It seems, as always, that there are so many struggles with being a parent. How do you know when it’s working and when it’s not? How much of that is to do with you?
Parenting is like the hardest thing for me. Please don’t jump in and tell me I’m a great mum right now, because this is not why I’m writing this. I’m writing this for the struggle, which seems frequently so real to me. The part in which I feel angry that people feel the need to tell you it’ll be gone in the blink of the eye and to appreciate them now, and the part when I wonder when I’ll feel the moment of joy that “will make it all worth it”. The part where I wonder who those mothers’ are who just know what to do naturally? The part where I feel guilty that somehow I birthed 4 babies and then collected 2 more and somehow, they chose ME? I’ve been working some things out though, about this.
My oldest daughter is 20. She’s magnificent. I’ve written about her before many times, and I refuse to take credit for her magnificence. She just is like that, but like all of us she has her own struggles and her own brilliance, and they are hers. I was not the best mum to her for most of it. I was so incredibly lost in myself that she just got to come along on the ride through no choice of her own. Except of course if you believe she chose me. Mostly, for about the first 14 years of her life I showed her how not to live. I taught her how to party. How to choose the wrong boyfriends. How to be depressed and anxious. How to be too busy. How to be disconnected from your feelings and yourself so you couldn’t feel the missing. I’m not discounting all the amazing stuff I taught her and this is not a beat up session on me. It’s just the truth. I do this work with people and the stuff that is keeping them stuck in places in their lives they don’t want to be is the stuff they learnt from their parents (mostly unintentionally – because ALL of us, no matter how messy or broken we feel and doing the best we can with what we have) and what they made that mean and how that makes them think and behave in their lives 10, 20, 50 years on. And I’m so glad I can see my own stuff and I’m honoured to see what she has done with hers, but it’s only because I showed her what to do. Not because I told her.
Right now, she has the most beautiful guy. She met him at Uni. I supported her idea to go to Uni, not because I think she’ll get a better job or be more because she has a University education, but because at Uni you meet other cool people who are learning too. She went to Uni and she found him. They found each other. Right now, they are both no longer at Uni, but they both found someone else who loved to learn. She said to me a few days ago “Because you chose a guy like Grant, I chose a guy like Dan”. That’s my favourite ever. I only chose a guy like Grant 18 months ago after many years of choosing guys not like him at all. It’s possible that he chose me. But I think what really happened is that I chose me. And then we found each other.
Miss 13 got much of the same (a mish mash of my lostness and attempts at normalness), until she was about 7 and I started to find my way clear. Except of course I had two more children by then, time-pirates who seemed to steal all the time it was possible for me to be happy and doing what I loved. Which, most disappointingly for the “rule maker” in my head, was not being a full-time Mum. I mean, you’re always a “full-time” parent in some respect, regardless of whether or not you choose to be around all the time. I think for those who chose not be around their children don’t ever “go away”. No matter how much they pretend or try to disconnect from that.
Anyway, back to now. Everything has changed again for me in the last 6 months. We have a beautiful, new, big home. A blended family. A full-time “Dad” in the house. All the things the “rule maker” would agree are the things I should appreciate and settle in to. And it’s been hard for me. So hard. And I’ve felt more guilty about that than anything before.
I’ve been trying to make myself be happy in the situation I’m in. Not very successfully given the look on my face most of the time. I’ve been trying to make myself fit the situation. As though I have no control over that. As though I am not responsible for how that is. As though it’s their fault I can’t be happy. Those daughters have had the best of me in the last 2.5 years. Since the last time it all went belly-up and catapulted me to the next level. And the difference it has made in them is not because I’ve washed their clothes, or made their beds or made sure we had food in the fridge every week (even though without those things we’d be screwed). The difference it has made in them is because when I chose me, I chose them too.
If you want your children to be happy and you want to teach them to have great lives, you can’t tell them, you have to show them. Don’t tell them drugs will ruin their lives and go on with your own addictions (drugs, alcohol, Facebook, drama, food, shopping, sex, whatever) and expect they will change. Don’t tell them to love their bodies the way they are and hate yours. Don’t tell them to get an education and get a good job when you haven’t found a place or a job or an education that lights you up. Don’t tell them to stop being such whinging arseholes and frown like a whinging arsehole.
If you want your children to be happy, you be happy first.
I have been, often, the most miserable cow. Angry, tired, controlling, scared, resentful, trapped, tired, miserable, anxious, bored. And from that place I cannot teach my children anything. Any of them. From that place I just want them to all fuck off and leave me alone to get on with doing the stuff I love so I can be happy and fulfilled and making the difference in the world I dream of making. Instead of doing the stuff I love and being happy and making the difference in the world I dream of making and showing them that that’s how they can be happy too. Their version of that.
Miss 8 still has massive tantrums. Absolutely out of control emotional overwhelm. She had one only a few days ago and it almost looked like she was having a fit. My instant reaction is to withdraw so far from her so it can’t hurt me. To push her away or put her away until she “calms down”. It was right before a family birthday party for the biggest (and only) boy, and I was so mad at her for falling apart on a day that is not meant to be about her. But here’s the thing. She made a treasure hunt, with clues and all handwritten and she had this idea about how that treasure hunt would roll. And we (all of us, the whole world) totally fucked with that plan. No-one would listen. Everyone kept asking what the prize was and deciding if they’d partake based on the calibre of the prize. They were racing each other for the clues. She had no control over any of it and it felt terrible. And then as she fell apart her Mum won’t accept it (as though she hasn’t been having her own tantrums periodically over the last 42 years, and as if “calming down” is actually a realistic option). Her Mum won’t accept her. And then in the stairs, when her Mum tells her to go away to her room, she manages (with all the courage she has) to say “No”, and grab her Mum and cling to her and say “I just need a minute, I’m trying to breathe”. And her Mum hugged her for a long time and then she breathed. It took some time. And everyone still felt a bit raw after. But aren’t we all just asking for the same thing? Some time, some room, to breathe?
