small coincidence that all the various little jobs, volunteering roles and areas of interests were what eventually channelled me into doing a postgrad professional qualification to enable me to practice as a community educator.  I have also been so blessed to have the chance to work for an amazing organisation for most of my post-qualification years.

So why, then, have I just quit my job?!

Since becoming a mum, in fact since becoming pregnant 5 years ago I’ve had a sort of split in my mind.  I wanted to continue to do the work I loved, that I could see also did so much good, but I wanted to not have the mad juggling act of parenthood combined with busy working life.  Financially we were in no position for me to stop working, and to be honest when our daughter was a baby I was glad to reclaim my self, to have a space where I was independent again (as much as any employee can be anyway).  As the years have gone by we have intermittently re-examined that position to see if our finances offered flexibility for other choices to be made, but until now that has been a pretty laughable proposition.

But this last 6 months or so have brought together a number of jigsaw pieces.  I’ve rediscovered a passion for art practice, and have had some creative juices stirred which could do with an outlet.  Our daughter is about to begin school and that presented new organisational challenges which we were struggling to reconcile (whilst being aware that everyone else manages these things somehow!).  As my mum is facing a longish period of ill-health and I’m feeling the distance between us, it would be great to have a bit more time and flexibility to head up to my parents to help out now and again.  And finally, once our daughter heads off to school we’ll free up enough money (from nursery fees no longer being paid) to make a career break for me a realistic idea.

We worked all this out about 3 weeks ago, spent a couple of weeks mulling it over, praying it through, and finally, last Monday I handed in my notice.  I’m not leaving immediately, I’ll be there for the rest of the summer but already my mind is shifting to new projects for the autumn, my eye is being cast calculatedly around the house as I assess areas to tackle when I have time.  I’m reimagining my mornings, getting up very slightly later, walking our daughter to school rain or shine (I’m getting rid of my car too, won’t need it) and getting to know other parents in the area as we gather at the school gates.  I’ve been busy looking at art and craft workshops I’d like to do, pondering possibilities and just listening to what excites my soul as I consider opportunities.

I also had a small crisis moment, induced at last week’s small group in our home.  So tell me, what do I say now when I get asked what I do?  I hate ‘housewife’, it sounds empty and demeaning.  (is that just me?  would I feel different if I hadn’t been a working parent?)  Apparently I’m going to be on a ‘career break’, but since I never regarded myself as having a career that doesn’t seem right either!  And although I have an art degree and I’m planning on (in a gentle and not particularly purposeful way) taking time to do more art, I baulk at calling myself an artist – artists are people other than me, I feel.

Can I still be a community educator even if I don’t have anyone to ‘educate’?!

I wonder how long it’ll take me to reconcile this?  I’m sure I’m not the first person, the first woman to feel like this, and I certainly won’t be the last so any insight and guidance will be much appreciated.

As is usual for his very thought-provoking blog, Fourth Space got me mulling over exactly how and why God loves me (of all people!).  And as is often the case when you start thinking about something (my previous post about autism being a case in point) it seems then to be EVERYWHERE you look.

So last night, feeling poorly, I was lying in bed clutching a hot water bottle to my aching tummy and trying not to move too much in case I was sick (this is called setting the scene…).  I was tired but not sleepy and had started to reread a book that I had found on my bookshelf from earlier last year.  It is called “Operating Instructions” by Anne Lamott, and is basically a journal that she kept during her son’s first year.  It’s a compelling read, but I’d struggled with it the first time round because she was so painfully and brutally honest, some of which was too close to the bone for me to deal with during what had been a bit of a difficult patch.  This time round I’m loving it, and really relishing the honesty.  It feels raw, but healing too.

This was the bit that jumped out at me as I lay feeling lousy and fragile:

I’m trying to be extremely gentle and forgiving with myself today, having decided while I nursed Sam at dawn this morning that I’m probably just as good a mother as the next repressed, obsessive-compulsive paranoiac.

I think we’re all pretty crazy on this bus.  I’m not sure I know anyone who’s got all the dots on his or her dice.

But once an old woman at my church said the secret is that God loves us exactly the way we are and that he loves us too much to let us stay like this, and I’m just trying to trust that.

(“Operating Instructions” by Anne Lamott, Anchor Books 1993)

I’ve heard that view of God’s love before, and it does kind of encapsulate the complicated love that he has for us. 

It has proved helpful to me today.

What do you currently long for most?

