A while ago, I watched a powerful video with Jada Pinkett Smith. I’m sure you’ve seen it (if you haven’t, it’s worth watching). ‘You’re a bad mother if you do anything that makes you happy,‘ she said. ‘That is the messaging and that messaging will drive somebody crazy. You have a right to be happy.‘ We’re so quick to judge ourselves as mothers. But does a ‘bad mother’ really exist anywhere, except in our minds?
You have a right to be happy.
As a separated mother of three kids, this statement struck me hard. I wanted to hug her. Applaud her. Pour her a glass of wine. Do all three at once. I have had many moments during the past 18 months, where I’ve wondered if I’m a bad mother and put my happiness above my children’s in ending my marriage. What gives me the right to do this? To seek something better, when I am not the only person to consider here?
You have a right to be happy.
Oh yes. That’s what gives me the right.
When we become martyrs in our own lives.
And yet, most of us probably don’t believe this, do we? We become martyrs in our own lives. We constantly judge ourselves and allow ourselves to feel judged (even when no one is actually judging us). We live under the influence of opinions, outdated traditions and our own fear. We don’t dare to question whether we are happy or even assume that we deserve to be.
I know every mother feels distanced, at times, from her own identity and I think most mothers frequently doubt that they have the right to be happy, unless that happiness directly involves their children’s. It’s happened to me at various points in my life as a mother, but nothing has forced me to look at myself more than separating from my husband.
On top of that, my third and final baby starts school this September. The identity that has totally consumed me for the past ten years – as wife and mother – is changing. Ok, I realise that motherhood doesn’t end with them starting school, but I do have a new path to walk. One, which won’t be all consuming. One, which will allow me a little more freedom. One, which is exciting and scary, all at once. Because as most of us discover, figuring out who you are alongside motherhood can be unnerving. But. We do deserve to be happy. In our own right.
And that feels like a pretty good place to start.
Who says we, as mothers, don’t count?
It is ok to accept this and to go about fulfilling it. With purpose and conviction. Without question. It’s our choice if we see our roles as mothers as sacrificial and, by default, expect our children to make us happy. That’s the burden right there, isn’t it? That we perceive we’ve given everything up for them, so the least they can do is behave, eat their carrots and make our effort worthwhile. Yet, who is possibly going to thrive in a relationship that swings on such a paralysing and inevitably disappointing pendulum of responsibility and guilt?
It’s obviously far better to be kinder to ourselves, raise our children as the temporary guardians/teachers we are supposed to be (it’s our role to help them find their way, not to do or make everything right for them) and show them the very definition of happiness and self-esteem by always valuing ourselves, than it is to martyr ourselves to the hilt and resent every second.
Ever since I became a mother nine years ago, I have fallen into the trap of constantly questioning how good I am at this motherhood lark. Of comparing myself, to myself. I have felt a huge sense of achievement whenever I’ve perceived myself to be a ‘good mother’ – laid their school uniform out the night before, helped them with their reading and cooked a meal from scratch. When I haven’t come up with the goods and it’s been Netflix and a beige banquet from the freezer instead, because I’m short of time, I’ve labelled myself a ‘bad mother’. But why? I’ve still loved them the same. I’ve still fed them, nurtured and taken care of them. And they’ve probably been a darn sight happier with the latter, anyway. Who says we, as mothers, don’t count? Who says our own personal vision as the mother we are comfortable being in that moment in time, doesn’t count?
Each. To. Their. Own. Whatever our parenting style. And however it varies.
A good mother is YOU.
Well, no more. Because now that I am separated, I could easily find something to torment myself about, especially when the kids are at their dad’s and I have time to myself. Having time to yourself is just not something that happens once you have kids, is it? That’s what they told us. That’s what they led us to believe. And so when you finally get it, it takes time to accept that you can enjoy it, without guilt. (But you can and, once you do, that time, no matter how fleeting, is pretty marvellous).
So, whenever you find yourself asking, ‘Am I a bad mother?’ as you open that bottle of wine, ignore the craft box and instead snuggle down together on the sofa with Netflix, lovingly bake the most perfect macaroni cheese for you and your kids, or serve up fish fingers for the second night in a row because you’re going out with friends, that answer is most definitely, always NO.
You’re already the mother you are. And the mother you want to be is in you, in that moment in time. She who does whatever it is she feels comfortable doing. She who puts herself first, when she deems it feels right and pleasurable to do so. She who realises that she has a right to be happy and that she is a better caregiver when she is.
You could NEVER be a bad mother. For you, my darling, are a GREAT one.