Column published in last week’s Catholic Weekly.
One night recently I was in the city and I looked up at the buildings along the glittering city skyline where I used to work. It seemed like decades ago that it used to be my regular stomping ground. That’s because it WAS two decades ago, in 1994, that first I began working in the CBD.
I’ve long ago swapped shopping at the Rocks Markets for shopping only at Target, bought lunches for vegemite and cheese sandwiches at home, and an hour-each-way commute for the 10-minute school run.
I still have some of my old work blazers and skirts in my wardrobe but Iive in t-shirts and jeans with worn-out knees from getting down to talk to little people, or wipe up messes from the floor.
I’m very happy with life as a suburban mum, but if it sounds like an easy, pleasant transition, you’d be mistaken. It wasn’t.
It was a lovely novelty in the early days to be pushing the pram to the park to picnic with the other mothers and babies from my mother’s group. On the weekends Peter and I could still manage to get out and do a lot of the things we enjoyed. But by the time our third child was born I would often feel that I had no identity other than as a mother, which felt very confining.
For the next few years, while I enjoyed my children and cemented friendships with other young mothers, I would nevertheless often fight feelings of resentment at being ‘stuck’ at home with a baby and toddler, (then baby, toddler, and pre-schooler) all day and night with no end or even a break in sight until they’d grown up and left home.
I stopped window shopping and looking at pretty things in magazines because it depressed me that all I ever went to the shops for anymore was to buy groceries or children’s shoes on special.
We’d invite our friends over and I’d spend the time feeding and settling the baby in the bedroom while everyone else made small talk and drank wine out on the balcony, talking about people I’d lost touch with, the new gadgets they’d bought, or the new places they’d been. Peter was changing jobs and learning new things. I felt as though time had stopped for me, while everyone else was moving on.
When I focussed on what used to make me happy before I had children, which I couldn’t now manage to do, or what I wanted to achieve but couldn’t, I would only feel disappointed, frustrated, and, well, martyr-ish.
A new study has shown that parents who are more child-centric, meaning that they spent more time with and resources on their children, and time talking and thinking about their children derived more happiness from their children than parents who were less focused on their kids.
Child-centric parents also reported less negative moods when dealing with their children, and more meaning in their lives because of their childrearing role.
As I read about this study I realised that my weekly habit of writing down what I was grateful for in the previous week in regards to my role as a parent, had contributed to me becoming gradually more child-centric over time. So much so that I’d forgotten how I used to feel when the weight of motherhood first really settled on me.
That weight now feels more like the yoke Jesus promised us, the burden that is light because he is here carrying it with us. My practice of trying see where God is in my daily life, each and every week, helps me to see much more clearly what is really going on. I can see, for example, how the enforced asceticism of life with young children and relatively limited resources can be in many ways a source of parents’ personal and spiritual growth.
I still have similar limits in my life but I see them in a much more positive light now. I don’t pine for old or lost opportunities anymore. I couldn’t care less about buying magazines, going to the movies, or writing in-depth articles for mainstream newspaper supplements.
I can still be selfish but overall I care much less about my own happiness and my own wishes. I’m just happy to be taking up Jesus’ yoke along with my spouse and best friend, and that is an incredibly freeing thing.