It was an off-hand remark by another mum, but one that gave me plenty of guilt and changed my life forever.
Once upon a time, I was the perfect mum. I was living the dream, I ticked all the boxes: A beautiful baby boy, a mummy SUV, a clean, organised home and a gorgeous husband. I was literally living my Pinterest boards.
But I was exhausted.
I was so sick of trying to be a perfect mum. It felt like it was a full-time job just keeping up with the expectations.
I wasn’t happy and I felt so guilty for being unhappy because I had everything I ever wanted. Feeling unhappy made me feel ungrateful, as if somehow, because I had all this stuff and because I had the privilege of being a mum, I didn’t deserve to complain.
Then my world came crashing down: My three-year-old son was diagnosed with autism.
Everything I had ever envisioned about my parenting journey just disappeared into thin air. Suddenly, I was incredibly alone, isolated, surrounded by judgement, people’s unhelpful opinions and totally overwhelmed. Add a newborn baby into the mix and honestly, I’m not even sure how I survived each day.
All I knew was that one day I found myself slumped on the kitchen floor, looking at the floorboards that I had already mopped twice that day—now covered in blueberry yoghurt—and wondering to myself, Is this it? Is mopping my floors twice a day, wiping tiny human butts and making snacks all I’m made for?
Folded on the floor in my sweatpants and with two weeks worth of unwashed hair, I decided, No, I am made for more.
I decided that it’s OK to not want to be a stay-at-home mum. I decided to remove the guilty feeling I had for not loving being a stay-at-home mum like all the other women I knew. Just because they love it didn’t mean I had to too.
I needed to give myself permission to work on myself, to leave the house, to travel and focus on me without my kids, to figure out what I wanted.
The very next day, I started a business.
It helped me give myself permission to take care of me. It showed me I was worthy of more, that I could love my kids and I could love myself at the same time.
As I started to prioritise growing my business and growing myself, my life changed. I put my kids in day care, I hired a cleaner, I focused on my marriage.
Shona Gates with her children, Erik, aged seven, Holly, aged four, and husband, Aaron.
But just when I started to feel like I was getting it all together, someone had to go and put their two cents in. You know the type—the mum who means well, but all her compliments are just thinly-veiled backhanded judgements . . .
“To be honest, I’m not even sure why you put them into day care. It’s not like you actually need to; you’re just a stay-at-home mum, you don’t even work,” she said.
First, I felt embarrassed, but then an overwhelming rage. It wasn’t just that comment, but the idea that you can never get it right when it comes to parenting. If you’re a stay-at-home mum, you’re lazy; if you go to work, you’re selfish.
If you use cloth nappies, you’re a hippy; if you use disposables, you’re lazy.
Say no to our kids and we are damaging them; don’t say no to them and we are creating entitled brats.
You cannot win!
So in that moment I was angry with a capital A. These are not reasons to judge another mum—to judge another woman at all.
But while that moment sucked, it was also a gift. Because in that moment, I realised I was never going to be able to win the “being a perfect mum” game.
So I decided to quit playing. I released the pressure off myself to be perfect. I stopped wondering what people thought of me and I started thinking about what I thought of me.
I started to realise that, when I’m 80, I’m going to look back and won’t remember the unwashed dishes in the sink or the yoghurt on the floor, but if I didn’t change something now, I would just remember being really miserable.
Not wanting to have those regrets, I embraced the fact that I honestly have no clue what I’m doing as a mum.
But guess what? None of us really do.
I put my kids in day care because it helps me get to the end of the day without wanting to punch them in the face—that’s a fact.
Today my kids are in day care and school, and I feel guilt-free fantastic. I’m successful, my kids are happy and healthy, I have an incredible husband, I drive my dream car—it’s a white Jeep—and I even get to travel and go on little adventures with my family.
I love being a mum, but I’m also human and a woman and a wife and me.
And that’s what I want for all women. To feel worthy and confident. We’re all just human, doing the best we can to raise rad little people.
Let’s build a tribe of women who can acknowledge they are doing their best! A tribe of women who know who they are and what they want, and can make those choices without Karen from the head of the P&C putting her two cents in. A tribe of women who understand that loving themselves doesn’t mean they love their family less.
A tribe of women who stop trying to be perfect and instead focus on experiencing all the joy life has to offer.
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