There are 3 other kids in our house too, that I haven’t even touched on, because the complexities and because I would only be doing it to be “fair” and fuck that. Had more than enough of trying to make things fair. Have probably said “Life’s not fair, so deal with it” about 44,000 times in the last 6 months. Interestingly 44,000 are the number of people going to heaven in the Jehovah’s Witness religion. Nice segue (Did you see how I did that?).
My Mum taught me to be passionate. She was really passionate about Jehovah, She still is. As a kid I took that meant she loved Jehovah more than us. She was a great mum – caring and loving and cooked us food, played with us and kept the house in order and gave up every single other dream she ever had to live on farm in the middle of the bush with her mother in law 100m away and be a good wife. So if she needed a bit of Jehovah to keep her sane that would be fair right? As kids though, although she tried (very hard) to teach us about Jehovah too, so we could love Him like she did, we didn’t really get it. Because she tried to tell us to love Jehovah, whilst she compromised every other thing of herself to be a “good mum”. You know why I know this? Because I do it too.
It’s like I have a switch. Let’s call it “suburban housewife”. A model of a good mum and wife that just clicks on automatically when I get in a relationship. So automatic and seamless, I can’t even notice it’s happened. And then my friends, a collection of my bestest friends in the whole world says “We miss you!”, and I thought I was here all along. But the guy I love is looking at me like a rabbit in the headlights, and the kids can’t really look at me at all, and I’m guessing they’re all wondering where she went too?
I freaking love God. The divine. The light in all of us that is pure love. I see it in people and my purpose in this life is to help them see it too. In themselves first. And then others. The best way? The way I do it best? I show them mine.
If you want people to see their magic, you have to show them what it looks like. In you. You have to be it.
Doing it with people – my people, the people who resonate with all the crazy shit I write (me and God in cahoots, writing the message) – is the EASIEST thing for me. It’s just this thing I know how to do. But when it comes to the children, I have not had any idea how to do it. I just have this superangrycrazylady who want them to be good humans and is basically being the devil. Man, she fucks up our household.
Last week I went to a movie premier for Embrace – a movie about body image. A few weeks before the movie I did an underwear photo shoot with 7 other women to produce a local short film about body image by the people other people might see in the street. It was incredible. My 13-year-old daughter came. She’s talked about it to everyone in our house, both the movie and what she got from it (she found the plastic surgeon the most ridiculous) and also the bit where I told everyone she was there with me during the post-movie Q&A. She also said it was really good (the Embrace movie and the local short film with me talking in my knickers). She’s proud of me she said. I wasn’t sure about taking her. She has a body like mine, she’ll be tall and lean and blonde and she’s a gymnast and there could hardly be any reason not to love her body right? But she also has pimples and I know she hates them, and no matter what is beautiful about her, her skin makes her feel ugly. There will always be something. And I did that photo shoot for them, my daughters, because if I don’t stop getting distracted by my stretch marks and my herniated belly button and feeling tired and just get to an exercise class without using them as the excuse or do qigong with them in the mornings or make them walk to school in the rain, how can I teach them anything? Except that to be a “good mum” you should give up everything that is about you, and be happy anyway.
Picture by Emma Hutton during Real Food Real You “Body Lovin’ Workshop”
During the post-movie Q&A most of the questions were about how we get this message about “loving your body” to our daughters and teach it to our sons, and all I could think was “show them”. Taryn Brumfitt, the creator of the documentary made it for her daughter, in the hope she can show her how to embrace her body by having a Mum who can embrace hers. But you know what? The thing I noticed about the movie? She left her family (her husband and 3 children) for 9 weeks to travel the world and film the documentary. That’s how important the message was to her. 9 weeks. And here we all are freaking about an evening exercise class or missing a sports day, or saying “arsehole” in the car. And I’m not suggesting I go away for 9 weeks. But I might need to. Depends what it is I need to make and how that would happen. All I know is it won’t happen whilst I’m playing suburban housewife.
There are always so many questions about how to inspire change, about how to extend it, about how to help our daughters (and sons) be the people they can be. The answer is simple. Be the person you can be. Put aside all the reasons you think you can’t. Love your body. Laugh in the morning. Find out what lights you up and do that more, and everyday. Accept help from other people. Hear the message. It’s there; it’s always been there. Choose you. Be you. It’s the only real way to be happy.
If you want your children to be happy, you be happy first.
PS Helping women be happy first is actually one of special talents. I guess that’s because I know the struggle, from far down the street in Struggletown. I know what to do and what you have to find out and work on to be happy. If all this has resonated with you, we should talk. No hard sales, but a genuine conversation about where you are, where you’d like to be and what’s missing. If I can help you with that and it feels right (and good and real) I’ll offer you an opportunity to work with me to get what you want.
Pop your details in here and I’ll call you real soon x Love Fleur