There are many things I really yearn for, most of them actually not that important or significant.  However, for my husband and I, our current hope, and my most heartfelt longing is to have another  baby.  Turns out this isn’t as easy or straightforward as you might think.  It took a little while to conceive our daughter, but now I’m getting on for 5 years older and (a side affect of parenthood) considerably more tired and stressed than I was last time round.  We’ve not had any success so far, although hopefully this year will change that. 

So I’m aware that I’m longing for something that I may not get, whilst basically disbelieving that it’s not going to happen again for us. 

That is my confession.  It feels like I’ve just told you an enormous secret, but it’s not really.  Who knows what this year may bring?  Well, in truth I guess only God will currently know the answer to that question.

Longing does seem to be part of the human condition.  Is it just a lack of contentment with what we have, or is it a genuine desire to have something that will bring real enrichment?  What is the correct attitude to have towards our longings and desires, and how do we figure out those which are useful, healthy and ultimately in someway beneficial, and those which are going to be destructive and a source of further unsatisfaction?

The week I wanted?

  • An optimistic and motivated return to work after the Christmas break
  • A return to the security of routine, with a reluctant farewell to the freedom of holidays
  • A well- paced week, with each day a pleasant balance of rewarding work, refreshing sleep, delightful family time and blessed time with others
  • A week where I can enjoy my change from 5 day a week full-timer status at work, to 4 day a week part-timer status, by just enjoying spending time with my daughter on our shared day off mid-week
  • A week where I look around my home and feel the small pleasures of successful domesticity as I observe the well-ordered home we have achieved as we make the most of our refreshing break by spending a little time each evening tidying and putting away.

The week I got?

  • A week of slightly random work events, bubble-wrapped in the back to work torpor that I had forgotten always surrounds this returning week after Christmas
  • A week of frantically juggling a sick daughter with trying (and mostly failing) to get to work on time
  • A week of wakeful nights as our daughter became sicker as the week progressed, and the eventual pleasure today of seeing her well enough to go to nursery and now to have her finally sleeping well
  • A week of enormous delight in the company of others, from work colleagues, to my family, to our extended ‘small group family’ despite encroaching exhaustion and apparently terminal frustration
  • A week of observing our home fall into further chaos as we lack the time and energy to tidy up – until tonight

Overall, and all things considered, it was a pretty good week!  However, it should be noted that I am saying this tonight, as bedtime draws near, my daughter is (currently, and surprisingly, given the last 5 days) sleeping peacefully and a weekend of leisure and time with great friends beckons.

Have a great weekend too.  Sleep well!

I was recently lent an amazing book called “Motherhood and God”.  Written by Margaret Hebblethwaite and published in 1984, it’s one of those books you wish you’d always known about.  (Thank you to SW & CW for the loan!)

I’ve actually barely started it, but it’s totally enveloped me.  There is some beautiful writing, striking imagery and truth and integrity bursting from every page.  I’ve been getting annoyed with my husband, TSTIAI, for taking forever to read Shane Claiborne’s “Jesus for President”, but he tells me that he just needs to keep stopping and mulling over (for a looooong time) every few paragraphs because the book just says so much.  Which is great, as it’s clearly a great book, but also infuriating because I want to read it NOW!  Anyway, here’s a public apology for my impatience, because in “Motherhood and God” I’m having an equivalent experience.  I’m on page 25, and already I’ve had enough ‘stop and think’ moments, or even ‘blown away by profundity’ moments I could spend the next month just blogging on what those few pages have stirred up.  As I said, it’s an amazing book.

If we are God’s children it might be helpful to imagine ourselves sometimes as in her womb.  There could not be a closer image of warmth, security and protection.  There we have all our needs provided for in perfect measure, as the baby receives oxygen and nourishment without deficiency or excess through the umbilical cord.  In God’s womb we can stretch and turn in every direction, just as the baby, suspended in water, is as happy upside down as the right way up, and in the early months can exercise its limbs freely.  Wherever God our mother takes us we will be safe and provided for; whether in cold or heat, storm or drought, we will be protected.  Wherever we journey to we will still be at home, for the presence of our mother’s body is closer to us than our geographical location.  God is closer to us than the ground we stand on.  Even though we have never seen our mother, perhaps are quite unaware of her, or even deny her existence, she is in perfect and constant intimacy with us, and when we are born into the light of her presence we will recognise that she has been with us all along.

When I first read this, I found it so moving, and such a perfect analogy in many ways of how we travel through this life.  Perhaps like me you were initially jarred, or even shocked, by the author referring to God as mother.  I’ve been reflecting on this and wondering why, since both male and female are both in God’s likeness and so presumably it is potentially as valid to think of God as Father or Mother.  I love thinking of God as my daddy, but this passage expressed an aspect of God that is perhaps glossed over. 

