Every mother-daughter journey is different. I wanted to share a little about ours
You were born around 3pm on a sunny March afternoon. The light in the room was soft and blue and it drifted down from textured glass they used to use in the ‘70s.
You didn’t make a sound when you were born. And when the nurse handed you to me I was struck by how beautiful you were. Not cute or squished like babies I’d seen in photos or on TV. Softer. Finer. Your features weren’t lumpy; your skin wasn’t covered in white goo. You were warm and pink and sweet smelling.
Where did something so lovely come from? You are so beautiful Wins. And you have been beautiful every single day since you were born.
You slept. You slept and slept and didn’t make a sound those first few days and weeks. We lived in Manly, in a small apartment with golden floorboards and you slept in a white cane bassinet. Everyone came to see you. But you were never awake! Just fast fast asleep with your neck tilted at this funny angle like you were so deep and far away in another place.
But then you woke up. So full of life. You were always on the move, but you hated being held. Those months were so difficult Wins!
You cried and cried and cried. You cried in your pram. You cried in the car. You cried in my arms. At 3am you would cry so much we would strap you to our chests in the baby carrier and walk you up and down the path by the lake and wait for you to scream yourself to sleep.
You were not a still child. And not a smiley child. You were always agitated. ALWAYS. You didn’t vomit and you met all your development milestones but you seemed so uncomfortable all the time. Your discomfort was contagious and no one got any rest. I tried to feed you things but you didn’t like to eat what other kids ate. You didn’t like to eat much at all.
I look back and I think maybe your tummy was hurting? Maybe pain explains why you were so cranky and uncomfortable all the time?
I figured this was just what motherhood was. I spent all our time together trying to get stuff done – I didn’t want to play with you or laugh – that wasn’t my jam or yours either. I wanted to work, so I spent all my time looking at my phone and thinking what a failure I was for being at home. I idolised editors and magazines and felt that every minute not being there was wasted. I felt a career – the thing I had trained for my whole life, the thing everyone around me worked for and had – was out of my grasp forever.
I have such fond memories of my mum sharing creativity with me. That was her gift to me. She showed me the energy you could get from making stuff and that has always saved me.
I wanted so badly to share that with you. I wanted you to enjoy making too. Baking or crafting or building with Lego or even playing or cuddling or rumbling. But you’ve never wanted to do that stuff. You hated being touched or cuddled. You disliked books and sitting or reading together.
We used devices with you since you were super young because you would not eat anything. We discovered when showed you a screen, you became distracted enough for us to shove food in your mouth. Ever since then, you have used screens and devices for everything.
Winnie you are 9 years old. In my eyes, devices are a privilege. Our gift to you and we love to see you enjoy them. But to you devices are more than that. They are your security blanket and emotional regulator. There is nothing you like more than to play for eight hours straight. Devices are your hobby and your social circle; your up time and your down time.
I know that we haven’t asked much of you in the past. Just three years ago you were six! Now you are nine and capable of so much more. But you are aggressive and ragey when we ask you to stop and help – and it hurts me when you go nuts. It’s hurtful and it’s exhausting.
I know most other mums could deal with your rage and anger and it would be water under the bridge. It would bounce off them like the superwomen they are. I know you can’t see Winsy, but I’m not like them. I’m more sensitive covered in tiny cuts and slices from the way I grew up. My dad hit us when we didn’t do what we were told.
You don’t see, but when you scream your rage and his rage merge together and tower over me. My heart races and I’m so angry and so scared of you both.
I don’t know why you won’t help me? Why asking you to sweep the floor or put away the laundry makes you rage? But understand that when you do scream, you stick a knife in my wounds. You will never see that. You will never know. And I have to work so hard not to fight back. Not to give into my fear and scream and scream push you and scream until you all go away.
This is how violence at home happens. It’s not something on the news for me, it’s something I carry in my pocket.
And so I have been working hard. Going to parenting retreats, doing training courses, talking with my beautiful psychologist who has wisdom in her eyes and softness in her face for me. Because before I can be a good mother to you Winnie, I need to be a mother to myself. To my little girl covered in wounds.
I need to pick her up and love her. Love her so much that no screaming can upset her! It sounds funny, but it’s true.
It’s not something you do once. It’s something I need to do every day. Like eat and exercise and have gratitude. This is the armour I have to wear; armour of softness and foresight to know my weakness and hold them close. To not hate myself and to not hate you. To love us both even when love seems so painful.
You are beautiful Winnie. Inside and out. It is my job to see that beauty, to dig deep inside you and myself and let it grow.
In our society, there is no space for non-smiling moments of motherhood. We have medical diagnoses – which are powerful and necessary – but we have no tolerance for motherhood that is not pretty; motherhood that’s an ugly grind for decades. We sweep it under the rug, hush it and coat it in shame – telling those women who don’t enjoy raising kids they are weird, bad, unnatural.
“We try to pretend that good parents mothers enjoy every minute of parenthood,” writes one of my favourite writers, Ijeoma Oluo. “But there will be nights when you are so tired that your legs are shaking. You are holding the world’s worst baby, who is only quiet when you are pacing the floor and screams the moment you put him down.
“You will feel a rage building inside of you that is hotter than any rage you have ever felt in your life. “I JUST WANT TO LOVE YOU WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO DESTROY ME,” your brain will scream.
“You have this baby and it’s not at all what everyone told you. You don’t know what to do with feelings of anger and frustration. You are a bad mother; you know this because you are the only mother feeling this way.”
Three years ago, your little sister came to join us. She is SO different! She sleeps soundly, eats everything on her plate. She can be reasoned with and loves to cuddle and read books.
When she cries, her pain doesn’t overwhelm me. I can be strong, wise and kind for her and when she cuddles me I know not to take my parenting experience with you personally. I appreciate – first hand – that children can be wildly different – just like every woman’s experience of motherhood.
For some, motherhood is effortlessly enjoyable. For others, it’s a lifetime of heart-breaking challenge – but does that make one kind of experience better or worth more? Does that mean I should not talk about what we’ve been through, hush it up, consider it less valuable or shameful?
No. I see, nine years down the track, that you and your sister and your dad and our new baby, we are a family. And honouring each of you, serving you and being saved by you is EXACTLY what family is about.
Life is made of many seasons, and through my mistakes, I can see the glimmer of a path. The glimmer of this thing where I hold you lightly, offer and don’t force. Where I use timers for everything (you can choose when to do your chores); where I walk to another room and I do my 13 timetable all the way to 13 before I say one more word. And in those tiny changes, and that tiny space I carve out for us to breathe, I see you unfurl and come into your own, in your own way.
I’m thankful. I can drop my shoulders and breathe even deeper. And then I can get on with making dinner and working hard and being here when you need.