When I was asked to work with Center Parcs on their #ThisIsFamily campaign, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I’m sure it goes without saying that family is everything to me and I still pinch myself every single day that these four beautiful children are mine to keep. Still, that doesn’t mean that finding time for the six of us comes easily, and Center Parcs knows that. They know that life can be be hard, juggling children, juggling school, work, friends, and all of our other commitments, which is why, when you escape for a stay at Center Parcs, they allow you to give your family the very best version of yourself, away from the stress, away from distractions, just living in the moment, surrounded by nature.
Fourteen years ago, when I was handed my beautiful baby boy and became a Mummy for the first time, I had no idea just how much my life was about to change. From the moment I left that hospital, driving home at 20mph the whole way, gripping the car seat like my life depended on it, I promised myself that I would do everything in my power to be the best Mummy to my son.
And, five children later, I have tried hard to keep that promise, but it hasn’t always been easy. Because it turns out that being a Mum is so much harder than I ever thought it would be and I’m not ashamed to admit that I struggle at times. I doubt that many of us are the parent we thought we would be, and certainly not the parent we hoped to be, but all of us are doing the best we can, juggling all of these different roles, and trying our very hardest to keep our balls in the air.
For me, being a Mum starts right at the beginning, from that very first moment they are placed on your chest, all tiny and pink, their arms flailing and screaming at the top of their lungs. And from the very first time they take their little hand in yours, you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that they were worth all of that pain, and that you will never love anyone so strongly, or protect anyone so fiercely, as you do right there in that moment.
Being a Mum is all about learning. It’s the moment when you take them home and realise you may as well throw the baby manual out of the window, that your baby has individual wants and needs and the only person who can figure that out is you. It’s about learning to trust your instinct, even on the days you might doubt yourself, doing what is right for you and your child, even if that goes against popular opinion, and knowing that there will be times when you have zero clue what you’re doing, but you’re doing the best you can on any given day. And that is enough.
Being a Mum is about sacrifice – your body, your time, your sleep, your social life. It’s sacrificing a career you love so you can be at home with the children, or returning to work to support your family, even when it pains you. It’s turning down invitations because you can’t get a sitter, or cancelling at the last minute when one of the children inevitably falls ill. It’s sacrificing shopping trips for swimming lessons, expensive meals out for burger and chips, wild nights out for quiet nights in, Sunday morning lie-ins for 5am wake ups. It’s making these sacrifices because you want to, and doing it even when you don’t; it’s knowing that however much you miss your sleep, your spare time, your privacy, you still wouldn’t change it for all the world.
Being a Mum is about pride. The first time they smile, roll, sit, crawl, take their first wobbly steps towards your open arms and utter their first word, Mama. It’s the feeling your heart may burst when you see them on a stage, a tea towel on their head, singing at the top of their voice in their first school nativity; it’s the lump in your throat at parents evenings or awards night, when you realise you must be doing something right to have raised a child so smart, so talented, so highly thought of. It’s the rush of love when you catch a glimpse of them from a distance, the way their hair falls in soft curls against their neck, the flush of their cheeks, the twinkle in their eye, and you ask yourself, for the millionth time, how did I ever got so lucky?
Being a Mum is about worry. It’s the nights spent sleeping on their bedroom floor when they’re poorly, staying awake just to check they’re still breathing, sitting bolt upright with every cough, every sneeze, every whimper. It’s the nights when you drive like a maniac to the emergency doctor, spiking a temperature you just can’t bring down, the days sat by their bedside on a busy children’s ward, watching their little chest rise and fall. It’s wiping snotty noses and bloody knees, kissing bumps and nursing bruises, stroking sweaty heads and protecting broken bones, wishing you could switch places and take their pain away.
Being a Mum is about patience. It’s biting your tongue when they stumble over the right words, when they take an hour just to eat a few mouthfuls, when they insist on buttoning their own coats or fastening their own shoe laces. It’s silently counting to ten when they take forever to clean their teeth, reminding yourself that it’s not the end of the world to be late, for the fourth time running that week. It’s giving in and watching Cbeebies, even when the sight of Mr Tumble makes you want to gouge your own eyes out, it’s faking laughter when you fail to see the hilarity of watching Daddy Pig and his big fat tummy for the nineteenth time that day.
