I absolutely love today’s anonymous contribution to Untold Stories. It’s told with such honesty and candour. ‘It feels so miserable though,’ the contributor said to me, ‘do you want me to make it funnier?’ A few people have asked me this already, as though they’re letting me down, but that’s the point of Untold Stories. Sometimes life doesn’t feel very funny, but we go about our days doing all the things we know we’re meant to do and telling everyone that everything’s fine. And probably it is fine, mostly, and sometimes it’s just enough to know that other people are miserable too. You can read more Untold Stories here.
Written by anon
We’ve all heard it said to the new mother, exhausted from sleepless nights, a traumatised body and feeding, feeding, feeding: “Oh, but it’s all worth it!”
After twenty years of parenting, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the biggest lie of all. But worst of all, it is the lie that we cannot speak out loud because the very people who we have created: our beloved children who we worship and live and breathe for, might overhear. And the biggest terror of all is that they might know that if you had your choices again, you might choose differently. You might not choose them.
Every school report described me as ‘full of potential’. After two decades of parenting, I feel I have squandered it all. It is a source of both shame and regret.
My best friend was childless by choice, but often gives my life sidelong glances of envy. Look at the lovely children, gathered around the table, laughing gaily: a real-life Ladybird book of The Family! But she looks mainly by social media, because I am too exhausted to visit her in London, too scared of the tasks piling up in my absence, too lacking in confidence around her highly-paid and highly-made-up friends to join in the way I used to.
I remember the first time I visited my old university friends with my newborn, nearly twenty years ago; a disastrous visit into London from the west-country, where my new life of motherhood seemed as baffling and inconceivable to them as though I had opted to join a nunnery. I thought I could hide it all: the baby’s cries, my on-call breasts, my newly-wrecked body and career. It all felt such a thing of horror.
Very clearly I can remember a process of grieving, before coming to terms with my new life: “Never mind, in twenty years we can reconnect: I can get back here.”
Twenty years have passed. Their lives have been successful: big houses, big cities and big reputations. Professorships awarded, novels published, a world traveled and conquered: potential fulfilled.
Instead I have three children. Is this a great achievement? Should I have considered this as one of the options for fulfilling my potential? It wasn’t what I had in mind, but who can speak the truth? I have lots of wonderful friends who are also mothers: indeed, I am surrounded by brilliant, clever, funny women whose energy and lives have been sucked into the slow drain of parenthood.
Having spent twenty years parenting, I am physically, emotionally and financially exhausted. I am in no mood to hop on a train to London to visit my old friends: I barely have the energy to write their Christmas cards. (And older women assure me that I am about to enter the menopause years, so I probably need to wait another twenty years or so before I’m physically enthusiastic about life again. Apparently women’s happiness is lowest at 47 and peaks at 73.)
It feels as though I have squandered my best years and I am not sure what is ahead – but it feels that it might be solid sandals and aqua-aerobics, or complicated crafting techniques for home-made cards. Sometimes I yearn for something more, to feel there is still something I might achieve, but mainly I want to just sit down, read a book, and accept slippers and defeat.
Who dares confess that maybe the life of a mother is not really worth it? Who might tell young women (because let’s face it, they are still the ones taking on the wife-work and the parenting) that they have potential, but probably not potential to have a family and fulfilment elsewhere? That they really need to make the choice?
One day I might say it out loud, but very quietly: after all, what if the children heard?
If this post resonates with you, or you want to show your support for today’s contribution, please leave a comment below. (This can be done anonymously too if you want to use fake details, that’s totally fine.) If you’d like to contribute your own thoughts or story then please get in touch.