Better Than Me

Last night I found myself in the midst of a rare crisis. While my husband’s thunderous snores ripped through the quiet night air I lay awake staring that the ceiling, tears streaming down the sides of my cheeks and puddling in my ear drums. I was thinking about my children. That in itself is not the rarity; the nature of my thoughts was.

My thoughts were honed in on my girls. I was desperate to conjure up ways that I could make sure that they had the best life they could possibly have. I thought about my own failures and decisions and where they had landed me where I am today. My heart began to pound furiously within my chest. I didn’t like what I was thinking, but it had to be said.

Dear God, I begged. Please don’t let my girls grow up to me like me.

While all my kids are incredibly perceptive, Nadjah my first born is especially so. It’s not difficult for her to ascertain when something is awry or altered. From a burnt out bulb in the living room to a frown on her mother’s face, she’s usually the first to notice it. And these days, I’ve been frowning quite a bit.

With 4 kids traipsing through my house and constantly tearing up my belongings, it’s hard to keep a grin plastered on my face. If I’m truly honest, I’m not enjoying my life as it is…I’m just coping. I don’t want that for my girls at all. I want them to enjoy life, not merely endure it.

I only realized the long term effects of my demeanor about a week ago when I was changing Liya’s pull up. She was laying on the floor with her legs spread-eagled, eagerly waiting for me to wipe out the thick, pasty brown gunk she’d discharged from her bowels into her pants. There was pile of ripped construction paper near her head where Stone had carelessly discarded them about an hour before. Toys were all over the place and the TV was blaring. It was little wonder therefore that I was scowling. My temples were pounding.

“Mommy?”

“Yes, Nadjah?” I snapped. She was always asking questions, and while I don’t want to dampen her inquisitive nature, I could’ve done without another barrage of mindless questions.

“You work very hard, don’t you?” she asked gravely.

I pulled Liya’s training pants up and stood her up. She scampered off to get into more mischief.

“Yeah,” I replied. “I guess I do.”

“You don’t seem very happy,” she pressed. “Are you sad that you had so many children?”

The question startled me. Had I given that impression? Did she think that I’d regretted her birth? I ran down a list of things I’d blurted out at my children in my frequent moments of exasperation. Perhaps that day I yelled “you people must want me to die!” had something to do with this new line of questioning. (That’s just a hunch.)

I gave her the obvious answer – the one that was most appropriate in this instance.

“Of course I’m not sad that I had this many kids!” I said a little too adamantly, my voice squeaking. I didn’t want to protest too much. That would belie insincerity and she would be sure to sniff it out.

“I’m only going to have 2 children. Maybe even only one,” she said matter-of-factly. “Four children is too much work.”

“Yes, it is a lot of work,” I agreed absently.

I looked at my daughter really hard for the first time since she had initiated the conversation. Her eyes were downcast, as if in deep thought.

“When I was your age, I wasn’t thinking about how many kids I was going to have,” chuckling quietly and trying to lighten the mood. She’s barely 8 years old!

“Well, maybe you should have spent more time thinking about it,” she countered.

Well what do you say to that? I had no retort, at least not one that wouldn’t damage her self-esteem. I decided to do the dishes instead.

Look, I know that there are women out there who desperately wish that they could be blessed with as many as I have been, but their wombs will/can not accommodate a baby. They might read this post and consider me an ungrateful cow. I should look at my filthy house and endless piles of laundry with fondness and gratitude. I should think of my daily drudgery as a sacrament, not a sacrifice. Well that’s all well and dandy, but this life definitely isn’t the one I’d choose for my daughters. I want them to smell and look pretty all the time. I want them to eat three square meals a day. I want them to finish drink of water uninterrupted and at their leisure! I want their education to mean something. I don’t want their creativity to suffer because of the traditional obligations of marriage and child-rearing that is the mantle of millions of women around the world; many of whom who never get a chance to reach their full potential.

I don’t want them to be like me.

It’s such a weird and painful dichotomy. I know that without the burden of raising my children I could be so much more; but BECAUSE I have given birth to these quirky, funny, beautiful little individuals I AM so much more than I once was.

I suppose the heart of the matter is that I don’t want my girls to grow up with any regrets about any choice they make in their adult lives…but that’s wishful thinking; foolish almost. But if I had one wish, I’d hope that my girls would scribble down a list of society’s expectations for them on an enormous canvas and immediately take a hot, massive dump on them. I think every woman should be able to live by her own rules, as long as they bring her physical and spiritual health.

I’m really conflicted on how to present motherhood to my girls. I don’t want them to dread the prospect of ever having kids, but I don’t want to sell them a story and deceive them into thinking that it’s something that it’s not. It’s not all glitter and gladness. There are days when I am flat out unhappy.
I had an honest conversation with a friend a few weeks ago, and she asked me if I thought that being married and having kids had ruined my life.

