Much is written about the motherload – the organising of children’s schedules and the household, – but let’s focus on the emotional load for a second – feeling responsible for, monitoring and worrying about your child’s wellbeing and development. It’s a huge load to carry, it takes time and investment and it can be overwhelming and exhausting.
It’s part of the parenting package, it is crucial to older children and teenagers yet it is another invisible role often of mothers although I am sure plenty of dads take this on as well.
Children always need our time and attention, as parents we need to listen to what they are really saying through, often through their actions rather than their words. And this is vital as children get older and then become teenagers – we often need to be their cheerleader, their counsellor, their life coach and their personal assistant (in addition to taxi driver, cook and entertainment’s officer) for them and their friends.
This role starts when we carry our newborn baby when they need to cling to us to settle and sooth and we become aware of their distress. Babies and young children will often cling to their mum when they have an intense need to be safe and to be calmed – we are their safety net.
As children grow and they start to explore the world, they become aware of different personalities; of meanness; of different emotions; of the challenges of friendships and then of the challenges of shaping themselves as they become teenagers, as hormones grip and they try to work out their place in all of this.
When my children got older I noticed a shift in their needs – they were more independent, doing things with friends and on their own but they needed more guidance, conversation, perspective and just being listened to. My working patterns changed – teaching antenatal classes 4 nights a week was no longer appropriate, I couldn’t be rushing off because that was their time to tell me what was going on in their world, that was their time to seek reassurance and safety when they needed it.
And with teenagers it has been about being present when they need it. My kids know I am there for them when they are ready to talk, to ask for advice, to seek an opinion and to keep gathering reassurance and guidance. And this comes amongst the nagging discussions about household chores, homework, friends coming round for food or sleepovers and about getting a job.
Like all working mums, I juggle constantly but I know I sometimes need to step away from what I need to do when they are upset or when they just need to talk. With teenagers, the balance is knowing when to be involved and when to step back because they can’t be babied – enabling independence and accountability is also part of the parenting package.
Children can have high expectations of us – that we can fix everything, that we are always there. We can’t always fix and be around and that is a tough but essential lesson for them and for us because resilience is also important. Older children and teenagers need to know when they have upset us, when they have over-stepped boundaries, when they need to take more responsibility. And we have to adjust to not always being liked. It sucks.
And then there’s the hormones – let’s just step back and make room for the hormones (theirs and ours) From about 9 years old hormones can turn children into strangers and everyone is riding the wave of hormones. There can be tears, anger, disgust, wanting to be nothing like their parents, an over reaction to simple comments that are taken as criticism or ‘having a go’ and experiencing being sad/low/disappointed/lost/left out and lonely.
It’s a mind-field which can sometimes be hard to navigate and, as parents, we can often be left frustrated, exhausted, questioning how we handled something and wondering what we’ve done wrong.
I have had weekends away with friends and one of us has needed to be on the phone to deal with an emotional fall out because only mum will do and yes we could all be too soft but it comes down to that fear that our kids won’t be alright.
Our children’s happiness can feel like our responsibility but it also becomes their responsibility and I strongly believe that there is a strength that comes from knowing that happiness doesn’t exist all the time, emotional awareness and resilience starts in early adulthood and probably lasts a lifetime. Happiness is a big expectation of anyone – it’s also ok to just be ok.
The emotional load comes from meeting our children’s emotional needs and wanting our children to be ok – but the pressure of this and attempting to get it right can be exhausting.
Janine – mum, wife, friend
Currently quite tired