The Mathematics of Being a Good (Enough) Mother

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I have a confession to make: today, I am a terrible mother.

When my daughter was born, I bought in to the idea that breast was best. I loved the suggestion that there was something I could do from day one that could give her the best start. I loved how that made me feel. And, fortunately for me, I found it easy.

As she grew older I could be found pulping and puréeing first thing in the morning. I found myself shopping everyday for yet more fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and foods free from artificial colours or preservatives. I have never been much of a cook but, even to me, it seemed pretty straight forward.

In that first year I also became a familiar face at various mother and baby groups. Something that didn’t come quite so easily. I despised the prospect of singing in pubic and was pretty terrified of socialising with people I didn’t know. But I did it anyway. And survived.

And I filled the days with every manner of enriching activities! From swimming to baby signing, museums and visits to the library, arts and crafts, flash cards, singing and dancing, days at the farm, fresh air and exercise and everything in between. And the reading! Endless hours of reading! Repeated reading to the point where I can recite a whole host of children’s classics from memory alone. Because how could I ever refuse her requests to sit down together and devour a book?!

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And, possibly harder than finding the time to fit in all of the above, I found the faith to tell myself that everything I did for her, every choice I made, held her best interests at its heart.

But I didn’t do it because I am perfect.

I did it because I know I am not.

I have been worried about today for a long time. If I am honest, I cannot believe it didn’t come sooner. I never thought I would survive this long.

Because I had already been a statistic. 1 in 4 people this year with suffer with a mental health issue. Depression, anxiety, paranoia…the spectrum is wide and the term encompasses so many different things but, having been there more than once before, I know the symptoms are often the same.

Put simply, it can become hard to cope.

I am reluctant to label the feelings that have been growing inside me for the past few months. I hope that I won’t find myself forced to as I sit opposite the doctor and ask for their help. But these feelings are familiar.

And, for me, the worst part is how they fool me in to thinking I am a failure.

So today, after spending the morning sat on the sofa whilst my daughter watched too much television, feeding her lunch of fish fingers and baked beans for the third time in a week and then driving her to her grandparents to spend the rest of the day and night, I returned home and got in bed.

And now I lay here doing the maths. Will all my efforts count in my favour? Have I done enough to make my workings add up? Or will my weakness cancel out anything I had going in my favour?

What does it take to be good enough?

The darkness before dawn

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Imagine how, if you had lived in darkness for as long as you could remember, any light, no matter how dim, would come as a welcome relief.

Like the dull, reassuring green glow of the numbers on an alarm clock when you awake from a nightmare long before dawn.

You would stumble around for a bit. Find your way. Step by step. And, eventually, you would learn to see. It may even begin to feel ok. Normal, if you will.

But, after a while (who knows how long?), you would crave something more. Something greater. You would long to see sunrise; natural, beautiful, true.

And, with that, you would become aware of the darkness once again. A black sky suspended in time. Something all encompassing that seemed never ending and impossible to break.

And you would try with all your might to believe that dawn would come once again.

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Fresh Air and Exercise as the Darkness Descends

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It is 6.22am and I am up and out for a walk. It should be a run but I just can’t do it. I am torn between telling myself I am doing well just for being up and out and doing what I should and tearing myself apart for being too weak to run. I know what will win in the end. But still, I hope not.

The sky is grey and the air is crisp and clean on my sleepy skin. A few houses have their lights on but most remain silent and still. Golden leaves have started to cover the streets.

As I cross the main road, cars race past then nothing but a distant rumble. I pass a man walking two beautiful, bouncing dogs and attempt the half-smile that speaks of a shared situation and feigns a form of confidence that will be so successful in a few hours when I walk along with my daughter, hand in hand. But nothing. Maybe it’s my hood.

I bypass the playing fields in all their green glory, an all too perfect reminder that I should be running, and head towards the shops and station in desperate search for signs of life. The rubbish collection rumbles by and men jump from the truck, their day-glow vests and pitch and pace let the world know their morning is well underway. As I pass the familiar shop fully lit throughout, I realise that in the entire time I have lived here, I have never seen it closed.

I continue on and pass commuters and, listening again, realise the roads have come alive. I walk on towards the big houses. I stop. The future seems inevitable. I turn around and walk back.

To return home and say, yes, it helped.

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