When does motherhood get easier?
Does it ever get any easier? It's a question mothers all around the world have asked at one point or another – partly in jest, partly because they're in desperate need of reassurance. As her children young boys near four and two, Dominique McMullan is starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.
I often hear myself, and other mums with young children, ask the question “Does it get easier?” to mums with older kids. The question is usually asked with a smile. It’s a joke. It’s an acknowledgement of what we do as mums. It’s the secret handshake of the member’s-only dirty nappy club.
But like so often with jokes, there is an element of truth and vulnerability. We mean it. We really do want to know if it will get easier. We’re desperate to know in fact. The answer is usually, “It gets different”, followed quickly by a soothing “It does get easier – in many ways”.
Isn’t it funny how we rely on these generic comments to communicate so much? The mums with younger children are saying “This is really hard” and the mothers with older children are saying “I know, I see you. Hang in there… but don’t expect too much”.
I’ve been thinking about this question a lot. My boys are nearly four, and nearly two. My head is just starting to peep above the parapet. Wiser mums have told me that from age four, this happens. I am beginning to find little fleeting moments in which I can think straight and remember who I am and what I need. There’s not always someone who needs me now – for a cuddle, for a feed, for a nappy change, to find the Calpol syringe, to put their socks on, to find their bunny, to kiss their sweet little owie better.
Last week I did some gardening, for the first time ever. My boys played around me in the garden. For a perfect 20 minutes, there was peace. I felt the sun on my back, I could hear stories of dinosaur pilots flying through the long grass and my younger son babbling to himself playing with the watering can. They were happy and safe. I gently placed the sweetest violas in the ground and felt the crumbly earth between my fingers. I was so happy. I felt like me, and I was doing something that made me feel good.
I think when we ask that question to other mums, “Does it get easier?”, what we really mean is “Will I ever have time for me again?”. For me, that is the part of motherhood that is difficult, but that can go unnoticed when you’re in the trenches. With young children, there is no time for you. And I really mean NONE. Some days I have had to make time just to go to the bathroom, and that is usually with two little companions. There is always someone that needs you more urgently than you need anything for yourself. Of course, you can’t read a book, have a bath, go for a walk, or do some gardening. Not when your children need you. Not when they are crying, shouting, wanting, needing.
But as life evolves, as they need me less, I am starting to put parts of myself first again. Of course that comes with some heartache. It means my children are growing away from me. It means their little chubby hands hold mine less. But it ALSO means I can find me again. It means I can garden. I can go for a walk. I can read while they play. That is revolutionary to me. And that is good for everyone.
In these moments, I am starting to remember old pieces of me, the things that gave me joy. It is like my life was blown up, and now the dust is settling and I am looking around at the rubble, fondly picking up nostalgic pieces that have been sitting dormant for years. Pieces of life that make me, me. And the best part is that I get to enjoy those pieces again with my two perfect sons beside me – babbling in the garden.
So perhaps one day, I will meet you and tell you with a knowing smile that, “It does get easier. And it does get different.”