When I was 21, I gave birth to the most beautiful little girl I had ever seen. She was so tiny, only weighed 2,4kg and had a sweet temperament. I have many gaps in my memory from her earlier years because, as I realised years later, I suffered from postpartum depression. I was on autopilot and really struggled with the pressure of being a single parent and the anxiety because of my uncertainty about my future, being a young, single parent and all. Add to that the resentment of having had a child with a ghost of a man. It was way too much for me to handle and when I wasn’t being suffocated by the depression, I was angry.
Reflecting on my journey as a parent, what I wish we spoke more about was how, even with all the love we have for our children, there are so many moments where we want to tap out. I know I have. I’ve had times where my mental and emotional wellbeing were suppressed because I had to “show up” as a mom. And I paid the price for that. We both did.
Life has very challenging moments and seasons. We deal with financial pressure, worsened when you’re an underpaid Black woman. We deal with heartbreak. We deal with the strain of being in toxic work environments. We deal with the strain of being conflicted by what we want to do and what is expected of us. We deal with the strain of running households and making sure everyone is taken care of, fed, homework done, bathed and healthy. And with all of that, there are little faces that expect us to show up in the same way, with the same energy, all the time.
I can’t tell you how many nights my pillows caught tears of exhaustion, hopelessness, frustration, resentment, fear and guilt. It made me irritable, short-tempered and unhappy.
I felt guilty about wishing I could go away and be alone for a day or two. I felt guilty about wanting to shut my door and tell my daughter to just give me some alone time, some quiet time. I felt guilty about wanting to say, “Not today. I don’t have anything to pour into you today because I am empty.”
And then there’d be the days when you’re barely holding it together that your child decides is the perfect day for them to throw tantrums about everything, including having to go to school. And so, you have a stand-off on the staircase while she sulks and you talk yourself off the ledge (or out of yanking her). I still ask myself what the balance is where discipline is concerned or when she tries to push (or disrespect) my boundaries. These are questions I’ll probably have until she’s an adult and out of the house.
I still don’t understand why we’ve been socialised into thinking that being a parent (specifically, a mom) means you’re less human or less entitled to time to regroup and replenish your heart and mind – away from your kids.
As my daughter got older, I learned to get comfortable with telling her when I needed a time out and when I just couldn’t engage. I would tell her I need some time to myself for x amount of time and I would come back and give her my attention. She took it well, although every now and then, she may not respond well because she still sometimes forgets that I am Sihle before I’m “Mommy”, so I have to take care of myself. I have to continuously remind us both that I am deserving and worthy of that time and care.
Being a parent is hard and it’s more important than ever for us to discover the things that bring us joy, renew our spirits and replenish our cups so that they may overflow again. We also need to free ourselves from feelings of guilt and shame for needing to take care of ourselves. As they say, you cannot give what you do not have or pour from an empty cup. We owe it to ourselves to choose ourselves, too.