JJ Barnes

JJ Barnes writes about parenting, feminism, current affairs and writing

By - JJBarnes

I can only be the kind of mother I am… and sometimes it’s not who they want me to be.

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I have a six year old daughter, a three year old daughter, and a six year old step son. I love them all fiercely, I would kill and die for these children, and I try to be the best mother I can be to them. But the big two are old enough to compare me to other mothers. And I often do not come off favourably.

Whilst the little one would love it if I spent more time sitting on the floor playing with play doh, or reading Hairy MacLary for the five hundredth time that day, or singing Head Shoulders Knees and Toes on and endless loop, she doesn’t really have the concept that other mothers are different.

The big two do. The girl can talk about the mothers who bake loads of cakes with their children from scratch, the mothers who put hours of time and effort into sewing fancy dress costumes for World Book Day, the mothers who are stay at home mothers and revel in spending hours on educational activities with their children. The boy can talk about his biological mother who is far more willing to buy him the toys, costumes and gadgets he wants than I have ever been. And they’re able to remind me why I’m an inferior mother because I don’t do those things. And to ask why not.

Why not.

Mom art.

The thing is, even if I was a stay at home mother I don’t think I could ever give them enough of my time and energy. Partly because I am too selfish, partly because I don’t think they’d ever feel they’ve had enough.

I can’t bake, so even if I was willing to turn my kitchen into a flour and batter covered swamp that I have to then spend hours cleaning up, I still wouldn’t be able to produce the results their friend’s mothers make. I’m too impatient to spend hours hand making costumes, and I find hours and hours of children’s activities to be so mind numbing that I know however good my intentions were, I’d flake out before half way, drink coffee and beg to be left alone. And when it comes to buying things, I’m pretty sure that even if I could afford to spend loads of money on toys and costumes and gadgets all the time that I wouldn’t do it anyway because it’s just not my parenting style.

So I’ll never be the mother they want me to be.

I’m the kind of mother I am.

My daughter, Rose McKinney, and her book.

Last night, after being quizzed and pushed about the things I’m unwilling to do, I got cross. I told them that I am the only mother, out of all the mothers they can compare me to, that is able to put my professional and personal energy into turning their story ideas into real books. I said it shows I respect them, I respect their brains, and the time and effort it takes to construct a book is a sign of the love and care I give to them. I told them maybe the other children are jealous that they get to be authors, and are not appreciating all the things their own mothers are doing for them.

I’m fairly certain that the mothers my children wished I could emulate are being unappreciated for all the things they do for their children, that my children wished I did, because they’re not doing the thing my children get from me. Because we are all trying to be the best mothers we can, but we’re all limited by the fact we’re only human, and not every mother is capable of doing everything their children desire.

I cannot be the mother who bakes and buys toys, it’s just not who I am. But I can be the mother who gives them a love of stories, and gives them an opportunity to have their story published and loved by others. I surround them with books and stories, teach them about books and stories, about how to create and how to value creativity. Perhaps it’s not the immediate pleasure of a freshly baked cake or the lifelong skills of how to bake one themselves, it’s not the fun of the new toy, but it still matters.

Being a mother is the most important job I have, and I know that’s a corny cliché sewn into tea towels and cushion covers, but it’s true. And being reminded of all the ways they’d wish I was a different, a better, mother hurts. But I have to accept it because I’m not entitled to their love, and they’re allowed to feel that way. But that doesn’t mean I won’t remind them of what it is I can give them, and what it is I am willing to do, and I won’t stop trying to make them appreciate that.

Me and my mum.

Perhaps as they grow they’ll realise other children’s mothers aren’t as perfect as they think, maybe they do things their children don’t like. Because mothers are all people just trying their best and feeling like they’re failing. All mothers are seeing what all the other mothers can or will do, and realising that it’s just not on the cards for them for whatever reason, and feeling immense guilt that other children get something their children don’t. But, in time, I really hope our children will come to realise that who we are as mothers is actually okay, and that the truth of us is enough.

My mother worked long hours and I envied the children with mother’s at home, but now my mother is one of the closest people in my life and I wouldn’t change her for the world. I don’t need her to change and be one of the other mothers, I need her to be who she is. I love her for who she is.

I hope my children will come to the same conclusion. I’m not the baker mum or the toy buyer mum, I’m the story mum. They love me, I know that, and I know they love that I put my time into writing their books. But they’re small, and they don’t fully understand why I can’t be everything and more.

Maybe when they’re older they’ll realise they don’t actually wish I was anything more. I’m the mum I am, I can’t be anybody else. And, just maybe, being the story mum is enough.

Click the picture to find details about all the books written by JJ Barnes and where to buy them.

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