Let me start with the words: I love my children! I have 2 girls, 14 and 16, and they are incredible young ladies with big hearts and dreams, they are smart and funny and a joy to be around. And even if they weren’t all these things, I would still love them. But despite this fact, there is still something that robs me from the full joy and contentment that I should feel as a mother (or that society presumes I should feel as a mother): my doubts of whether I am enough for my children, that maybe they deserve better.
These feelings all started nearly 17 years ago, when I gave birth at the young age of 24 to a beautiful baby girl at 32 weeks gestation (8 weeks too early). During the pregnancy, I developed Pre-Eclampsia as a result of my diabetes, and to save both my baby and me, they conducted an emergency caesarian. The next 5 weeks were a blur, as my baby remained in hospital and I left with empty arms. As I couldn’t drive after my surgery, I was driven every day to the hospital and each day the nurses would ask “Have you got any liquid gold for us Mrs Jenkins, so we can feed your baby?”. This ‘Liquid Gold’ was the expressed milk with which they wanted to tube feed my baby. However, for whatever reasons, I didn’t get any ‘liquid gold’ – not one drop. Regardless of how hard we tried or what they did to me or my breasts, my milk did not come. So, not only did I not carry my baby full term or bring her home from the hospital – now I couldn’t feed her “liquid gold” either. What kind of mum was I?, I thought. When she was still at hospital, I would ashamedly sit by her humidicrib and watch her. When I asked if I could hold her, the nurses told me that it would tire her out too much, so it was best to leave her rest and develop. Neonatal research has come a long way since then, but this wasn’t my experience. After 5 long weeks, by which stage she was completely on the bottle, I brought my baby home. Straight away, we needed to set alarms overnight to feed her, as she was still too weak to wake herself. The first 2 nights, I slept through the alarms due to the fact that I have a moderate hearing loss. You can imagine my distress when I awoke and discovered that I had missed the alarms and hadn’t fed my baby all night!!! Thankfully, I have a wonderful husband who had heard, got up, and fed and changed her to allow me to rest.
Through all of this trauma, I questioned Am I enough?
But life continued. 21 months later, I had another beautiful baby girl, with similar experiences (just not as premature). Now with 2 girls, my feelings of inadequacies stayed with me. They were like this shadow over every experience. It then became how I entered situations. It was like this ugly heaviness, enough to dampen the occasion and make me ask the question: Am I enough?
However, over the years, as I began to develop strength and resilience – I learnt how to “question” these feelings of inadequacy. When I questioned myself, I started to fight back and defend myself. Even now, when I feel threatened, I resume this inadequate feeling and I have to choose to fight against it – to put my brave on and claim my role as mother to these girls. Sure, not perfect, with lots to improve on, forever growing, seeking forgiveness and learning, but still: their MOTHER!!!
So, let me share some things I have learnt and which might help others when they feel inadequate. Because let’s face it, whether you are a mother or not, we all feel inadequate at times, but I don’t want you to let these feelings rob you of another day. So here goes…
- All the little things you do every day that you think go unnoticed: over time, they do make a difference. So, when you hit a tough place and you can’t do them all, it is OK – because you have a bank full of them which have accrued over the years. So don’t ever think those little acts of kindness, loving words, gentle caresses and giggle times don’t matter – one day they will.
- It takes a village to raise a child (an African proverb). This is so true. The quicker you learn you can’t meet everyone’s needs all of the time, the better. It does your children good to have a variety of people in their life. Don’t shelter them from that. Expose them in safe environments to spend time with aunties/uncles, grandparents, swimming lessons, youth group, Girl Guides or sporting activities that surround them with good, healthy role models. Now, I am certainly not endorsing having an activity on every night, but learn who the good role models are in your life, and who compliment both who you are as a person and what you aren’t – and expose your children to them. Also – share the load of parenting. In my job, I get to travel to developing countries on a regular basis, and I see this style of parenting played out all the time. It is something we Westerners can certainly learn a lot from.
- Don’t be hard on yourself. Give yourself a break. Speak to yourself like you would speak to your girlfriend who is going through what you are. If you would say to your girlfriend – “You need some time out” or “Don’t worry about the housework,” then learn to speak to yourself this way too. I will be honest and say that I am still working on this one!! I am much more critical on myself compared to others.
- Forgive yourself. I have made so many mistakes, so many times that I should have done things differently and better. However, I do my best most of the time and I think this is true of most mothers. There are not many of us who set out to be bad mothers. It does your kids well for them to witness you not be perfect but to be real, to seek forgiveness and accept yourself. No one is perfect so instead, you need to be an authentic role model who displays acceptance, grace and forgiveness.
- Live in the now. Seriously – why do we try and control and/or worry about the future? We only have the now, so be in it!! Recognise and be thankful for what is in your life now. Parenting has taught me that no stage lasts forever (thank goodness!!) but that also means that even the beautiful times will change too. So enjoy them and celebrate them whilst they are present.
Girlfriends, believe you are enough!! Of course there is room for improvement/growth/change but you have been chosen for a reason to raise and care for these people in your life, so believe it and don’t let the guilt or threat of not being enough ruin it for you. You are enough.