A mum is the sum of her kids. True or false?
“Hello gorgeous!” Says everyone to your baby. Completely ignoring you, the one holding him, the one who grew him in your body and brought him into the world: surely the biggest achievement of all time.
“Boy 1 got 10/10 in spelling today!” I tell my husband. Not adding: And I had a week of blazing rows trying to get him to write them out in the evening to learn them.
The first shock happens immediately. As soon as you have your baby, your own needs become eclipsed by his. It may not go black and the temperature won’t drop, but this is totality: the realisation that now and forever more, your needs come second.
The eclipse of desires is more gradual – perhaps for many parents it never happens. But for me, after a while the work promotions and other “life goals” I’d always aspired to began to shimmer like a mirage. I could see them, but not touch.
It used to concern me. I used to have an urgent sense that I needed to achieve something, quickly, to make them proud of me. To make me feel like I am more than a mother. To show the world that having children has not robbed me of my ambition.
But a shift happened. My second baby arrived. Then my third. I became too busy, too tired to worry about my CV points.
And I came to realise that people’s interest in your children is a compliment to you, not a sign that you are no longer valid as a person. They care about you, so they care about your children, and their times table test and their teething struggles. I know this, because I do it too. I ask how my friend’s children are doing because I know that this is a major, if not the only, measure of their sense of success and happiness. I do also ask how their jobs are going too. They usually roll their eyes and say they wish they had more time to spend with the kids.
Of course, I’m not saying that people can’t achieve monumental things after having children. Of course they can. I myself started this blog, which I see as an achievement in some small way. If people respond well to a post, I am on cloud nine for a day. But if one of the children comes home with a headteacher’s award, it goes on the fridge for months.
It’s not martyrdom, or false modesty, or fake: I genuinely do value and prioritise my children’s achievements above my own. It’s not that I’ve given up having goals and ambitions of my own. But I have a deep-seated sense, that I have already achieved the highest accolade I could hope to reach. I have given birth to three wonderful sons. One day they might be famous artists, or engineers, or Prime Minister.
Maybe when I emerge from the sleep-deprived early years, I will scoff at my sentiment, consider resting on the laurels of “having had kids” as a bit of a cop-out.
But I suspect not. And for now certainly, I am happy to stay here. In their shadow.