How the COVID-19 pandemic has helped me redefine motherhood.
My experience of motherhood is one I had tried to deny. The representations of mothers portrayed in the media were not always positive or exciting; because of this, I failed to appreciate the power of womanhood and motherhood.
I became a mother at the age of 22, and I can remember feeling angry.
Why didn’t anyone warn me of the realities? Why didn’t anyone explain to me that when you birth a child, you also birth yourself into motherhood?
No one explained the emotional impact to me—the loss of your old identity and the social expectations weighing heavily on your shoulders.
No one explained to me that everyone has an opinion of how you “should” mother or parent.
No one explained how your lineage and past impact your decisions and perspectives of becoming a new mother.
No one explained that when you become a mother, you are expected to embrace your new role automatically. Accepting this new role means you must automatically put someone else’s needs before your own.
Once you have birthed your child, you are now qualified as a selfless person, and this is your immediate initiation into motherhood.
As well as the unparalleled wonders of motherhood, equally for me, it meant overthinking, concern, worry, comparison, and a huge dose of guilt.
Fast-forward to March 2020; I envisaged living my worst nightmare as a parent, months of constant time together. The COVID-19 pandemic saw us at the beginning of an unbelievable journey that, if I am honest, I was dreading.
If you had told me then that I would have had to endure almost a year of being home, constantly together, with three teenagers, I probably would’ve thought we’d never survive! Without the distractions, friends, day trips, and holidays, complete with the added titles of teacher, social secretary, and well-being consultant, I was feeling the pressure!
I quickly realized that I had to abandon all my expectations to make it through this experience. No social media pictures of us making banana bread and homeschooling timetables placed on my fridge. We just had to bring our best efforts every day—whatever our “best” looked like that day.
I enjoyed the slower pace, the lack of rushing to after-school activities. I had previously been so reliant on the distractions that I had to surrender to the truth of single parenthood: we are all in this together—a team. I am the leader of this sh*t show—cook, shopper, mediator, counselor, and the glue that holds it all together.
Any good leader knows that to get the best out of your team, you need to know their strengths and get them on your side. I had to see my children for the adults they were becoming. I had to invest time into knowing them as the individuals that they were growing into, not the version in my head of who they should be.
It was a huge reality check with a side of surrender! However, it was an opportunity that I will never get again. I became a skilled assessor and auditor of my children and their changing needs and moods to get us through this intense period in our lives.
I soon realized that to be the “glue,” I also needed to honor what I needed and boundary myself off too. Forget motherhood martyrdom; this was survival of the fittest! My usual space of school, bedtimes, work, and routines had disappeared. I had to create my own space, rituals, and area of calm. Prioritizing this in my daily routine, immersing myself in any activity that brought me joy, was pivotal—meditation courses, tapping sessions, gong baths, running, writing, Zoom coffee calls with friends, and carving out time to go for a walk…alone!
Boundaries and putting my needs into consideration were the only way I could survive during a pandemic as a single parent. Embracing my children as their authentic selves helped me to be able to offer myself that same understanding.
We have experienced a whole host of ranging emotions sprinkled in with some tension, arguments, family meetings, space, expectations, and anger. However, the duality of boundaries and bonding with my children has allowed us to grow as a family unit that I never thought would be possible.
This process of being “all in” and embracing my motherhood and leadership role of holding it all together has helped me redefine what motherhood means and looks like. Being a mother had previously always meant martyrdom and releasing all my personal needs. Coupled with crippling guilt to “get it right.”
Once I relinquished that reality and understanding, the pandemic gave me validation to not be a perfect mum (whatever that meant). By accepting myself and my children exactly as we are—perfectly unperfect—I could also release my attempts at being an A+ teacher or an award-winning baker!
The pandemic changed my perspective and helped me make peace with my previously defined version of what motherhood “should” look like, how mums should act and be. It has helped me accept that boundaries, surrendering, and winging it is the much-needed recipe for my pandemic survival prescription.
The main lesson that I have learned, and I hope I have passed on to my children during this time, is this:
The only expectations we need to live up to are our own, never ones socially constructed or inherited by us.
Bringing our best will always be enough!