“No,” I said, after giving it some thought. “I wouldn’t say it’s ruined my life. It’s just altered it so that it’s barely recognizable.”

That’s my truth.

****
Are you raising a daughter? Do you feel like you’re the best example of womanhood to your girl-child? Do you ever feel like your life choices have failed her? What one piece of advice would you give her if you knew it would guarantee her happiness? I’d love to hear.

  • Thank you for sharing with us, this is precisely my impression, many women suffer because of what their life has turned into when they got married and had children, but it’s such a taboo to ever say it aloud… My personal consequence of this is that I have decided not to have children and in all probability forget about marriage, too. You have so much more options and nothing stops you from living in a good relationship, but free of ties which will only start being felt when at least one of the two involved wants to walk out. I wonder what would happen if all the mothers and wives of the world spoke their minds with 100% honesty and 100% uncensored for just 1 day. Who would still follow the footsteps that the entire society wants to force on girls and women by all sorts of pressure and lies if the women just took the freedom to say aloud how really feel? Could the men continue to be in denial then? Or would it mean change at last?

    • I think it’s great that you’ve made this decision. And for the woman who has only ever wanted to be married and have kids, I hope she gets that too!

      I guess my point is that you can’t cut the same cloth for every woman and expect us it to fit and flatter us all the same way.

      Don’t get me wrong: there were days when I was equally unhappy as a motherless single. However I was in more control of changing my circumstances because I didn’t have as many responsibilities. I love my husband and vice versa. What I want for my girls is perfect timing for their family in THEIR estimation, not society’s.

      Attitudes are changing in Africa, but in my generation and before there was so much pressure to get married and have kids by a certain age. And then there was pressure to have more and more kids after that! These things are all wonderful, but they can have tragic consequences if the woman is not ready to indulge them. I would hate for my girls to feel like they missed opportunities because they fell slave to a man made time table.

  • Rasheeda

    I had to ponder over this before I could respond, since I don’t have a daughter, yet. But I am a daughter. So let’s just jump in the Delorean for a second, shall we, and take a look at how your kids may see you in the future. I’m almost 30 and I’m my mothers youngest. When I decided to get married I understood my mother more than I ever did as a child. I understood her choices (or lack there of),her hopes and dreams and her shortcomings. And I was humbled. I got her. In a new way. I got that the way she lived and loved was a direct reflection of why I turned out this way (good and bad) and I was grateful. Grateful for her mistakes and her successes. We never once talked about marriage or kids but she never sugar coated her life. It wasn’t always roses and there was hard/crazy/mind numbing work but we had a great life and she is immensely proud of her choices,now, even if in the moment she was yelling her head off at us. So I guess when I have a daughter, I’d want her to have the right regrets. Because she will have them, but I want her to say, I looked at the options, I chose this one, and I’m ok with that even if I miss the other stuff I could be doing. I think girls are sold a bad bill of goods thinking they can have everything, all the time, it’s just not possible. But you have to be confident (even if it makes you sad sometimes) with your choices. Because sometimes there’s a little girl watching who may have to make similar choices, and she’ll understand it better when she’s older.

  • AngelOfLight

    I’m the first born of five children who were raised more or less singlehandedly by my mom, and I know precisely what you’re saying; it was written all over her face and I could see it. I watched as the burden of bringing us up steadily snuffed the very life out of her. Add to that a husband who was barely home and I guess anyone would understand why she died prematurily in her late 30s. I swore to myself that I’d never have kids of my own! My wife has seven siblings and her childhood wasn’t unlike mine (if not worse, because my in-laws were religious fundamentalist freaks. Man you should listen to her tell her stories!). For the love of me I don’t quite understand why she’s pushing for more children than our sole, adorable 3 year old son!

  • Nana Ama

    Ms. M, wanting a better life for your daughters is writ in capitals and bold lettering (Helvetica, no less!) in the Job Description and Person Spec of Motherhood. Go on, check it out on Page 1 of that (Invisible) Parenting Handbook!:)

    On my mother side, I come from a long line of firstborn girls. I have two sisters, and I am the mother of two girls. I went to an all girls school for 11 years, where 98% of my teachers were female. At home and in the extended family, I was fortunate to be mentored and moulded by some amazing women. With all the options that they lived and pointed out to me, I still made decisions that disappointed some of them.

    But I KNOW that like them (both the wackos and the good women who carried me along), all I can do, is to be the best I can be for my two daughters. So that in their turn, they can have values to guide their decisions, and learn to live with them, good or bad!

    Over the years I have realised that a mother is the role model her daughters will refer to, for all the decisions they will ever make, good or bad. So just be the best you can ever be and leave them to live their lives to the fullest of their ability. You can guide them, but however much you want to, you cannot live their decisions for them!

