Something my husband said to me during an argument, which made me think:
“You resent the things that all mothers do”.
So, this old idea that a woman naturally, effortlessly transitions into a “mother”, because she was always destined to, was geared for, so, how come a complaint?
Can men ever get an appreciation of what becoming a mother feels like?
Apart from a myriad other things, amazing, wonderful things, what springs to mind as the hardest is the necessary shutting down, putting away, of so many parts of yourself, to fit the hours of the day, the amount of energy available and the needs of others. A lopping off of bits and pieces, interests, pursuits, own space, room to think. And then, managing the expectation that this is just what mothers do.
One of my biggest gripes from the early days of motherhood has been my husband’s ongoing pursuit of swimming, one of his long standing rituals way before we met. For the first 7 weeks when he was with us at home, he religiously went almost daily, early in the morning, leaving me with the baby. It was for the good of the family, he said, as he needed to be healthy for both of us. It seemed to make sense. As time went on, and he went back to work, swimming became a weekend morning activity for him, with some grocery shopping or such tailing it off just on lunchtime. The day with him at home starts at lunch or after, and any family outings, well after 2-3pm, by which time I am exhausted and sleepy after looking after the baby. ‘My time’ (if it happens) will more often than not be slotted in at the end of the day. When I raised a question about this, my husband was quick to point out that he cannot go swimming during the week when he works as he gets up with the baby and lets me sleep (true and much appreciated), so he cannot give up all swimming, and mornings are the best time for him.
An incontrovertible argument. I get it, I do. However, the corollary of this is that ‘my time’ is whatever time is left over. Time for my swim, or art, or reading, or writing. It is nothing new, of course. Drusilla Modjeska’s ‘Stravinsky’s Lunch’ springs to mind here, Stella Bowen’s motherhood and sacrifices to enable her to continue making art. And many others. The third or forth shift, when everyone is fed and bathed and asleep. Burning the midnight oil at the kitchen table, to retain any sense of inner life other than in relationship with others.
‘My time’ is what is left over from the majority of time where baby belongs in my care, as a given. Baby is an extension of me, and I, of baby. It is a given that I will look after him, because that’s where I belong. So whilst my husband’s activities may be somewhat curtailed, he is still free to walk out the door to do whatever it is he wants or needs to do, whilst I simply cannot.
And it is this very difficult position, this new state of being, that is hardest to explain and that brings up most defensiveness and comments about resentment.
So what do I resent?
Certainly, not mothering my baby. Certainly, not my precious time with him. Certainly, not having this amazing gift in life.
I resent the expectation of willing sacrifice, and the reproach when I struggle with it and voice my struggle. And in the bigger picture, the reduction of a ‘mother’ to a woman making do with whatever is made available after others have taken what they need. The burnt chop scenario, over and over again.
So, nothing new.