gerund or present participle: mothering; noun: mothering
1. bring up (a child) with care and affection.
“the art of mothering”

2. to be in a constant state of anxiety and distress whilst maintaining the illusion of calm and control. To be constantly wrong or every decision to be the worst course of action.

3. see “Making it up as she goes along”, “winging it”, “flying by the seat of her pants”.

I remember the first time I was alone with my new baby 14 years ago. It was horrendous. Simultaneously mad with love and terrified of responsibility at one and the same time. I was tasked with keeping this small human alive, and I wasn’t sure I was up to the job. I had never changed a nappy, I wasn’t really clued up about feeding, I wasn’t one of those mothers who had read a university’s degrees worth of books on parenting, and I just wanted a real grown up to come and take over.

Yet here I was – a clueless woman – who was expected to know all the answers. Overnight.

I sometimes joke that I think by the time I get this parenting gig together my kids will have left home. And it’s somewhat true. They just keep throwing new phases at you till you’re fielding own goals or lying face down in the mud whimpering for a time-out. I’m still that clueless new mother. But now instead of ‘how do I change a nappy’, or ‘why is he crying’, there are the more existential questions about how I’m screwing them up for life. Or even longer.

I don’t know all the answers. I sometimes barely understand the questions. The demands are endless and sometimes perplexing.

Recently we have had to come face-to-face with some facts – not new facts, but not-going-away-facts. I’ve struggled with various aspects of this for years, usually alone. I don’t really want to go into this any more since it isn’t really about me and isn’t my story to tell, but all this to say is that this past week my mothering ability and self image has taken a beating and I’m struggling with my failure to make everything alright. The prospect of ‘fixing’ this is overwhelming me, and though in the scheme of things isn’t a major deal, it’s still a curve ball that I don’t know if I have the ability to catch. I’m spent. I’m toast. I have no village and raising children without one is a recipe for disaster.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow to realise your best isn’t good enough.

Once again I find myself having to reassess the dynamics of house and family. Tweaking here, implementing that there, snipping out the bad, encouraging the good. I sometimes feel less mother and more zoo keeper-cum-traffic police.

It occurred to me recently that no matter what I do I will always worry I am doing the wrong thing. This anxiety will never abate. I’m trying to be mindful and fill my own cup. I’m trying to be grateful and positive. And at some point I’m going to have to accept that my best will have to be good enough. Because there is no other alternative.

I just hope it’s enough.


6 thoughts on “mothering

  1. I feel for you Debbie. My children are adult now, but we went through some testing and demanding times when they were in their teens, and our decision to home educate at that point was not understood or supported by many in our wider family. Of course there are no absolute guarantees, but we can hang on to the relative reassurance that by caring deeply and doing our best there is a high probability things will work out ok!
    You and your family are in my prayers.


  2. Thank you Helen. I will gladly taken any passing prayer. And it never helps that the first words out of peoples’ mouths are ‘wouldn’t they be better off in school?’… as if I hadn’t asked myself that a thousand times today.


  3. Ahhh Debbie … you have my utmost sympathy 🙂 I love my Noah so very dearly and he is an absolute delight but oh those teenage years were a rollercoaster for all of us. Aside from anything else, I had such a defined vision in my head of the path Noah would take – and in my darker moments it appeared that all that hardwork he and I had put in when he was young – all that reading, and art, and music, and great success at school – was all being squandered. What I have learned over and over and over again is that it’s not MY path – it’s his. And whilst it may look, on the surface, to be vastly different to the one I’d mapped out in my head, truly it isn’t. All the things we shared with him are there – just interpreted with his own special touch. And yes, both Julian and I have plenty of shortcomings and moments that are far removed from “good parenting” – but so does everybody. At the end of the day, we can’t turn ourselves into the perfect parent any more than we can expect our children will turn out to be that perfect adult that I think WE wished WE were. We can only love, and support, and suggest, and laugh, and share. And keep believing in ourselves and them. When I stopped despairing over the fact that things weren’t progressing as I had dreamt, I realised they were actually pretty damn wonderful in their own way.


  4. Having recently moved across the continent and given birth to number five I completely understand your feeling of being without community and adrift as a mother. Thank you for reminding me that it is a phase, like adolescence (thank the stars!) And it too shall pass.


  5. Thanks Lily. It’s not so much the teenage years more that we have to meet some learning issues. I’m just a bit frazzled with everything dumped on my shoulders. I don’t have much by way of help.


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