in conversation with mothers
By Tilda and Miels
Throwing something together for Mother’s Day – that’s something we all do a lot, every year when we overhear a friend wishing ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ down the phone and think oh shit… it’s Mother’s Day. This Mother’s Day, we got our act together.
We decided to talk to mums- because kids are not very good at doing that. We talked to mums with babies and mums with gown up kids (there’s some beautiful symmetry to their respective answers). We asked them the questions they don’t often get asked.
I was unwittingly surprised by the openness with which they spoke, giving enlightening, stirring and often vulnerable answers. Read it with a mind open to learning. What I took away: I should have done this years ago. So all go away and ask your mums their thoughts (for those of you who forgot to get anything, conversation goes a long way). Talk to your mothers, if you’re lucky enough to be able to. They’ll listen, they’ll make everything better.
When did you realise you were no longer a child?
When I was pregnant and felt my child’s first kicks.
When my mum left me in temporary digs. I was grasping at mum’s knowledge and tips as she was leaving (recipes/how to dry towels without a radiator/how to use a phone card…). I still remember that feeling, we both felt heartbroken but like it had to be an inevitable progression. We’ve both always been pretty brave but neither of us wanted to be the brave one that day.
When both my parents had died. Until that moment I felt a child.
When my parents died – that’s when I properly grew up! A little bit of the child remains regardless of age.
I am still a child: both my parents are alive.
What do you mean no longer a child?
Do you think it was easier or harder to be a mother for you than when your mum was raising your family?
Parenting carries the same responsibilities at any age but each generation of parents faces different challenges: for my generation it was the greater availability of drugs; for my parents I think it was the impact of the “permissive society”; for my daughter it’s the internet and moral codes in a secular society.
Is there anything you regret not having asked your parents?
Asking my mother if she loved me.
Asking them about their families.
I wish I’d asked them more about their childhoods.
What’s one thing you never understood about your mother?
Her intransigence over her religion.
Her inability to say sorry.
How she could never admit she could be wrong. Or accept that her child might have a different view of the world and her future which was still valid even if it wasn’t what she wanted/expected of her. How she could turn her back on the most sweet-natured daughter anyone could possibly have and never apologise when no resentment or bitterness as shown in return. Sorry, but there’s a lot about my mother I never understood.
When I became a mother, I understood her better, even the things with which I disagreed.
Has having a child made you see your mother in a different light?
Yes I appreciate how selfless she is: mothers put themselves behind their baby and family unit. I understand more that she is a natural care giver, whereas I need to work at it more. I also place more value on domestic abilities that I never considered important before.
After I had my first child I lost a lot of blood and had to spend some time in hospital. I was very disorientated, in a lot of postpartum discomfort and physically and emotionally weak – she washed me and looked after me and helped me to look after my baby as I regained my strength.
Yes. It’s like the last episode of GIRLS. For me, there was a shift from the second my baby was born, and I looked back on the things my mother did for me, and I got it.
How did becoming a mother change you?
My priorities have changed, I have more meaning in life, I feel complete although I didn’t feel anything was missing before, I am closer to my parents, I am more in love with my husband, I am less engaged with my career, I am enjoying domesticity more, I place more care of my health and well-being, I feel time is moving even quicker than before which stresses me, I am reflecting more on my career and that I want to do something more worthwhile than my previous professional roles.
Finally I have people to focus my energy and dedication on who deserve it (rather than clients and employers), so that is a big part of me redirected. I see people differently, as parents and non-parents: they are as someone’s child themselves. My values have reshuffled. I have more confidence and self-belief as a person.
Putting myself last – motherhood made me less selfish.
I became less selfish.
It made me less selfish.
Unleashing a torrent of unimaginable love which was infinite yet kept growing with each new child. Wanting to show gratitude. Wanting to give back to others (haven’t managed to do that yet) in gratitude.
What traits of your own mother do you think you have inherited?
Always trying to secure the balance between encouragement (pushing them forwards and teaching them to be brave) and support (letting them know it’s okay not to be brave and that if it doesn’t work out they can completely fall back on me).
Mainly I just keep striving to be more like her.
A tigress’s protectiveness.
What is your best piece of advice for new mums?
Don’t judge other mothers. We all have different ways of dealing with parenthood – and one day it will be your kid screaming inconsolably in the supermarket aisle.
People are very quick to dish out advice. Find your way in the way that suits you – none of us have any real idea of what we are doing.
No one has any answers, it’s all guess work and you win some you lose some and you learn from some. Every child is different so other people’s input of judgement is often completely pointless and irrelevant. Chose one or two reliable sources of information and use them only (certainly until you’ve regained some sleep and regrown confidence) whether a book or an experienced mum or a professional, otherwise its confusing and overwhelming.