    Oh, and if you think caring for kids at the age your children currently are is an unending chore, just wait till they are teenagers! You will be craving for the times when you were hauling up Pull-Ups!:):)

  • I am quite happy reading this since I so relate to it. As you said, one man’s meat is another’s poison. I wanted more children, but since I have so little time with mine coz I am a busy top level professional, the thought of having to stay home for three months on maternity leave is simply unacceptable at this time. My two children are raised primarily by help, I have like half an hour before bedtime and the drive to school in the morning to catch up with them during the week. On weekends, when I am in town, its bribery by going out and “having fun” to try and make them forget that if aunty was not there to make their meals, they probably would be eating chips (fries) on a daily basis.

    I come home with stress that belongs to everyone else except my nearest and dearest. I conquer the professional world, but don’t know how to talk to my children. When something really bothers them, I actually call my sister to have a heart to heart with them. Malaka, you feel run down and tired, that is part of motherhood. But as my mum tells me, the only thing your children don’t get to keep is their childhood. In 10 years they will all have transitioned and diapers will actually be a fond memory.

    I mean, we cannot have it all. We have to choose one and leave one. Either we are chasing our rainbows and living for our pursuits, or we become home makers, and offer the ultimate sacrifice of laying down our lives for those we love. I am trying to do both, and I know where I have failed.

    The lives of our children are theirs to unpack and to explore. All we can do is give them the tools to do this. We can let them make choices and mistakes and regrets. What I have refused to do, is to believe that there is a way that is right for women. If you don’t do this you will be undone. However, I have also come to believe, if I don’t have it all together, that is fine as well. Thanks for opening this can of worms. We have to look and look again at our choices.

  • Zulekha

    I come from a line of independent women, some angry some just so classy!. I would like to think I am a role model to my daughter, for setting the standard high, when it comes to expectations of what a woman can be or do. I am a single mother, and work hard to give both myself and my daughter a good quality life – Saying that, I still feel I havent done enough. I still feel guilty that she grew up without a father , a male role model. Last year, I made contact and forced[in a good way] her father to be part of her life, only for my daughter to tell me that was futile attempt as she has already resigned to the knowledge he[her father] has nothing to offer her and she is okay with that as long as am by her side. I am now worried, of the impact this realisation of her has or will have in her future choices when it comes to men. We have gone through some rough times, when she just couldnt see how beautiful she was – raising black young women is not an easy, when everything that is said or called beautiful doesnt resemble them. I have started to embedd in her, that she needs to live for now, not tomorrow nor yesterday. I am also changing myself so to teach her that it can be done, one can change if one has got the will. We are both learning to relax, enjoy ourselves and take care of our mind and body. I hope she will take whatever positve from me and loose whatever negative from me…Am only human afterall.

  • The questions I have been re-asking lately if women can really have the best of both worlds. Came to conclusion that it is possible but not without challenges, especially with having 4 children.
    I am a mother of one, a 3 yr old girl. Little girls are smart. She knows when I am not happy, when she says to me “its ok mama, don’t be sad”. It takes me back, especially when I am upset with her poor tiny self.
    With one child and no help, getting to my dreams is near impossible. When I want to be out there networking with other women, I can’t because I have to rush from sch and pick her up from daycare. I wish I had someone else to do that for me. Sometimes I battle with myself to send her to Ghana so I could have the life I want, but then it hits me, she is the only one I have, and I don’t want to miss the memory we are making together. My mother passed early and I don’t know what my time with her was like. i would not want to miss my daughters childhood.
    I believe my litte girl is going to be a true reflection of me. I want her to be like me, the current me! I married her father at 24 and had her a year later. After becoming a mother, myself confidence become low, I felt unworthy and unaccomplished. That feeling came from the fact that, I had drop out of college to follow this man to a new city and marry him so he can get his papers. Things changed after he got the documents. I felt no love, my life was stagnant. I was a woman with lots of dreams but they were diminishing away before my eyes. Big mistake was in thinking this man can help me get to my dreams, not true, not all men will help their women rise to the top.
    Then he said he wanted a son, I was like whaaaaaaaaaaaaat! I told myslef girl wake up! So yes I left my marriage, I did not want to be married anymore after 3 years.
    I took my daughter and we left, that was 6 months ago. I am in a new city, moved back in with my father and returned to school.
    My daughter is growing fast and I want to achieve something before starts to ask questions like your daughter is asking now.
    I want her to know she has choices available always. She should never feel like she has to stick to the decisions she made just because she made them. She could always change her mind to work in her favour. I would advice my daughter to make sure she is happy before getting married, by that I mean she shld have something going for herself before she settles. People told me I could still go after my dreams while married and I can make the marriage work. Errm no I can’t, this guy was not helping me out at all. When I had the baby, I had zero self-esteem, felt like the world was passing me by. I married when I was not ready, that was my failure which has set me back a few years, but I am on track to havng the life I have always dreamed. And Nothing will stop me this time around! lol