Marie Claire UK - 10.2019

(Axel Boer) #1


FirSt perSon

me,‘Ididn’t feel any pressure from
family or society to be the perfect
mum. It was up to me to find myself
as a mother.’ Perhaps French mums
are less critical of their peers
because they don’t have high
expectations of parenthood in the
first place. ‘In France, we assume
the early years will be challenging
and our kids will drive us crazy.
We’re not aiming for perfect in the
first place,’ says Meryem.
I made no such assumption when
I became a mum. Like most parents,
my husband and I fell into that classic
‘our kids will be different’ trap. I’d
read French Children Don’t Throw
Food by Pamela Druckerman and
naturally reckoned my 19-month-old
would absorb good behavioural
habits by osmosis, while I enjoyed
my morning coffee and croissants
in peace. My son, however, appears
not to have received the memo.
Instead of playing ball, he’s
progressing exactly as a toddler
should, finding ever inventive ways
to torment his parents. I’ve found
books lying on the street after he’s chucked them out of the
window of our first-floor flat. And last week, he burst into
the bathroom while I was on the toilet and tried to insert
a Duplo block into my vagina.
On a good day, I can laugh at this boundary-pushing. But
when my husband is on a work trip and I don’t have family
nearby or any help (our childminder has gone on holiday for
the summer – it’s a French thing), I often feel overwhelmed
by the day-to-day demands of motherhood. I look at the
chaos around me – the overturned dining chairs, the food
on the floor – and beat myself up for failing to stay on top
of things. I’m ashamed to admit I lie awake at night
wondering how I’ll manage more than one child. I’m
currently pregnant with number two, who at the time of
writing is due in seven weeks. It’s been a difficult
pregnancy, and I try to keep in mind that my mother-in-law
raised six kids and got on with it.
In the past 19 months, we have become parents, moved
homes and countries twice, and are in the process of buying our
first house. And yet, instead of acknowledging the stress that
inevitably comes with any major life change, never mind
several at once, I refuse to give myself a break for not being the
consummate mum. ‘Modern-day motherhood is a far cry from
that experienced by women a few decades ago,’ says
psychologist Emma Kenny. ‘With the rise of social media,
along with a slew of parenting “experts” and countless
contradictory parenting styles, all promising to create the
perfect child, it’s unsurprising that women feel motherhood
has become a competitive sport. Being a great parent involves
trusting yourself, and you can only do that when you shut down
other people’s voices and allow that instinct to filter through.’
When I told my Parisian friend Nathalie, who I met
through a local mother and baby group, that I was a bad
mum because I typically leave my son to his own devices in

the park so I can catch up on emails
and have a coffee in peace, she
rolled her eyes. ‘You Anglophobes
think good parenting is spending
every second with your children
and ignoring your own needs. But
this won’t help them to become
independent adults. If you don’t
take care of yourself, what good are
you to your child?’
From the ubiquity of parenting
tomes to Instamums with their
babycino-sipping broods, the
pressure to get motherhood ‘right’
has never been greater. And while
it’s encouraging to see more
women pushing back against this
ideal of parenting with brutally
honest accounts of its challenges,
it often feels that, like the
Madonna-whore dichotomy, there
are only two types of mother.
There’s the Good Mum, who
selflessly devotes herself to her
offspring’s every need, and the Bad
Mum, counting down the hours to
gin o’clock. We rarely see the
middle ground; what writer Zadie
Smith refers to as the ‘good-enough parent. There’s this
idea you have to be a part-time clown and chef, and that
your children should never be bored. I don’t see this as
an important part of childhood.’
Recently, I found solace in a new US podcast called
Motherhood Sessions, in which psychiatrist Dr Alexandra
Sacks doles out therapy to mothers struggling with various
aspects of the role. Dr Sacks coined the term ‘matrescence’

  • the idea that when a child is born, so too is a mother.
    ‘It takes time to integrate the part of you that is a mother
    and loves your child, and the 34 years of you that didn’t have
    her,’ she tells a woman in one episode.
    I reckoned I could juggle a job I love with pregnancy and
    moving countries, while being the devoted mum; the kind
    I had growing up. My mum did it all – the home births,
    the handmade Halloween costumes, the dispensing of
    chicken soup and daytime TV when we were sick. She gave
    herself to motherhood fully and willingly. And while
    she now admits that she made personal sacrifices for her
    daughters’ happiness, I never for a second doubted her love
    for us. I guess in admitting I need more, I’m worried
    I’ll deprive my children of that emotional security I had
    growing up. But, as Dr Sacks says, ‘There’s more than
    one way for children to feel loved.’
    Two of the best mothers I know – one a full-time lawyer;
    the other a writer who fits in her work around four
    kids – don’t follow the Good Mum rules. One admits to
    days-old dishes cluttering her worktop and an overflowing
    laundry basket, while the other, struggling to get her
    ten-month-old off the breast, considers any solids a win

  • and if that’s a chocolate brownie, so be it. Both accept
    motherhood has its joyful days and bad days, but mostly it’s
    somewhere in between. It’s not perfect parenting, but
    it’s good enough for me.■







Alixis soon to be
a mum-of-two
Free download pdf