Today I wasn’t a good mother. I know I wasn’t. Just like last night when you got up for the fourth time and wanted to breastfeed. Again. From both sides. Again. Even after you were in our bed. Again. It felt like you were using your teeth and the feeling of your sandpaper teeth on my exhausted body was just too much. So I told you. I told you I couldn’t do it anymore, didn’t want to do it anymore. I didn’t want to be your mum. But I fed you again anyway. Because I felt bad. I felt bad for shouting at you and for wanting you to just go to sleep without me. But I fed you again anyway. Because I didn’t know what else to do. But I shouted at you first. I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to do this anymore. Leave me alone. I’m sorry.
I wasn’t a good mother in the morning either. You wanted to play, but I wanted to cook. I needed you to play by yourself for a while so I could get things done. Coming into the kitchen again and again with you toys, like a two-legged puppy, you annoyed me and I wasn’t a good mum. I told you to take your things and go back to the living room, I needed to get things done. Instead, you gathered up your toys and came closer, stifling me, surrounding me with your possssions until I couldn’t take it anymore and I moved you myself. The walls were closing in. I needed the space so I took all your toys and dumped them unlovingly on the floor of the living room. There, I said. Play there. Gazing up at me with those big, brown eyes, you pulled one of your hair bobbles off. An act of defiance. I love Daddy. I know you do, because he plays with you and doesn’t have to cook, but I’m busy. If I don’t cook now, we can’t go out. We will have no home-cooked dinner and will have to have takeaway and that’s unhealthy. Can’t you see? I’m doing it for you? So you don’t grow up fat and unhealthy like the rest of us. I’m trying to be a good mother, but I can’t be if you’re stopping me all the time.
I wasn’t a good mother. When the cooking was done, you wanted to do something messy. Play dough, paint, play with water, use crayons. I didn’t have the energy to police the activity so I tried to distract you with food, the lure of outside, the pull of an exciting shopping trip. Anything so I didn’t have to parent properly. I didn’t have the energy for painting, but I had the energy to pack you into the car with snacks and drive to some shops. I know, painting and staying inside would have been better for you, more stimulating, creative, educational. But I just couldn’t. So I drove to the shops to avoid having to spend quality time with you. I wasn’t a good mother.
When we got back, I wasn’t a good mother: you were ready for more play and a story, but by then I was tired and it was time to heat up dinner. Your daddy will do it. He’ll read to you, Mama’s tired. You learnt that phrase very early on and sometimes use it, unprompted,when I flop on the sofa after spending the morning in the kitchen. Mama’s tired. Give Mama massage. I love Mama. I know you do. And that’s why I feel guilty, because you love me and I can’t love you back as much as you need me to, because I’m tired. Because I’m busy, because of everything that needs the done. Because of me. It’s not your fault. I’m not a good mother.
I spend the evening trying to make you go to sleep, but you won’t. In my head I’m forever concocting stories of toddlers who sleep completely unaided, with such little input from their parents. They don’t need as much from their parents as you need from us. People tell me how good their kids are at night and I feel jealous when I compare. But I know it’s my fault, I encouraged you because I couldn’t leave you to cry in a room by yourself and now I’m paying for it. Now, because you know I won’t leave you alone when you’re crying, you won’t sleep without me. And everyone I speak to smirks when I reveal you sleep in our bed the first time you wake up in the night; the shock on their faces when they hear I still breastfeed you at night. I’m night weaning her, really I am. I apologise and simper, muttering about how I’d like to stop breastfeeding, how if I could force you I would. I let people make me feel bad about not letting you cry in a room so you could learn to sleep by yourself. I did this to you, you’re totally dependent on me because I’m not a very good mother.
I’m not a good mother because I don’t defend you when I should; I don’t stand up for what a intelligent, amazing young lady you are, even at two-years-old. I don’t tell people how articulate, brave and wise you’re becoming, because I need to explain and apologise that you’re not in a ‘good routine’ at night. It doesn’t matter what you do during the day, no one cares about that. All they care about is you sleeping through the night, because sleeping through the night is the benchmark of what a good mother is. I’m not a very good mother because you don’t sleep through the night. It’s my fault because I never taught you that; I tried but you’re just not learning it fast enough. If you did, I’d be a better mother. At least that’s how they make me feel. Does she have a good routine? Does she have her own room? Does she sleep through the night? I’d be a good mother if you slept through the night and didn’t get up to breastfeed. I’d be an even better mother if I cleared out the other room and moved you into there, especially at your age.
Like I said, I wasn’t a very good mother today, because even at night, when you were drifting off, selfishly, all I could think about was getting to the comfort of my sofa so I could knit, watch some television or maybe read a book. But even thinking about that, I was resentful because I knew I wouldn’t have enough energy for anything. I’d probably watch some television, you’d probably wake up and demand that I come up and sleep with you and that would be the end of the evening. Lost in my disgustingly unmotherly thoughts, I didn’t even kiss you goodnight before I tiptoed out of the room. Even when you slept I was unnurturing and unloving: I wasn’t a good mother.
I can’t tell you how much I love you, because I’m not a good mother. I just can’t articulate it. I’ve never been an affectionate person- I’d like to be, but I can’t. It’s difficult and awkward for me. So I avoid it, hoping you will realise it in your own time. Hopefully you will. And then you’ll grow up to be a better mother than me: more loving, more nurturing, more attentive. Don’t be like me: be better than me. I always pray you’re nothing like me when you’re older. Be the opposite to me. Please.
I hope to be a better mother tomorrow; more patient, more loving, more nurturing, more present. I hope tomorrow I don’t get annoyed or shout like I did today. I pray that tomorrow, I’m a good mother, a better mother; but today, I wasn’t a very good mother.