The inconvenient truth about parenting is, it is inconvenient. It stops you doing what you want to do. It derails your plans. It changes your dreams.
I was a teenager (17) when my first son was born. Mentally, I was not in a good place before he was born. I did not know who I was and nor did I know what I wanted to do with my life. I was failing my exams and fighting with my father. The only two things I excelled in were polo and gymnastics. I was physically gifted so gymnastics was easy. As for polo, I loved hanging out in the stables and exercising the ponies, so despite being a left-hander, I became good at the sport.
In the latter stages of my pregnancy, I became depressed. I could no longer do what I loved. But never mind, I told myself. New life. I looked forward to the birth (yay, a real-life dolly) but it did not take long for the realisation to hit: babies are inconvenient.
Even much-wanted babies are inconvenient. You have to possess military precision just to take them to the shops, with nappies, baby wipes, spare change of clothes and other paraphernalia in the bag. Just for a little trip to the shops! For someone who was not into bags and who was spontaneous, I struggled. I sometimes think I breastfed my babies for the longest periods out of convenience – no way would I ever be organised enough to sterilise bottles and make sure there is enough formula milk in the house. But breastfeeding was also inconvenient – my baby was permanently attached to me. If I wanted to leave him with my Ma for a couple of days, it meant lots of pumping in the days before until I felt sore and bruised. Poor cows. Poor me.
I did not enjoy parenting in the early years.
Your vibes speak louder than your words. And though I love my eldest son dearly, he and I have always had that slightly more difficult relationship. He could pick up my vibes. He was the one who stopped my Olympic glory. He was the one who put me on the career path that I hated. He was the one who took away my childhood. He was the one who changed the course of my life.
The thing is, he changed my life for the better. It took me a couple of years into motherhood to realise this, that there is nothing more fulfilling and rewarding than a happy family life. I had to scale down my ambitions a bit, but in absolute terms, I lived a better, more balanced and infinitely more joyous life as a mother in a happy, crazy household. The years of being a mother are the best ones in my life, despite the inconvenience. I am writing books about it.
Even at 48, having achieved all my ambitions and have four grown-up kids, I still find it inconvenient sometimes to be a parent to a 16 year old, if truth is to be told.
My children’s father is a living testimony that parenting is inconvenient, but IF you accept it and bear it without resentment or grumbling, life is better all round and your children flourish. It took him time too, to get his head round the idea but once he did, he embraced parenting whole-heartedly and with all his energy. We began the most meaningful chapter in our lives as we focussed 100% on building a beautiful existence in Manchester, 250 miles from home. We had to move to Manchester because it was the only university with affordable creche for babies that was on campus. We had to leave our old lives in the South behind. But 30 years on, he still embraces the inconvenience with a smile on his face.
This was he, two days after his knee operation. He should be resting his knee. Instead, he was hobbling around on his crutches because of our youngest daughter.
She was playing football with the boys that day, and he was a bit concerned that she might get injured because she is the fearless type of footballer who would try to win the ball even if it puts her in hospital. It had, with severe concussion, in recent weeks. And these were powerful boys, who won the Asia Cup Championships in Bangkok last month.
So her father tanked himself up with medication, painkillers and anti-nausea (he was sick from the morphine from the surgery) and stood anxiously at the sidelines in the hot tropical sun for the duration of the match.
Once again, he reminded me that we do our best job when we are passionate about and committed to the venture. Yes, to raise emotionally balanced and happy kids, we must embrace that inconvenience with a generosity of heart and a big smile.
(Note: I was under a tree nearby with my laptop, working on my next parenting book).