Last week I was talking to a woman I met at an event. She was a professional woman, who was currently on maternity leave. She told me she had two small children – one aged 3 and one aged six months.
Without thinking I said: “I don’t envy you.” She was taken aback and said: “You’re the only woman of my mother’s generation to say anything like that. They all say it’s the best time.”
I was really surprised at that. I know how difficult I had found being the mother of two small boys. The boredom. The never-ending questions. The tantrums. The dreariness of domestic chores. The conversations with other mothers who wanted to talk about the best washing powder. And sometimes the sheer loneliness of it.
Of course, there were also incredibly positive times when my love for my boys overflowed. I experienced a level of tenderness for another human being that I’d never thought possible. I felt such pride as they learnt to walk and talk and interact. I used to say to friends without children – the positives are so much better than you can ever imagine, but so is the boredom and the frustration.
I found that I enjoyed motherhood more as my children got older. We could have conversations. They made me see life in new ways. I started to reassess my relationship with my own mother and with my brother, as I interacted with my own children, and saw how they interacted with each other.
So, yes, I do have lots of positive experiences and memories of being a mother to a small child, but I also remember how difficult it was juggling everything. I was working part-time. Most mothers today go back to work full-time, adding even more pressure. It’s easy to feel you have no time for yourself and your needs. It’s also easy to feel guilty that you feel like that!
These older women seem to have forgotten that motherhood, particularly in the early years, isn’t a totally wonderful time. So why do they not have a more balanced view of it?
One possibility is that many women in their later years feel they have no real purpose in life. Looks are fading. Their partner may no longer be attentive. They may no longer work. Life is without challenges. They may feel they exist with habit rather than with love and challenge. They may feel they are not really needed or fiercely loved by anyone.
Looking back at how it was bringing up small children is to return to a time when they were loved. When they were needed. When the eyes of a small child told them they were truly important. When the hug of a small child told them they were the most wonderful person in the world.
No wonder some women of my age see that time as being the best time of their life.