To embrace change in every sense and not have any preconceived notions or judgements on motherhood.
Ask for help and accept any on offer. It’s very tough at the beginning. Take max maternity leave and don’t try and bravely rush back to work. Have the courage to put your children first.
Try and keep close to (not smothering) your children. Keep talking.
Having a baby is a massive adjustment which is not always easy and remember feeling slightly deranged from lack of sleep is just a phase.
Savour every minute – even the bad bits. Time goes too quickly.
Label the backs of old family photographs with everyone’s names and their relationships to each other. That’s my advice.
What’s one thing you would have done differently as a mother?
Best to ask my children. Not sure I want to know for another 20 years though.
More time at home and less work.
I’d have been tougher on studying and not missing opportunities.
Never thought I was consistent enough.
I wish I had bought a dog for them when they were young.
Which family traditions are most important to you?
How we celebrate special occasions
How we communicate
How we spend time on weekends
How we tell each other we love each other
Eating together, going on holidays together, going on walks together.
Christmas – everyone being together, and passing down the traditions that we have loved.
Sitting round a table for a family lunch or dinner. That’s when some of the best conversations happen.
Love and share but never be scared of challenging each other. Make the effort to spend family time together – Christmas, birthdays, holidays, any excuse.
Never ever fall out with your family no matter what. Keep together. We’re a pack.
How do you want your kids and their families to celebrate your life after you are gone?
A glass of champagne on Mother’s Day or my birthday and always be cheerful. Never mourn or visit my grave. Life is for moving forwards. Make a joke about me whenever you can.
To have a party and remember all the very special times we had together as a family.
Listen to Benjamín Britten, Bach and Beethoven from time to time.
Is there anything you have always wanted to tell one of your children but never have?
Hmm. Not yet (I’m probably a bit too outspoken).
Being a pretty open family we tend to be quite straight talking so I don’t have anything I want to say that I haven’t said already. There are, however, plenty of things I wish I had never said! But I do remind myself regularly that the things we say still have an impact on our children even as adults – words of encouragement and support still matter.
When is the most proud you have been of a child?
When my daughter visibly worked so hard to balance her excitement and love for her new baby brother, with her heart ache and loss of having to share us with him.
When she’s made really tough decisions on her own or stood up to a fear.
I don’t think you can quantify the pride – from first steps, to navigating their way through the world, to when, unprompted, they show kindness. Every stage of their development comes with landmark moments.
Since giving birth to my child I feel such strong pride at every little look, noise and thing he does, even the most mundane, all the time.
When they challenge us with confidence and courtesy and persuade us to change our perceptions.
When they have done acts of kindness unprompted.
A high point was our daughter becoming a mother.
What has your child done that shocked you most?
Showed aggression to babies and smaller children, biting and hitting (with a drum stick!!) in really fun or loving environments. Fortunately it was a temporary reaction to my pregnancy and it didn’t last long.
When he decided to poo on the sofa.
Lied to us.
Having cigarettes at 11.
How quickly they grew up.
Nothing. — this was my mum, is she trying to provoke me?
What has your child done that amused you most?
When she found her shadow and fell completely in love with it and played with it for ages.
Impossible to choose, I am in hysterics most of the day due to a variety of looks and noises.
I love eavesdropping on the conversations he has with his imaginary friends.
I love receiving an amusing email or letter full of in-jokes and witty banter.
What is one thing you hoped/hope to teach your child as they get older?
That love is love.
I cannot wait to travel to all corners of the world once he is old enough to remember and show him the diversity and beauty of this world.
Why my mum is the best: her sitting on the lounge floor with me pouring over prospectuses on results day telling me I could study whatever I wanted and go wherever I wanted and that she would support me. That’s the biggest thing I realise…how much she’s always supported me (and my 3 sibs) both emotionally and physically. Emotionally obviously but also physically not just when I was young – she held me up so I could be at a funeral with a slipped disc when I was 27; she drove me a boyfriend’s house to see if he was cheating on me; she followed a train I was on to make sure I got to my millennium party even though I had the flu.
The importance of kindness.
Kindness to others.
Kindness to others always.
What is the best/nicest thing your child could do for you right now?
If he could put his shoes and coat on and make a swift exit out of the house when it’s time to leave – that would be amazing.
Nothing beats a cuddle form your kids – a pair of little arms wrapped tightly round your neck.
Show me tenderness/tell me or show me they love me/continue this good sleep phase (I shouldn’t have even written that down, it’s such a fate temptress).
Let me know when she/he needs me.
Spending time together.
Keep talking to me – and give me a hug!
Talk to me.