Don't get me wrong. I love being a mum, and I'm not just trying to convince myself of that either. I really wouldn't swap it for anything else - even when I think of our lives Before Kids and just how much TIME and ENERGY we had. Occasionally I find myself fantasising - stepping into an imaginary time machine and zapping myself back to those days filled with empty moments: the peace, the endless stretches of unencumbered time, the (relative) sanity, the personal luxuries... but could I be without my kids? No.
Those days when I feel so knackered I could fall asleep in my porridge; when toddler has embarked upon a project of incessant whinging for the day and baby requires being stuck to boob or cuddled all day long; when I'm sick of looking like an extra from the Witches of Eastwick and I'm so hungry I could eat my own leg if only baby wasn't in the way; when my happy-go-lucky childless friends are full of their own egocentric adventures and woes; when on the rare days I get to spend 10 minutes on my appearance I can't even don a nice frock to cheer myself up because it's not breastfeeding-friendly; when all I've done all day is give and give and give of myself and by the time hubby comes home after a hard day at work he feels shunned and unloved because I'm spent; when my brain feels as if it may implode or evolve backwards through lack of intellectual current...
Those days I wonder.
One of the women at my local toddler group told me recently that she felt cheated, lied to. That nobody had warned her what it would be like. At the time I was inclined to think her a little naive, as I'm sure would many others, particularly those without kids. But being totally honest with myself, I feel the same. There is a great yawning gap between knowing in your mind that having children will change your life immeasurably, and experiencing it first hand. Nobody tells you that you will never again have free time, that every millisecond of your precious day will be filled with the needs of others, that even if you get the luxury of a child-free hour or two you are unable to switch off and you can't think of a single thing to say to your partner that doesn't involve talking about the kids. Nobody tells you because you wouldn't believe it; you'd smile indulgently whilst believing yourself a better person, a better parent.
There is just no comparison, no precedent to having children. A friend once told me having a dog was good practice for having a baby. Needless to say he had no prior experience of either. It's nothing like keeping a dog, nor any other animal that I know of. Sure, with a dog you have to think about and attend to its needs from time to time. But for the most part (unless you have a REALLY neurotic dog) he will just be content to lie at your feet/in the corner/ on the sofa and dream of rabbits, whether you're there with him or out shopping.
So sometimes, yes, I do feel cheated. Like I have wholly unknowingly sacrificed the better years of my (and my husband's) life, with no possible redemption. It's as if during that first week of becoming parents, an unseen hand scooped us both up and gently, surreptitiously, placed us down within the confines of a monastery and let it be known that we were to follow the path to sainthood. To give of ourselves completely and utterly and to move beyond the self until the self no longer exists - only our work now speaks of us and who we are, what we have become.
And actually, I'm ok with that. Because it's made (and continues to make) me a better person. Because I've learned to be far less selfish and much more patient. Because I can love unconditionally, even on the days I am tearing my hair out. Because, quite simply, I love them and I love being part of a family.
Balance is the key, and that is the next important lesson for us to learn, as individuals, as a couple, and as a family. It's such a tricky one to get right because the weights on the scales are changing moment to moment, necessitating both saintly patience and calm, a steady hand, a light tread...
Which of course is exactly the opposite of what has been seen in our household this week!