You may have heard the term FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out. Well, today, I want to write about a different, yet related kind of FOMO, which feels particularly relevant at the moment: the Frustration of Motherhood Obligations.
In my experience, even at the best of times, being a mum feels a bit like being in a circus: I’m walking a tightrope, juggling, keeping a lot of plates spinning, taming lions, and occasionally playing with fire. As time goes on, it has become easier and even automatic to put my child’s needs first, to factor him into any decisions from the smallest, like what we’re going to do to fill the afternoon, to the biggest, like whether to move house or take up a different job. I normally quite enjoy the challenge of trying to balance all this stuff, though I’ve struggled at times and it’s definitely been a learning curve. But in the current situation, motherhood feels more like I’m stuck playing a constant version of that logic puzzle about getting across a river with a dog, a hen, and a sack of corn; or trying to work, look after my son, keep the house standing, and find something to say to my husband that isn’t related to organising our time. Those spinning plates, like these mixed metaphors, feel at constant risk of coming crashing down.
It’s true that a couple of things are currently easier. As nobody can go out at the moment, our “grown-up” social life has actually improved: we can have Zoom dinners with friends or family that save us the trouble of finding a babysitter, for example. Plus, we’ve had more time with the three of us at home than we have since my husband was on paternity leave: the walks we’ve been having around our neighbourhood most days in search of rainbows are a particular highlight (thank you, whoever came up with that idea, because you’re a genius). But pretty much everything else is a challenge. When my husband is working from home, we needle each other, competing for the working time and the moral high ground. When he’s not working from home, I oscillate between panic at not being able to do anything at all as the house gets messier around me and a kind of numb, detached torpor. I am constantly calculating how much time I need to do the things I need to do, and mostly getting it wrong because I haven’t factored in the fact that everything seems to be taking me longer these days. I tell myself that I’ll be able to take it easier tomorrow, or at the weekend, or next week, but it’s always in the future, never now. I’ve always tried to keep my life busy, but now I feel paralysed: I want to help people through The Motherkind Café, I want to do my job, I want to keep up with my friends and be part of an internet choir and try lockdown yoga and maybe even write a bit. But instead, all I can feel is FOMO, like a dog eyeing my chicken, or a small child making worryingly enthusiastic moves towards my laptop.
I’ve written before about the challenge of keeping my child occupied in these conditions, but that feels like a small piece of a much bigger problem. No matter how many other things I need to do, I just can’t put this damned chicken down, even though the dog is ripping up my sofa cushions. The frustration of trying to deal with all this stuff is almost worse than having to deal with it all in the first place. I think the actual answer is that I just can’t do everything I want to do, and I know this, on some level, though I haven’t quite given up trying. The point of the puzzle, after all, is that you do it in stages, and sometimes you have to go backwards as well as forwards. I think I might have to let the chicken eat some of the corn from time to time, as long as it’s safe from the dog. Or let the toddler have some tablet time if it saves my sanity and stops him scaling the television. Whatever works. I don’t think there’s a way to get rid of my FOMO, but I guess this is a start: work out what I can leave aside for now, avoid leaving anything in a dangerous situation, and go backwards and forwards a few times until we all get to the other side.