Saturday, 13 April 2013

I have doubts

I saw a fantastic film a few years back. I think it was called Doubt, Muriel Strepsil was a nun, and there were some other nuns, and a priest, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who chief nun Muriel became sure was molesting choirboys, so she hounded him out. That synopsis doesn't do it justice: it was nuanced and involving and engaging, and PSH was wonderful as ever, and of course Muriel too, but what's stuck with me most was the final line, where head nun admits to junior nun "I have doubts. I have such doubts".

Subscribing to any set of beliefs about how you should parent, how you should run your life, asks for a certain commitment. Subscribing to the set that has you sharing sleep, breastfeeding for an extended period, practising genuine child-led weaning, arranging your whole life and self around your belief in the primacy of the child's need to be securely attached to one carer, is a pretty firm way of putting absolutely all of your eggs into one basket.

So, a full list of times I've been apart from the boy since his birth, excluding only the odd 15-20 minute walk out with my husband, I've been to the dentist three times (root canal work not long after he was born, ouch), once out to lunch with a potential employer (that was about 2 hours, I think) and once into the office for a morning on my first day of work (work which I've subsequently done completely from home, and only when he sleeps). He and I are each other's worlds. I love him in a way I couldn't have known I could love. I know every minute where he is, how he is, what he's likely to want next. He's always thrilled to see daddy, hurtling across the house to him when he gets home at night, but for the upsets, or the day to day things, or pretty much everything else, only mummy will do.

Problem? I'm lonely. I'm parched. I can't think how I would have done any of this differently, but my colours are leached into him. I can't remember sleep. I'm never not-touched. And I can't talk to adults. If we go places, he just wants me, me alone, me and him, in fact now he can say "home" he usually just wants us to go. We've almost completely stopped going to toddler groups - if he's only going to want to haul me off into a corner to do a jigsaw, we may as well do that at home. We went (very briefly) to a party this evening, husband met and talked to some people, I just took bonz repeatedly to the buffet table, walked him round the room, cuddled him, etc. It just seems there's absolutely no opportunity for me to talk to adults, because we go everywhere together, and he needs me. Even if there was a chance, though (and of course I'm generalising a little bit - he does *sometimes* go and spend 5 minutes on his own scrapping with other toddlers over use of the toy kitchen) I don't know what I have to offer to any conversation. H comes home at night and I find myself in silence at the dinner table, when that's the alternative to offering up a description of how many times we did each puzzle, which words he's attempted, what our favourite colour crayon was today. I don't mean that I find it boring, but this truly is stuff only a mother could get emotionally engaged with, but it's all that I have, and I have literally nothing to report to the world.

I suppose this explains the blog silence - I could tell you these day to day minutiae, or report on my writing about financial instruments, but it's not credible, is it? It's not interesting, and it doesn't make me the kind of person you'd want to approach at a party or toddler group, even if I had torn myself away from my boy for a moment.
So, doubts. My heart is in my choices, but if attachment parenting is so great, why am I the only one feeling like this?


  1. I bet you anything that you're not the only one feeling like this. We're just very bad at admitting stuff around being a parent, especially if we perceive those feelings as failings.

    I think this is a process that a lot of mothers (most? all?) go through in various guises. It can happen when their child is a baby, a toddler, when he starts school, or even when he starts college and they're an empty-nester. At some point, you realise that the totally absorbing, wonderful, beautiful, lovely desire to give oneself as a mother, which can be absolutely fulfilling in a deep way, does mean that there are other areas of life that suffer loss. That's completely logical, if you think about it - but somehow the realisation leads to a huge amount of guilt.

    For me, it's been really useful to realise that a little goes a long way. So the key for me, when my kids were small (and it took me years to discover this), was to have just one thing when I was doing something that was about a different bit of me. I had a book club, only 3 members and all of us mums of small kids, which met one evening a month, and we banned any talk about children. Just having something to look forward to can really help - an afternoon when your husband looks after the boy, and you go off and tend to the other bits of yourself. Shopping? Meeting friends? Walking? An art gallery? I remember going to the cinema on my own, one afternoon, when Husband had the kids, when I was at my wits' end. It felt naughty, but exhilirating. It really changed my mood for weeks. And with hindsight, it is always better not to get to the point where you're at your wits' end.

    So yes, I bet you anything you like that you're not "the only one feeling like this", but maybe the feelings aren't bad things, but good things. Could they be nudging you to add something into the mix?

    I have also come to believe that the more I look after myself, the better a mother I am. What is good for me, is also good for the children. If your colours are leached, then there is less colour in what you are giving out.

    (And it's ok to admit that some of the favourite colour crayon stuff is a litle boring...)

  2. Oh my goodness, I've just written an entire essay. I didn't mean to. I think you just struck a chord. I hope it doesn't come across as preachy, or know-it-all.

    And yes, in answer to your question, the 6 - 9 month thing is a thing. It's a grief thing. People usually have a physical and emotional low 6 months after a bereavement (so I'm told). And a big move or life change usually involves some element of bereavement, even if it's a change that you chose, and that is largely positive and wanted.

    I'm preaching again...

  3. Oh, Iota, no, not preachy or know-it-all or anything except wonderful, much appreciated, empathy from someone who's been there. Thank you for understanding. Wise advice too on the idea of carving out even a fragment of self-time - it's definitely something I need to give some thought to. Not an escape from the child, but just a tiny gap where I can recall the bits of me that existed before him.

  4. I just found your blog after you left a comment on my post about being an introverted mom, so I know you already know some of my story. I started out as a full-on attachment parent but quickly realized that was so not going to work for me. I needed space around my body, I needed some time alone, I needed some time not being a mother. I moved my daughter to her own crib at the foot of our bed and night-weaned at 13 months, which took a hard week, but we have both slept immensely better since. Life is just a different color with mostly adequate rest! I started leaving her with my mom for 2 or 3 hour stretches at about 9 months, just the distance between two nursings, and we have slowly increased from there. I still feel guilty about my "off hours" sometimes, but I know how necessary they are for me to be engaged and happy the rest of the time. At 27 months we're still nursing and it has been on demand until today when I realized I needed a change. Going forward, nursing will be limited to nap time, bed time and first thing in the morning.

    Have I deduced correctly that your little guy is around 9 months old? I hit a major mothering hurdle at 9 months, too. I was Not with my child or really even with mothering, but with the unending routine of it. The feedings, the napping, the floor play, the cleaning up, the laundry, over and over every single day the same. I was so bored with myself, and felt so boring to my partner. You are not alone in this. Also, it will pass. You will shift, you child will shift, it will feel different soon. You'll get through this. And you are not a bad parent for questioning exactly how you manage your level of attachment.