In a world of busy and more, more, more...
Motherhood is no exception. As mothers we are expected to be busy, we are expected to do, do, do instead of just being allowed to be. Society tells us to wear our business like a badge - to talk loudly and proudly of how busy we are, as if our motherhood’s depend on it. We have constant reminders of how important it is to fill our calendars - from antenatal classes to baby and toddler sessions, not to mention all of the extra curricula activities aimed at our children as they grow. And of course don't forget about weekend plans, they need to be busy and varied to feel like you've done something worthwhile with your days off.
If that isn't enough to leave you in a spin, we are bombarded with every mothers highlights reel almost daily. There is definite inspiration and information to be found here but there is also comparison, inferiority and a feeling of not quite being enough. This is heightened if you feel like you should be matching up to this idealism of motherhood and this particular state of busy.
As a stay at home mother who lives for empty schedules and a slower pace of life, even I feel the niggles of self doubt roll in when yet another friend tells me how busy they are. I start to wonder if I should be doing more, that maybe a day of waking up and going where-ever the wind takes us, rather than a long list of plans isn't giving motherhood my best shot. Yet once I sit with my thoughts for a while and step away from the noise, I know that this way of life is completely right for my family and I breath easily once again. The thought of having a fast paced calendar with no room for spontaneity and no time to press pause feels way too much for me.
I decided years ago to reject the idea of busy and take comfort in becoming un-busy. long family meals were prioritised, sharing stories over fluffy white mash and peas, rather than snatched conversations whilst rushing out the door to the next planned thing. I made sure that no plan days were gently woven within our week, with a day of rest at the weekend. To me there is nothing more exciting than waking on a Sunday morning, knowing that the whole day stretches ahead of us, to do with as we please. Oh the possibilities!.
That's not to say that being busy is wrong, far from it. I know many mothers that thrive on packed calendars and a varied schedule and I admire the opportunities that a faster pace must allow. I have great admiration for the mother that can, in fact, do it all. But for us, as it may be for you, the opportunities always arise when we slow down.
As I let the children get soapy, bubbly hands, whilst helping with the washing because we have nowhere else to be, we feel connected to each other and to our jobs around the home. As we build forts and hang fairy lights, telling stories by torchlight, I see imaginations rising from whispered conversations and as we follow our feet, to the river, the woods or to the beach, I see physical freedom and a deep love developing for the world around us.
We inherit this idea that to be the best mothers that we can be, we have to do better, that essentially to get ahead we have to become busier. We start to believe that at the end of the day we should be falling into bed, worn out, disheveled and ready to do it all again tomorrow and the day after that, for no reason other than that it is what is expected of us. I don't believe it. I think to be the best mother that I can be, I have to have the time in my day to slow down. Slowness allows me the time to stop, to sit still and it gives my children the opportunity to get bored. I’ve seen time and time again that this is where the real magic happens, in the in-between pockets of time. The gift of having nothing to do suddenly becomes everything.
We are told that our children won't grow up to be well rounded adults if they don't go to this class and that class, and if they, or us, are tired - no matter, that’s just how it should be. We are reminded not to let our children get restless, to keep them busy - that they should always be doing, just as we are. But what if we don't want to, or more to the point - what if they don't want to? Would they still grow into well adjusted adults if we had real belief in our un-business? What if we believed that with the time to dream, the energy to explore and the space to be themselves, our children would grow up to be exactly who they were meant to be. All without the overly busy lives that we are insisting we all lead. I think that they would, I’m sure that they would.
I have to admit here that I’ve not always been a convert of slow motherhood, it took me a while to find my feet, let alone my voice. When my first child was born, I joined every activity going, coffee dates and playgroups, baby gym and music class - all because that’s what others did and it seemed like the same was expected of me. We had such a busy schedule from the moment my son was born and if I’m honest, we both loathed most of it.
My baby boy with his big blue button eyes and white translucent cheeks would get upset on most of these outings and of course, in turn, so would I. Many of those early years of motherhood were spent stood outside activities. My son would cling to me like a limpet, his chubby little wrists pinching mine, crying loudly, me crying silently, wondering why we weren't like everyone else, feeling like a complete failure as a mother. I was so hard on myself for not getting something out of these groups like everyone else. I was always heartbroken that I didn’t have a happy sociable child who played with the other children nicely, whilst I drank copious amounts of tea with beige coloured biscuits and made friends with the other mums. It seemed like I was the only mother going through this and I felt so alone.
If I could go back to any time in my life, it would be to then. I would tell my former self that it was okay to just enjoy my son, rather than have us take part in all of these groups to feel enough. I would tell her that she was a great mother who loved her son with all of her heart and that she didn't need a full calender to prove otherwise. I would tell her that years later, that precious boy of hers would be diagnosed as Autistic and it would all make sense. The upset around noise and crowds, the wanting to be at home or at the beach, to have the space and time to just be. I didn’t realise it then but it was what I wanted too and so after a while of trying these groups and not fitting in I decided to do our own thing. We spent our days doing as we should have done all along - just being together and knowing that that was exactly where we were meant to be. Without the pressure and the timetables we both flourished and those days of us are some of my very best memories.
Whether you have a child who wants to go slow, or you are a mother who needs it for yourself, I want you to know that you are not wrong for wanting a slower pace of life. You are not alone. Instead of thinking about how busy everyone else is, focus on you and your family. Think confidently about how you can simplify your motherhood and your children’s childhood, to the bare bones of being together and knowing that that is enough, that love is always enough. You are a mother who is worthy of the title, whatever your calendar says. Imagine if we put all of our energy into doing what we needed as a family however that may look, instead of doing what we think we should be doing and being miserable in the process.
Years later I’ve realised that there is no shame in revealing that I have empty days on my calendar, without having to justify the reasons why. Instead of feeling like a failure, I now feel that these days are a blank page of our story just waiting to be written. Only this time it is written not for us but by us and that feels good.