I write this from a speeding TGV train that is taking me through the French countryside between Paris Charles de Gaulle airport and Rennes, on a journey to the small village of Brignogan where I will be working for a week before heading to the Dinard Festival of British Film. I am alone. There are no children calling my name, no one else to worry about. I am just me.
It is a very strange feeling. And to be honest, a little scary. To be taken away so completely from the role of mother and placed back in the independent life that I led before my children were born. That mothering role is now so familiar that, despite its challenges, it has become a safe place to hide. The children provide such constant distraction - from me, from what I want – that I don’t have to think about those other parts of me. I work, but I work around them. I work part-time, when I have childcare and late at night. I snatch emails when they are watching TV or distracted by their dad. Otherwise, I am theirs.
I miss my children terribly. Their beautiful faces sit in the window seats of my mind, heightened by the ache I feel in my heart at every passing child. But right now, it is not my job to look after them.
On my own, making decisions for myself (even those as simple as what sandwich I should choose for lunch) I feel shaky, unsure, and all too visible in my new grown-up boots and unfamiliar working clothes. Yes, part of my fear is about attempting French and the surly café worker failing to understand me, or getting lost in a foreign railway station and missing my train. But I suspect that mostly I fear stepping into that strangely foreign me, of becoming visible, and facing the scary question - what value do I have outside my role as mother?
Motherhood is the most wonderful difficult transformational thing that has happened to me. It is all consuming. It impacts on every significant decision I make. And sometimes that means that I forget that it is simply one part of me. That I am not ‘just’ a mother, I am a wife. And a friend. I am good at my job. I have other qualities to offer the world alongside my mothering.
Before coming away, I found this photograph of myself, just days into becoming a mother, my tiny son nuzzling into my hair. I look tired and blissed out. But I remember this period as one of intense confusion, overwhelmed by a loss of self.
Now here I am, nearly five years later, reassuming the identity I ‘lost’ - the career woman, the hard worker, the intrepid traveller. I am excited, the work I’m doing is stimulating and maybe even a little bit glamorous. But it is no longer all of who I am. That self has blended with the mother who was born just days before that photograph was taken. The two have set me on a new quest - a quest for balance.
And I suspect that ultimately balance is not a destination, it is a journey. Sometimes a walk, sometimes a run, and sometimes a superfast TGV journey that makes you feel a bit sick.
Do you recognise this feeling? To connect with other mamas facing the struggles of motherhood, come and join our private facebook group: Mamas' Everyday Retreat. It's a safe kind space for mamas to connect and support each other. Expect me-time encouragement, compassionate conversation, gentle motivation, and surprise treats. We hope to see you there.