With motherhood comes all sorts of lovely experiences and some, um, less lovely ones. The first time your child says “I wuv you” is lovely. The first time he vomits on your lap is not lovely. And yet, some of the things that really suck about parenthood have actually made me improve my coping skills in a number of areas.
Things the pre-child me simply couldn’t cope with just roll right off me like the peas my toddler placed on my head. So here are 5 ways motherhood has made me stronger.
Poo, vomit and other bodily effluvia does not phase me
Before I had kids, simply the smell of vomit would make me feel ill, let alone actually seeing it or, god forbid, touching it. Now, I can quite comfortably (and even intentionally) catch vomit with my bare hands. It may not be my favourite pastime, but I can handle it.
I don’t think twice about the odd smear of poo that may make its way onto my person. These things wash off so easily. It’s only a little bit stinky.
And, as a parent, sometimes picking bogeys out of another human’s nose is simply a necessity. You can try using a tissue but it doesn’t always get the job done. And I’d rather pick it and bin it than stare at it flapping out of my son’s nose all day.
All of this exposure to nasty, germy things means that I have very little fear of anything I might encounter late at night on public transport.
On my 8th birthday, I brushed my teeth and when I spit out the toothpaste, a partially-chewed spider came out of my mouth. This was an extremely traumatic experience which kicked off a lifelong fear of spiders.
I remember being 18 years old and finding a spider a big as two 50p coins in my bathroom. I called my dad to kill it for me, but he had decided to foster my emergent independence as a responsible adult by informing me I had to resolve the situation myself. I was too scared to squash it, so I dropped my 1500-page English Literature anthology on top of it and left it there for 2 days. When I finally got up the strength to remove the book, the spider simply got up and crawled away, never to be seen again. I neither killed it not removed it from the house, but it would appear I taught it a lesson!
In more recent years, married life has meant I always had an obliging husband to remove spiders for me. He is a kind and gentle soul and so catches them in the designated “spider cup” and throws them outside.
I coasted along in such a manner without facing my spider fear until I had kids. Now, there is a real problem because nothing is more spine-chill inducing than the notion of a creepy-crawly, fang-sporting, hairy spider crawling over your sweet, sweet baby’s face. And so suddenly I became both fearless and merciless when a spider comes anywhere near my children’s domain. I’ve caught them in cups, I’ve hoovered them up, washed them down the drain (even using an implement to make sure they really went right down) and even, on one occasion, picked one up by the leg and flung it out the window.
Thank you, motherhood, for teaching me that no spider is fiercer than a mother’s love.
Squatting, carrying, running and squeezing
We’ve covered squeamishness and visceral fear, but of course motherhood also makes you physically strong. The average observer may not be able to see our mum muscles, but I assure you they are there.
A mum can hold a wiggly baby to her breast whilst assisting a potty-training toddler in wiping his bottom.
She can wrestle a tantrumming toddler into a carseat or highchair.
She can climb a flight of stairs in a single bound if she hears a suspicious bang while the kids are in bed.
She can wiggle into narrow spaces to retrieve a much-loved toy.
She can squat for unreasonable amounts of time when needing to apply shoes or change a nappy in a less than hygienic area.
She can push a buggy, up and down hills and over grass or gravel, for untold hours until the little
bugger angel falls asleep.
She can carry her handbag, two children, an overstuffed changing bag, a potty and a bit of shopping with barely of bead of sweat appearing on her furrowed brow.
And we do all of this without (much) whinging. Pre-kids I would have collapsed in a heap if I had to do all that.
Pain, illness and lack of sleep
Everyone knows that childbirth hurts, but the bit that comes afterwards hurts even more because it lasts longer and nobody offers you any drugs to cope with it. We take our babies home when we are worn out and emotional, with stitches holding together either our stomach or our undercarriage. I had an emergency c-section after my first, and had burst blood vessels in my eyes and soft tissue injuries in my legs after my 2nd from pushing too hard. But in modern life we’re expected to just carry on. Maybe pop to the supermarket or take a nice(??) walk. In other cultures, women are allowed to stay in bed for a whole month after the baby is born!
Then some of us might get this lovely thing called mastitis. If you don’t know what it is, it’s a lovely infection inside your breast, which not only hurts the breast itself but gives you flu-like symptoms that make you feel like dying. And besides taking antibiotics you have to keep feeding the baby with your sore boob to help it get better. Ouch is an understatement.
Then of course there are the bugs. Have you ever tried to breastfeed in between bouts of vomiting? Or worse, cooking a meal for hungry children or changing a really stinky nappy? It might actually be my personal version of hell.
But I look back at the times I kept everyone alive when I felt like dying, and think it’s a pretty amazing achievement.
Keeping calm and carrying on
The final skill that motherhood has taught me is staying calm in the face of confrontation. I’m not going to say I’m always calm … but it takes more to throw me in a tailspin than it used to. Sometimes, I’m even calm with my own children. Mostly, this skill is employed outside the home when dealing with other adults. I know that it is very unlikely that, under everyday circumstances, an adult is going to scream in my face, kick me in the shins and lay on the floor screaming. And thus any confrontation is that much easier to deal with.
So the next time you feel like this parenthood gig is bringing you down, or you feel insecure about your parenting skills, just look back on your tired, sick, sore self, carrying heavy loads, vanquishing dangerous insects and catching vomit in your bare hands, and know that you are one strong mama.
What things can you do better now that you’ve faced the travails of raising small children?