Another thing I want you to know about is me that I’m a mum. Before you start moving towards the Back button, this will not become a mummy blog. As if I am an authority on parenting, I’ve only been doing this (part time, at that!) for 2 years. Part time, because I’d been studying undergrad and my mother felt it was more important for me to finish school than halt operations to take care of my child. And now I am, the next step is to find work and getting closer to him being able to live with me.
I’m lucky to have people around me who understood why I didn’t live with my child; the mummy forums I sought advice from were not as understanding. I remember mentioning on one thread that my son stays with my grandma while I’m at school and the responses I got were unexpected. I had numerous other mums tell me that I was doing a disservice to my son by not being there with him, and others said that they juggled motherhood and jobs as well as education, therefore I had no excuse to not be raising my child. That was 2 years ago and it honestly still hurts me, and it showed me how little people from Western countries knew about African family dynamics.
They didn’t understand that this wasn’t me dumping my child with my grandma so I can go and live it up at university. They didn’t understand that my grandma was more than happy to take care of him and it went without saying that whenever I had a break I’d go home to see him. They didn’t understand that my parents preferred me to stay in school rather than drop out, move into my grandma’s house and raise him myself (which I honestly thought they would do, to punish me). They couldn’t get into their narrow-minded heads that that’s how many families do it in Africa. Hell, not even just in Africa; this is how it is across the whole world. But hey, a lot of people are incapable of imagining lives being lived in ways different to what they’re used to.
I’m fortunate that I didn’t get that type of dissent from people I attended university with. Even when I announced my pregnancy, the majority of responses were congratulations which I was happy to receive especially since I was not in a good place then. Other responses included “do your parents know?” and “how do you feel?”, but the one I hated to hear was “where is the father?”.
As if people have never seen a single mother before. And if you are wondering yourself where he is, I don’t know. It’s a sad thing that he decided to disappear but I’m not letting that become my problem. Whatever the reasons were, it is not my issue. My child is being raised by a family that gives him love and that’s all that matters.
I know his father will return whenever he’s ready, whenever that will be. The only fear I have is what my mother will do to him.
Where I come from, single mothers are in abundance because too many girls and women had the misfortune of being impregnated by men who never planned to be fathers but were too insipid to wear condoms. Or they were basically not having responsible sex. Or they were raped and it resulted in a pregnancy. People always forget that last bit. So when I joined the club, there was no big hoo-hah. Surely people in my family didn’t expect it to be me but once my son was born, none of it mattered because my genes are mighty, yo. One thing no one can ever dispute is that my child is beautiful. Yeah, every mother says that but I’m serious.
Because of the way my anxiety is set up, I tend to second guess myself as a mother. I’d look at other women with children who were raising them full time and holding down a job, and I wondered if I could ever manage that. I envy their apparent strength. I felt as though I was merely my child’s mother by nature, but not nurture. I missed many of his developmental stages due to being at school. The way he’s grown in my eyes has been sporadic and accelerated because for the past 2 years, I’d be at school then go see him then leave, then return a few months later and spend more time with him only to leave later on. I feared that my common absence would affect how he perceived me. I feared most of all that he’d think my grandmother or my cousin (who lives with her) is his mother instead. Here I sit next to him while he comprehends the Rubiks cube he’s holding, and I realise that I never had anything to worry about. He calls me Mummy.
It has been almost 3 months since the last time I saw him and I guess I chose to take a vacation because I missed him so much and I honestly couldn’t have carried on without seeing him at least once. Before this week, I was a total wreck; I neglected my health (not eating a lot, not sleeping enough, not drinking enough water) though I was going to gym regularly, I missed my sisters, and with the job hunt not making progress I felt like I had no purpose. Even once I didn’t need to keep looking for vacancies, I was at a loss on what to do with myself. Looking for new music didn’t interest me either (and it usually does). I felt empty.
With him, I’m caught up running after him and making sure he’s not being troublesome, that I hardly have time to think about anything else that could bother me. The first day that I took him home from the hospital was when it set in that I was now a mother and that made me afraid. I was so exhausted and all I wanted to do was rest. I wasn’t getting the hang of breastfeeding and I didn’t know how much he was getting and how long he even had to be latched on my breast for. I felt like such a failure already before things even started happening. Over time, I started to get into the flow of parenting but it was heartbreaking to leave him and return to school. For the first month back at school, every night before laying down to sleep, I would cry because I missed him so much. I would fall asleep looking at his adorable face on my phone. I made sure to always call my grandma to ask how he was doing. Soon, missing him and thinking of how much I love him started to envelop me in warmth rather than feel like a sharp pang. I also stopped being that parent who wouldn’t stop talking about their kid.
However, no matter how good I felt now that he was in my life, I felt like I was lacking something that he needed in a mother. Most of the mistakes I’ve made in my capacity as a mother involved forgetting important things when going on trips, losing stuff of his, or being unable to get him to eat (there was a time when he thought formula was his only necessary sustenance). All these things resulted in me getting a vicious verbal hiding from my mother. Without saying the exact words, she made me feel like I was a bad mother for not being able to be on top of everything when I needed to. I don’t believe she had it all together when she was around my age and she had me though…
My mother has always offered her criticisms of my parenting which didn’t help, while my grandmother constantly reassured me that I was doing the best job I could and it would only get better from here. Now, in 2016, I am more certain than ever that there is nothing wrong with my abilities as a parent, except that I just need more experience. People (including my mother) can tell me whatever they want about how I should raise my son – and I know there will always be someone with an unsolicited opinion – but the only person whose opinion I care about in that regard, is my son’s.