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Parenthood: it changes you

My beautiful blue eyed boy turned nine yesterday. Nine! I’ve been a mum for nearly a decade and what a ride parenthood has been. Birthdays always make me reflective.

I can remember stumbling around in the glare of the Bondi sun, Sam a tiny little possum attached to my chest in the Baby Bjorn, and me looking around at humanity with slightly wild eyes thinking, “All these people: they all had a mother who gave birth to them. And all those mothers went through sleep deprivation, sore boobs, breast feeding anxiety. All of them! Holy shit!”

Becoming a mum changed me profoundly, and not all of the changes have been positive. Yes, I had to learn tolerance, selflessness and patience. An ability to fake a smile even when I was bone tired and seriously couldn’t be fecked to play trains for the forty fifth time that day. These were good, worthwhile attributes to learn. I was not a narcissistic, hedonistic youth anymore.

These lessons alter and adjust as your brood grow older. Watching your children deal with unkindness from their peers, and having to find the wisdom to guide them through that. Becoming a master at juggling all their extra-curricular activities. Crisis management. Refereeing. Nursing. It’s a lot. But it’s not all tough times. They are mostly rewarding and funny. I have bursts of love that sometimes leave me breathless. I had them just yesterday watching my gorgeous boy unwrap his coveted Star Wars Lego set.

No, I’m talking about deeper changes, ones that are somehow harder to pinpoint. For instance, I feel like I lost some of my idealism along the way. I always thought I was so invincible but having children made me realise I wasn’t. I believed if I worked hard I’d get what I wanted and that was largely the case for me, until I had children. I lost a lot of my ambition. I thought it might come back as the boys started school but it hasn’t. Confidence: I had it in spades when I was younger but it spilled into the cracks between the floorboards along with the bolognaise, the Lego pieces and my sense of self as my work/life balance altered and so too my priorities with it.

That’s not to say these changes are irrevocable. Teaching yoga classes in front of strangers forced me out of my comfort zone and some of my confidence returned. My ambitions aren’t necessarily gone but they look different. I no longer want to be assessed by the success of my career but rather on my successful life as a whole. I find happiness and fulfilment not in measurable things like money or a nice house but rather the depths of my relationships: with my boys, my husband and my friends. Experiences too. Those are more important to me than bylines in magazines.

Maybe it’s not fair to say that parenthood changed me. Perhaps the changes are simply a normal consequence of getting older; the shifting sands of time. I know myself better now. I’ve known myself for longer after all. Looking back, the bravado of my youth was largely a shield to cover my innate shyness. My idealism was simply that – naive.

Forgive how glib it sounds but being a good mother really is one of my life’s biggest achievements. Watching Sam, my first born, turn into such a kind, funny, gentle young man fills me with enormous pride. I love how different he is from his brother, who is a little tearaway and will be smoking behind the bike shed in no time (which makes me proud too by the way!) I love the excitement of their birthdays, watching them learn, seeing them navigate their wonky ways in the world - and the crucial part I play in all that. Last night as I danced to music after we’d eaten Sam’s birthday cake, Toby told me I was so embarrassing. It felt like a trophy.

I’m less sleep deprived now, but no less deserving of a pat on the back, like all mothers and fathers everywhere. What a ride we are on – and this pandemic has only served to intensify it for us all so, holy shit folks, strap in.

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