A few weeks ago I came across a photograph of my children and I on the pier. My daughter, about 6 or 7 months old at the time, is in the pram, lulled to sleep from our walk along the promenade. My boys are arranged around me, in a boisterous huddle. My oldest has his arm slung across my shoulder; at 12, he’s almost my height and the knowledge of this is bright on his face. My middle son, 9, his broad features pale with a smattering of freckles, leans in on my other side, grinning. My youngest son, 6, wedged between me and the pram, looks shyly up at the camera, his pixie-face angled slightly down. He’s holding my hand over his shoulder tightly in both of his, but his smile is sweet. I’m smiling with my young family of four. Smiling for my husband to capture this moment of familial togetherness.
I remember this pic being taken. I remember posting it to Facebook, thinking we looked good; thinking it captured us at our best.
And, in a way, it captured us perfectly.
Because when I look back at that picture now, when I see that woman in the picture, that mom, I see a hollowed out husk.
I have deep, dark circles under my eyes, my skin is sallow from a leftover tan covering underlying anemia, my hair is dry and scraped up into a ponytail on my head (an actual messy ponytail not a YouTube ‘perfect messy mom style’). I look wrecked! And it’s not really surprising.
At the time, I was exclusively pumping breastmilk for my daughter. I’d been doing this since her birth because despite everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) she couldn’t breastfeed directly. Because of a series of events worthy of Lemony Snicket himself, we had three children at three different schools, so I was doing three different school runs daily, plus homework and keeping track of all the events and sports and fundraisers and and and…
I was also maintaining a practice full-time in a busy health shop. My daughter would come to work with me so that I could spend time with her, and I had a nanny to help when I was consulting. I was on call 24/7 for 4 doula patients a month and would go out at all hours to deliver babies on farms and homes up and down the KZN coast, sometimes driving 2 or 3 hours at a time.
During all this time, I felt constantly like I was failing someone. I lived with the perpetual feeling that I’d forgotten something. The problem is, when you’re a busy, capable person, society doesn’t say “don’t do so much! You’re doing yourself and everyone else a disservice.”
Rather, society says: “shame! You’re so busy! But you’re so good at it. Won’t you just help with xyz?”
The old adage of “if you want something done, give it to the busy person” is true. But, at some point, the busy person does break.
I’d love to say that homeschooling was the answer to all our problems, but it wasn’t. When we started homeschooling, several things did change:
We got closer as a family, and were no longer running off in four different directions every day, so there was definitely more cohesion in our family unit.
There was less friction amongst the children; they learned to work together as a unit which decreased the overall tension in the household.
I got to know my children as individuals rather than people to manage. They’re very cool humans.
But, I continued to try to be a superwoman, to have everything at the same time. You see, I think this is the lie we were sold. We bought into the 80s superwoman image – that corporate-slayer-goddess ruling Wall Street then coming home and ruling her household. I am grateful beyond belief for what those women did for the advancement of women in the workplace. However, I think we bought into the idea that we can have it all at the same time. We just can’t. There’s only so much ‘me’ to go around. In the same way can’t really watch Netflix, scroll through Facebook and read a book at the same time – you can pretend to, you can shift rapidly from one task to the other, but at the end of the episode and the chapter, you’re not going to have the same understanding of the book as someone who has read the book in the silence of a library.
So, my word for the year in 2019 has been Balance. After 7 years of homeschooling I’m happy with where we are. I spend my days with my children doing “school” (we unschool so this will look a bit different every day) and then a couple of afternoons I spend consulting via Skype or writing. This feeds my soul. It also shows my kids that I have something for me; that as much as they mean to me, it’s not all about them. I think that’s important.
I still get frustrated sometimes and wish I could have a day – or week (who are we kidding here!) – all to myself, but I can recognise that with less guilt now. I’m one person. I’m allowed to do just what I can do and express what my limits are. So can you. Using your voice empowers your children to use theirs too.
Looking at our latest family picture, my youngest son is my height, standing proudly and straight at my side. My middle son towers over us all, smiling with his father’s eyes and his long arm firm around my shoulder. My oldest is behind me, his mane of unruly hair in a knot at the nape of his neck, holding a chameleon aloft like a prize, laughter in his eyes, his other hand resting on his little brother’s shoulder. My beautiful daughter, now 7, all long limbs and fairytales, leans into me, looking up at her dad through her lashes.
It’s Mother’s Day.
So wide. So happy.
It brings tears to my eyes just writing this.
Dr. Taryn Turner
Taryn is a Registered Homeopath and Qualified Advanced Doula. She is a mom to three gorgeous boys and a beautiful daughter. She is a dedicated practitioner and supporter of attachment parenting, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby-wearing and intuitive parenting. You can read her blog here.