E and I were driving back home the other day, when I had a moment of self-realisation. In the past years, in the last especially, I have been working hard on defining the mother I am and how it relates to the mother I want to be and to the mother I would like to be.
These three mum versions have started diverging from day zero, but took an extra spin after we brought E home from India. It became harder and harder to keep up the facade I had built for myself, until it became impossible. I have been hearing for years that we women have nothing to prove. Damn, I have been preaching it! Yet it’s surprising the lengths we go to lie to ourselves. Currently, I am on a path of self-discovery, the hardest step being admitting my fragilities as an individual, a woman, a mother.
Back to what triggered the enlightenment in the car. Last August, shortly after E turned two, we joined a local exercise class for toddlers. It’s called “circus school”, but it’s simply an excuse to have a toddler run and learn few tricks. It’s a weekly parent-child lesson and I thought it would be a stimulating and fun way to spend some solo time with E after my return to full-time work. His five year old sister regularly attends a dance class, and my husband and I wanted him to have “his own thing” as well.
About a week ago, we started discussing if he would continue next year. The local offer for three year olds’ hobbies is limited and he is quite proud to go, so we said yes, let’s keep on going. Few days ago E and I went to class and, like all times before it, it has been quite miserable. Although he likes going, he struggles to follow instructions and respect rules. In other words, it becomes the perfect field for him to play the opposition game he’s so fond of since he joined us (partly personality, partly age, if you ask me why). Regularly during class he has been challenging me to the point where I need to physically remove him or tell him off, which results in a ten minute tantrum and spoiled fun. At that class, he pushes all my buttons and activates all my stressors.
I have been forcing myself to be in the best disposition. I have been lying my face off to him for the past months, kept saying how much I liked going with him and how I enjoyed our time together there. Classic fake it until you make it. I have kept my cool when he was provoking, waiting afterwards to relieve my stress. I have done everything by the book and I am proud of it. Yet, things have not improved much and that class represents the peak of misery of my week. The idea of going after a hard work day and putting myself through those 45 minutes makes me vomit.
That’s when it stroke me and I said NO. I would love to send him next year, but I am not willing to do this to myself. I would rather book that regular time slot to spend quality time with him, doing something relaxing, stimulating, and positive for our relationship.
Sure, I can keep living in the fantasy that my kid thrives in that class. Or I can force myself to believe that I can cope with his challenging behaviour for 45 straight minutes at the end of my day, that I am that kind of person. But E and I are not that. What is the point of forcing ourselves in a stressful context? The class fits his physical talent (he’s a little monkey) and makes him proud, but does not bring value to our relationship and adds up on top of my stressors, which I need to keep in check to function.
Do I feel guilty? No, I know I cannot do otherwise. I feel sorry, mourning the mom I’d like to be, which here is not the mom I can be. At the same time, I feel proud I overcame the pressure I put on myself and taken a healthy and self-caring decision.
We will find another hobby for E next year, so that he can feel proud, develop his skills, and thrive. And I will also book that regular solo time with him, to grow our relationship and keep enjoying the precious boy he is beyond his oppositional behaviour.
Accepting who we are over internal and external expectations is a lifelong journey and a difficult path. I am glad and proud I am taking it.