And yes, to know that I’m being mothered and fathered by the loving God does make me feel safe.  Being hemmed in by God, as in Psalm 139, is a wonderful thing.

This is pretty interesting.  Kerri Smith has written/illustrated some amazing books about creativity which have been inspiring me a lot lately.  This article on her blog is honest, but also encouraging – and it is encouraging in itself that her honesty can produce encouragement!  That said, I suspect she perhaps doesn’t realise that she’s in a comparitively privileged position.  For many of us creativity is something we have to find a way to achieve, despite our lives.  Kerri Smith makes her living as an artist so in that sense she’s got it there in her job description!  Anyway, it makes an interesting read.  I’d love to know what you think.

I’ve been thinking over the last few days (well, in truth over the last three and a half years) about what it means for me to be a mother.  Before I go any further, I must say I love being a mum to my gorgeous, funny, clever little girl.  But it has also been a fairly devastating experience in some ways too, in terms of who I am and how I view myself.

The reason I’ve found myself thinking about it again is primarily through looking at motherhood again through the lens of others’ experiences.  A couple of friends who have become mums over the last 18 months have been having fairly difficult times, and I have related absolutely to what they’ve been going through.  And this has led to me coming across a book called ‘A Life’s Work’ by Rachel Cusk, which is basically a warts and all kind of book about motherhood.  But two things for me are making it stand out from the crowd:

  • it is not written in a chick-lit style, for poor baby-brained mums who can’t cope with polysyllabic words and complex sentence structure. 
  • it recognises, profoundly, how much of a violation of your sense of self motherhood can be. 

Let me explain why these are important to me.  I have devoured (almost literally) an inordinate number of books about parenthood since the moment I found out I was pregnant.  It’s kind of my default setting for getting to grips with an unfamiliar situation (unless the unfamiliar situation is also a bit boring, but that’s another story).  So I have read a LOT of books, varying from the practical manuals, the cheery guides, the ‘humorous autobiographical accounts’, the verging-on-misery-lit accounts of how it nearly went horribly wrong.  And whilst they were often helpful, entertaining and illuminating, they rarely went much beyond skin-deep.

The thing I struggled with most in the early days and weeks after my daughter was born was just how much of myself was lost.  I had never considered myself a selfish person but parenthood (and to be absolutely specific motherhood, because I don’t think it is the same for fathers) instantly demanded I set aside everything for the sake of this tiny helpless autocrat who now ruled our world.  Of course I had known that, practically, that would be the case, that I’d have to make do with little or no sleep for a good while, that I’d have to juggle looking after my baby with simple things like having a shower.  But it felt like much more than that, like part of me was just missing, the part which thought independently, which even moved independently (anyone who has finally got a crying baby to sleep in their arms, and then finds them self trapped in that position for the next couple of hours for fear of waking the baby – and their wrath – again will know exactly what I mean).  I knew who I was before, but who was I now?

Rachel Cusk touches on this in her introduction to ‘A Life’s Work’:

Birth is not merely that which divides women from men: it also divides women from themselves, so that a woman’s understanding of what it is to exist is profoundly changed.  Another person has existed within her, and after their birth they live within the jurisdiction of her consciousness.  When she is with them she is not herself; when she is without them she is not herself; and so it is as difficult to leave your children as it is to stay with them.  To discover this is to feel that your life has become irretrievably mired in conflict, or caught in some mythic snare in which you will perpetually, vainly struggle.

This sums it up so well for me.  Yet some mums just seem to slip into that role as easily as they would change clothes, as if there is no division or sense of loss for them.  It certainly wasn’t what I’d expected, and it would have been nice to know that motherhood brings layer upon layer of changes and struggles, and they’re not all to do with lack of sleep or loss of a social life.

As time has gone by I’ve adjusted and got used to this new version of me.  I am much more aware of my failings, but perhaps that’s a good thing.  At least I can’t kid myself I’m any kind of angel.  More positively, I’ve also begun to get good at certain things.  I am much more impatient, but much more able to recognise when I need to practice patience and can now more easily make that choice.  I am discovering too that truth from Ecclesiastes 3:  there really is a time for everything.  I may feel sad about no longer doing the things I used to love doing (for example, I used to be really involved in youth work at our church, but now have a very limited involvement), but it’s both exciting and liberating to see that for now my focus needs to be closer to home. 

I don’t think being a mum is all I am, but ,since the day my daughter was born, it has underwritten all I am.   And I’m glad, because this means that I have the privilege of sharing my life with my daughter and my husband.  We are becoming the people we are meant to be, bit by bit, together.

August 2017
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