Being a Mum is about letting go. It’s taking them to their first day of pre-school, to primary and high school, waving them goodbye and feeling as though your heart is breaking. It’s the silent tears as you walk away, the desperate sobs on the drive home, the harsh realisation that your babies are growing up and that time is passing by so fast. It’s the feeling of dread the first time you drop them at a party or a play date, the knot in your stomach the first time you let them play out with friends, the rush of panic as they disappear from view and the nervous pacing until they are back in your arms. It’s the sudden realisation that they are almost as tall as you, their feet two sizes bigger, that somehow you have failed to notice they are no longer a child at all, that you are no longer the centre of their world.
Being a Mum is about love. The kind of love that is unexplicable, unconditional, immeasurable. It’s the cuddles, the kisses, the moments that make your heart melt. It’s a hand made Mothers Day Card, a wilted bunch of daisies in a grubby hand, a tired little face kissing you goodnight, the moments when they turn to you and tell you, “Mummy, I will love you forever!”.
Being a Mum is about loss. It’s about the moment we learn the heartbreaking truth that not every pregnancy results in a healthy baby, that there are Mum’s out there with empty arms, those who had to say goodbye, some even before their journeys began. It’s about learning how to parent a baby you never met, or whom you can no longer see, learning how to survive when your whole world has ended, when you’re not even sure you can find a way forward.
Being a Mum is about being strong, even on the days when you’re struggling. It’s about forcing yourself to get out of bed in the morning, put one foot in front of the other, and blindly navigate a life after loss. It’s about coping with the worry for existing or subsequent children, the anxiety which keeps you awake at night, the fear of history repeating itself, processing the why’s and the what if’s. It’s about accepting, that although all you have are broken hopes and dreams, a scan photo, a babygro, a grave to visit, you are still very much their Mummy, and always will be.
Being a Mum is about putting your child first even when your whole world is upside down, even at the times when your heart is breaking. It’s about embracing a lifetime you didn’t plan for, waving your child goodbye every other weekend, taking an interest in step-parents, new siblings, a whole life you are no longer a part of. It’s about swallowing your pride, forgiving mistakes, working as a team, and doing the right thing for your child, even when it doesn’t feel like the right thing for you.
Being a Mum is about knowing when to pick your battles, leaving the room when your temper is rising, allowing yourself to remember that you too were 14 once and a few clothes on the floor or dirty dishes in the sink isn’t the end of the world. It’s finding the right balance, the right ground rules, the right amount of honesty and guidance; it’s about knowing when to be a Mum and when to be a friend. It’s about learning how to keep them close without wanting to push them away, about respecting their privacy without turning a blind eye. It’s about teaching them right from wrong, raising them to have good values, trusting them to make the right decisions, and forgiving them when they don’t.
Being a Mum is about having fun. It’s the funny faces and silly voices, singing songs and reading stories, playing games and running races. It’s about splashing in the sea on Summer days, building sandcastles on golden sands, eating ice cream and fish and chips, staying up late and lazy mornings. It’s watching Frozen on repeat, belting out your part during the Anna and Elsa duet; it’s playing Hungry Hippos for the fifty millionth time since Christmas, and still always letting them win. It’s stepping on Lego, drinking pretend cups of tea, blowing out candles on a make believe birthday cake, pushing them on the swings when your so cold you can’t feel your hands.
Being a Mum is about being a parent, a carer, a cleaner, a chef. It’s being a nurse, a teacher, a referee, a taxi driver. It’s being the Tooth Fairy, Father Christmas, and the Easter Bunny. It’s spinning all of your plates at the same time, tearing yourself in two, making sacrifices, doubting your abilities, your strength, your sanity. It’s the laughter, the cries, the relentless screams, the moments when you look at yourself and wonder, when did I turn into my own Mother? It’s the good days the bad days, the hiding in a cupboard eating chocolate days; it’s the ordinary and the extraordinary, the moments you want to remember and the ones you’d rather forget.
But it’s this, all of this, that makes up a Mum and sometimes, every once in a while, we can escape all of our worries, and all of our daily chores, and soak up every last moment of family time together, just being the very best version of ourselves. And those moments, and these memories, are the ones we will always remember.
I am Laura Dove. Mum, wife, daughter, friend, blogger, chief negotiator, lecturer, professional worrier, master of disguising vegetables, and former Wispa addict.
And this is family.
** I am working with Center Parcs on their #ThisIsFamily campaign and have been compensated for my time. All words and opinions are my own. **