How many of us dislike being a mother?
I'm not talking about the constellation of many small joys that accompany life raising kids. You'd have to be a particularly jaded soul to not find happiness in witnessing a child being, well, a child. There is so much more light and shade in my life since having my son - with the emphasis firmly on light. As obvious as it may be, there is no end of love, of the keenest, borderline hurting, kind: it only grows, even when they're naughty. As I watch my boy stumble around, learning to point like E.T at objects he'd really like and charging towards me, arms in the air shouting "Eeeeeee!" ready for a cuddle, it seems easy to see that this is all that really matters.
But what we don't talk about is the dark side of what it means to be a mother now, the parts we don't like so much. We don't talk about what happens when you try to negotiate a way through sticky modern expectations of a mother; to work or not. Whether to choose a lesser job that lets you see your children for more than a handful of hours on weekdays, make a go of a start-up or even opt to be a SAHM [Stay at Home Mum]. Then you'll need to dust off the judgy stigmas and contradictory opinions that go along with whichever path you choose.
We often don't know what to say when someone voices a particular stance on parenting ideologies, but silently let the doughy feelings of guilt and failure take up home at the bottom of our stomachs. We don't talk about the bittersweet tension of trying to keep our relationship strong, balanced and interesting post-baby - everyone assumes that babies make for hard work, yes, but also happier families. Teams.
Certainly, we don't openly share the tears, the tantrums, the accidents and anything that suggests we're anything other than good mums - instead, we carry around this paranoia that we'll be sussed out at any moment. Yet we also try exceptionally hard to not be a stereotype. In amidst the edited social media feeds of my mummy peers, I applaud the mum who recently made me laugh into my pillow (for fear of waking the baby) over what she called 'Broccoli-gate'. So much more personal and uplifting than the motherhood challenge for its unfiltered, honest enjoyment of her little ones.
We really don't like talking about the health issues that linger on long after the postpartum six-week check-up. We're made to feel slightly gauche, or feeble, or sympathy-seeking if we let on about these continuing battles with our waterworks and such like. And we still haven't called into check the use of that fluffy 'baby-blues' colloquialism, which so cruelly belies the seriousness of PND and the tapestry of mental health conditions that surround it.
We worry that we'll come across as selfish or ungrateful, or worse, whingey if we give voice to these bad bits. The worst thing a woman can be. Some champion an admirable approach of grit and resilient backbone: you just get on with it, that's what mums do.
In some ways, it's hardly surprising, as Lauren Laverne so brilliantly put it, that the term 'mum' is being used increasingly as a diss; a shorthand for smug yummy-mummyness and trivial concerns. Much like the #Likeagirl campaign that did much to make embarrasing the ingrained misogyny of society, there is a nasty irony that a title that should be a point of pride is being used to belittle. The fight back seems to have begun with re-appropriating the more serious 'Mother', and wearing it across a cool Selfish Mother sweatshirt - both seem to be working to change things.
Yet, personally, my dislike of motherhood has nothing to do with being actually being a mother. I don't mind having to overcome my vulnerabilities, my limitations, and myself and would gladly bear any mockery, insult, or indignity for my precious boy's sake. If anything, being a mother to him has taught me more in the past 18 months than I learnt in the past ten years before children: how to be patient, open-minded, kind (even when sleep-deprived and when all my instincts are grumpy ones), persistent, to pick my battles, the value of bone-deep, natural integrity.
I imagine many mothers feel the same, that being a mum has made us better women. But I also suspect many of us dislike what so many think of when they hear that word, mother. The expectations of us to be some sort of polymath hybrid that can juggle the mundane domestic bits, be the loving, attentive mother, teacher, equal partner, appealing woman, good friend and tenacious worker all at once and under more pressure from more quarters than ever is what I don't like.
We are just women, we are simply mothers. And it's okay. It's enough.