The Mother Load

I really liked this piece in today’s Observer. Too many mothers deal with their own insecurities/competitiveness by focussing on the all too human failings of others. But mothers also need each other, particularly in the early years when it is all so bewildering and overwhelming. Motherhood unites, but it also divides, women or the competitive/ consumer/ schooling /achievement driven kind does. And it’s actually very sad.

I read this piece soon after listening to Emma Thompson on Desert Island Discs. She is obviously hugely successful, sounds a pretty nice, grounded woman who has also experienced the difficulties of depression, broken relationships but also has a strong sense of social justice.

I was most struck by something she said about the importance of continuity in her life, the irreplaceable value of years-long relationships, with family and friends, those who know us well, like us and accept us for who we really are: conflicts, insecurities, achievements, ambition, mistakes and all.

These relationships don’t tend to survive if individualism, ambition, competitiveness and criticism are the dominant element – if we become, to paraphrase Thompson, too ‘up ourselves’.

Yet long term accepting relationships become more and more important as we age, and our children grow up and grow away. Then we are left, where we started, with ourselves and our simple capacity for friendship, possibly the single most valuable human skill there is, and a key part of family and love partnerships too.

We are also most likely to have a good relationship with our adult children if we have passed onto them ( probably by example) the habit of kindness, acceptance, forgiveness ( up to a point) and understanding who other people are and why they are the way they are. Teach them judgmentalism, impatience, self absorption or that its ‘all about me’ and ‘showing’ other people or worse, ‘showing them up’ …well, that’s who they’ll end up being and they are likely to deal with their own ageing parents that way too.

Oh dear, I’m beginning to sound like the Today programme’s Thought for the Day. Enough!

5 Responses to The Mother Load

  1. I enjoyed the article you referred to and it reminded me of when out (now nearly 14 year old daughter Cyd) was in her earliest years. Both of us parents being operational firefighters meant that (after maternity leave was exhausted) we had exactly the same working shift hours to juggle to ensure our parental responsibilities were met. We’re not the greatest parents in the world, we swear, exhibit double standards, renage on promises, arrive late, don’t always sign the homework diary… the list is endless, but our children are loved more than anything or anyone else turning out fairly well rounded and most importantly happy (well apart from the incident on the school roof with the rifle – but that was bad drugs more than bad parenting). Thanks for the heads up. A great read – made me feel better about myself. Our children are hard work but what a fantastic labour of love.

  2. Further to my last I’m extremely grateful that our children are now almost independent (our 29 year old clearly looks after himself living 4 miles from us but his sibling is still at secondary school). The early years are the worst to juggle with shift work because two nights of the week in the current shift system we need overnight child care that is not easy to procure. It was easier for us because we chose to work on different watches so there was just a short overlap between shifts that most friends and child minders could accommodate. The current plans to introduce (nay enforce) 12 hour days shifts means that after overtime (which given the unpredictable nature of our role is not something we plan) and getting to wherever the child is being looked after it can be up to 16 hours cover not on 2 shifts out of 8 but on 4 of them with the extra working hours. Brian Coleman the Chair (who calls himself Chairman to distinguish himself from non Tories and non sexist people) seems to be enjoying impunity for his sins against decent human beings – and the tax payers who are currently financing his virtually unused travelcard and extravagant/frivolous taxi bills (but that’s another story).

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