Motherhood is both the greatest of gifts and the greatest of challenges 

In her weekly WoW! column, Michelle O'Driscoll reflects on motherhood, ahead of Mother's Day
Motherhood is both the greatest of gifts and the greatest of challenges 

Motherhood has pushed every button, stretched every boundary, tested every limit. Picture: Stock

LAST year I became a mum for the second time, and up until recently was eligible to use the phrase ‘two under two’.

Just because the eldest has since reached her second birthday, however, does not make things any less chaotic in our house!

I always knew I wanted to be a mum. I always knew it wouldn’t be easy, but nobody and nothing really prepares you. It has pushed every button, stretched every boundary, tested every limit. Funny how, despite all that, you wouldn’t give them back, wouldn’t swap a second of it. Motherhood is both the greatest of gifts and the greatest of challenges.

Anybody that says it’s easy is either lying or has figured out something that the rest of us have missed. But most will also tell you that nothing is more rewarding.

My heart bursts when my daughter asks for ‘big cuddles’ or holds my hand tightly as we walk, three of her little steps for every one of mine. I marvel at what we’ve made when I see my son laughing and babbling, rolling over and sitting up. But it also means fitting ten days into seven, surviving night feeds, bleary eyes and refereeing tantrums, sheer vulnerability and loneliness, highs of oxytocin and the lows of yet another broken night’s sleep, sacrifices that you wouldn’t think twice about, the balancing of mum and self, the blending of mum and self. Ultimately, though, it’s the magic of looking at them and realising they’re a little piece of you, yet so totally unique.

And as we all know, there is no handbook. You both deliberately and subconsciously draw on what you’ve experienced, watched, read about and imagined motherhood to be. It becomes your very own mish-mash of your greatest ideals and values, your worst habits and your raw gifts of love and protection.

What you end up with is your very own version of motherhood — perfectly imperfect, authentic and true to you and your smallies.

I’ve become used to that constant uncertainty of “Am I doing enough, being enough for them?” It’s a question I ask myself daily, but I think it’s a question most mothers ask of themselves — it seems to just come with the territory of caring about your children. It’s feeling like you’re failing at it all, yet knowing deep down that you’re doing the very best you can, and that’s all they need.

It’s permanent guilt, requiring constant reminders to yourself that you’ve actually nothing to be guilty about. Not about what clothes you put on them, what food you’re feeding them, or what choice you make around work or childcare. You’ re doing what you know to be best for them, for you and for your family. And they will love and adore you for it.

They are our greatest teachers of how to be present to life and its joys. The chat of our two year old never fails to drag me out of my head and into the here and now, playing hide and seek for hours where she always ends up hiding in the very same spot, us having to act just as surprised as the last 20 times she hid there.

“Come on, Daddy, come on! One, two, three.”

The energy and alertness of my little boy, idolising his sister and the family dog in equal measure from his vantage point on my lap or in his pink hand-me down bouncer, helps me to discard the rumination, and just be present with him, to the moments we don’t get back.

And while of course you reminisce fondly of the days of leisurely time, freedom to take off whenever and wherever, and social lives that didn’t require scheduling a babysitter, there comes a point where to be sat on the couch with them watching Peppa Pig, or building towers with cardboard boxes, is the only place you need or want to be. And as somebody so rightly pointed out to me, what a great time to have them be so small and to be so tied down — we missed absolutely nothing this year of all years!

I’m acutely aware of how different every experience of motherhood is. To say you understand because you’ve been there is not necessarily the case. I thought I understood it all after having my first. But in hindsight I only understood a portion of it. My portion of it. This time round had thrown up so many other unique challenges, worries, pressures.

That’s not to say that my first experience was a breeze, but it was different. This time has opened my eyes to the vast range of experiences that would have been present at my mother and baby classes, back when we could still gather and chat over tea and wiggly newborns. 

I knew what motherhood was like for me, but that was probably polar opposite to the woman sitting next to me, with every experience in between also likely to have been represented in that room. 

Now, I feel like I know more, but will never know it all. It’s a very personal journey, such a lone path in many ways.

But that’s the beauty of motherhood. You don’t have to properly understand that precise situation or experience to empathise, comfort and support other mums. You don’t need to literally have been in their shoes, because bottom line is you’re a mum too. I was the first of my close friends to have children, and it’s only in these weeks and months that several more are joining the mum-tribe, which I couldn’t be more excited or delighted about, despite only seeing most of their bumps and babies via Zoom to date. I’ve found such solace in connection with other mums who stand strong around one another and hold you up with their advice and solidarity. I’ve drawn such comfort from those who share pieces of their journey in the hopes of normalising the struggles and celebrating the wins.

So, in the lead up to Mothers Day, a day of marking the importance of motherhood, here’s to the Mothers, the Mums, the Mammies, the Moms. Here’s to the grandmothers, the mother figures, the women who want to be mothers, mothers who have lost children, or those missing their own mothers.

It’s just another day really, but no harm in using it as a reminder to appreciate all that motherhood means to us and has gifted to us in our own lives.

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