Ok, I know what you’re thinking…. But hear me out.
I remember the first time I was left alone with Leo after he was born – well I wasn’t alone, I was on a ward with other women and crying babies, and nurses, cleaners, receptionists and Doctors – but to me it fell like there was just me and him, my tiny newborn baby-boy, I was the only one there to protect him. I felt exhausted it was five in the morning, I had given birth to him just after one o’clock, and I so desperately wanted to sleep, but I was too scared; I was too scared to take my eyes away from him, he looked so tiny and vulnerable, I was sure he would stop breathing, if I wasn’t awake to watch his little tummy go up and down, or I was convinced someone would take him from me if I closed my eyes for just a minute.
Later on that day, Leo and I were waiting to be discharged, when one of the nurses told me to go and get lunch, it was been served in the next ward meaning I would have had to leave Leo ‘on his own’. I was horrified by the suggestion, if that had happened now, I would be skipping across that hospital room shouting out for ‘someone to watch the baby’ but that day I went without lunch and it was then that I realised that this tiny little human – who had made me a mother less than twenty-four hours before – was the focal point of my entire world. I vowed then, that I would always put Leo’s needs before my own. He would come first no matter what.
I attempted to fulfil my promise and be a selfless mother throughout the early years of Leos life… but did I always get it right and put Leo’s needs before my own? Probably not, not all the time, anyway. As my brood grew and I became a mummy of two and then four, so did the conviction of my promise, putting the needs of my children before my own became second nature. I told the world and his dog that my children’s needs were greater than mine or anyone’s for that matter, and they came first, and I wasn’t shy about saying it to my boss when I needed to take a morning off work to watch Leo run the relay race on sports day, or when I had a phone call from nursery asking me to collect one of the babies because they had been sick…
“I’m sorry,” I would say, “but they are my children and they come before my responsibilities at work.”
I’m a mummy to four little ones, what do they expect me to do? I would think to myself as I ignored the sideway glances of my co-workers and shuffled as quickly as possible through the office doors.
I would come home and cry as I cradled a sleeping, sick child, I felt guilty for leaving work early to care for them. I would stand on the side-lines of a sports field attempting to ignore the pangs of guilt that were born from anxiety, anxiety because I had let down my co-workers, my friends. I had cancelled more nights out with friends because my kids ‘needed me’ than, glasses of wine I had drunk in my twenties.
I made a promise to Leo, Millie, Max and Bobby the day they were born, I promised them that they would come first, they were my number one priority and if they ever needed me I would be there, and that’s what I was doing I was putting them first.
I started university in September….
One Monday in November last year Bobby was sick, he needed me…. My Mum looked after him so I could go to my lecture.
One Friday in January, Leo had a doctor’s appointment, he needed me…. My sister took him so I could go to my lecture.
One Tuesday morning in March Max and Bobby had a ‘stay and play’ at nursery, they needed me…. Mr S took the day off work and went along so I could go to my lecture.
One Friday before Easter, Millie was sick, she needed me… My mum collected her from school so I could go to my lecture.
Since September there have been numerous times when my children needed me to be there for them and I chose not to be, I decided that it was more important to be at a lecture or writing an assignment. I passed my responsibility for them onto their Dad, their Auntie or their Nannar. There have been lectures I have missed of course, for Bobby’s hospital appointments and when someone has been very sick but most the time I have got someone to cover my role – as Mum.
You maybe expecting me to tell you now that I feel guilty about putting them second occasionally…. But I don’t feel guilty, and none of us should feel guilty, if we occasionally don’t put our children ‘first’. We do it to feed them, to clothe them and to ensure we have the headspace to preserve our own mental health to be a good parent.
I don’t feel guilty because I truly believe that I am working towards this degree as much for them as I am for me. I don’t feel guilty because I have successfully (nearly) completed my first year at Uni and everyone is still happy and healthy. I don’t feel guilty because, if university has taught me anything, other than how much I love writing (even if it is crap and waffle) it’s that the reason I felt like a failure and unable to juggle my life, work, friends…. before is because I wasn’t juggling, I was cradling the kids in my arms and was stepping over the rest of the balls that represented the different parts of my life as they lay on the floor. And for some Mums stepping over those balls and picking them up only when they want to, works for them, and that’s great, that’s what they want to do and there is nothing wrong with that, I’m a little bit envious of those Mums. Maybe one day I will give up juggling … I don’t know, but for now, I’m getting pretty good at it, so will carry on until the end of my degree at least……...
………. I’m a liar…. I still feel guilty!