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What it's like to not feel 'mumsy' enough

Tori Bowman Johnson

Tori Bowman Johnson

Tori, a freelance writer, has worked in production, talent management & branding since her agency role at Vivien’s Model Management in Melbourne in 2011. Tori has recently launched, The First Word; a conversational podcast for women, particularly those who juggle young children & paid work. Tori is also a very proud mum of two little boys.
Created on May 07, 2024 · 7 mins read
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I’d say it’s common for women to have an idea of who they will become when they have children. I thought I’d be a mix of Carol Brady from the Brady Bunch (calm, always positive, still freelancing and open to accepting help within the home) and Lorelei Gilmore from Gilmore Girls (chatty while forever trying to bring humour into each prickly, parental situation.  

Or maybe even Claire Dunphy from Modern Family, holding it together using her own quirky, mad method.

And then I remember back to my first Mother’s Group session. It was mid-afternoon on a Monday. I sat in the circle holding my baby and thought … ‘I don’t fit in here.’ The feeling had nothing to do with the parents sitting to my right and left, nor did it have anything to do with the lovely maternal health nurse running the session. But just fifteen minutes in, after going around the room contributing our own early experiences with lactation, sleep, and the current colour of our babies poop, I felt a deep sense of flatness. I felt a little depressed. Claustrophobic.

I also felt ashamed for feeling these feelings.

Sitting in that circle surrounded by crying babies (including my own crying baby), made my ears feel hot and my heart feel racy. It was such a beautiful day outside and suddenly I felt a cloud rupture the bliss. I felt cramped between the walls of the room, all of which were covered in posters telling me about SIDS, avoiding a flat-headed baby, and nipple care. I was so interested in my baby yet so disinterested in the weight of this particular parenting process. It just didn’t make me feel like me.

When the hour-long session wrapped, a WhatsApp group was formed. I noticed the others gathering around each other to talk and compare stories of their first few weeks as a parent. They showed each other their gadgets, laughed about shared experiences, and leaned into the friendship and the warm support on offer.

I, just left.

I couldn’t wait to walk out of there and go back home. An environment where I recognised myself.

As I walked myself and my baby home, leaving the hum of baby chatter behind me, I felt a little left out. Even though I was the one to bail so soon, there was an odd sense of exclusion rising.

Why didn’t I like it more? Or why didn’t I like it as much as they did? Why didn’t I feel as if I could relate to the people who had just experienced the same monumental, life-altering experience I had? What the hell was wrong with me?

As the weeks and months went by, I started to catch up with friends who had babies around the same age. While the topic of conversation would naturally hover over baby-related things, I continued to feel a sense of resistance. I just didn’t seem to gravitate towards the outward-facing maternal aspect of motherhood.

I was a mum who didn’t feel mumsy enough. I was a mum who felt flattened by baby topics in a social setting. I was a mum who seemed to be challenging her newly appointed title. I didn’t feel above anyone else – I felt miles below if I’m to be frank.

I was doing it all wrong. Surely?

I was meandering around the motherhood village, observing where I felt comfortable and learning what kind of voice could become mine in the song of parenting. I was maturing as a mother at a pace that was my own, while admittedly missing parts of my life before the baby was born. I was discovering an unknown terrain while blending old with new … and unfamiliar spaces with foreign feelings.

I was adjusting.

That was not me doing it wrong. That was me doing it my way.

And the way you do it, adapt to parenthood, will be your way. It will look different. It will feel different. It will be different.

I love being a mum. I also love that my curiosities about people and the world, dictates where my voice appears in social settings.

I love being a mum. I also accept that I am quite insular in my learning. I tend to read and ask close friends queries when we’re one-on-one, rather than opening up in group situations.

I love being a mum. I also know that I am easily overwhelmed in environments where there are big groups of people, a heightened sense of noise and lots of movement.

I love being a mum. I am also still very much connected to my pre-baby rituals and routines. This simply means I feel more present and able, when I’m in a familiar place.

I love being a mum. This love does not minimise the energy I derive from creative work projects. It actually energies them – hence this article.

I love being a mum. I also love being myself. My own person with ambitions, expectations, boundaries, hobbies, curiosities, skills, struggles, and character traits. I like that I’m a little awkward and too loud when I “should” be quiet. I like that I find comfort in alone time and books. I like that I feel secure enough now to parent the way I feel comfortable parenting. I have my own back. I am my own version of a ‘mum.’

The feeling of exclusion and shame blinded me for a while during the newborn days, because I felt that when I became a mother I would change. I should change to fit the mum-mould. I should become the Carol Brady, or the Lorelei Gilmore, or the Claire Dunphy. I should adore my Mother’s Group experience and pine for catch-ups and long WhatsApp chats. I should find joy in all aspects of motherhood and let my career and interests fold into the cracks when they appear. 

But none of that happened.

I birthed my baby, they cut the cord, I took my baby home, and the very next day I woke up … as me. I was still Tori. Just like you were still you.

Sure my instincts changed. My heart expanded. My body matured. My priorities were reshuffled. My home felt warmer.

But beyond all of that, the core of my being was also unchanged in many ways.

As I started to experience all of the new things that new mums experience, my interests and energy gravitated toward what I personally deemed comfortable and safe. Similarly, I naturally steered away from situations where I didn’t feel like myself. 

It was never about being bored or unchallenged as a mum with a newborn. I was never excluded by the maternal feelings offered by the universe.

I was just learning how to be me, in a world where I was suddenly also a mother. I was never ‘not mumsy enough’, I was my own version of mumsy. And I know now, that that is powerful.

When we have our children and undergo the subconscious yet perceptible, physical, and consuming transition from woman to mother – we are tickled in newness and naturally change in a myriad of ways.

But there will never be a particular mum mold to fit. We will become who we are meant to be. We will adapt and find comfort in people and places where support, safety, love, trust, and friendship are right there for us to take.

What I find most wild is that when a wave of the ‘not mumsy enough’ feeling washes over me (it still does from time to time), I take a minute to remind myself – the role of mother is where I actually feel most at home. Whatever is triggering me is a fleeting moment in time. I was meant to be a mother. And you are too.

It’s bizarre (and a little saddening), how the new-age habit of comparing ourselves can skew what is so genuine.

To those who feel that they’re not ‘mumsy (or dadsy) enough’ because they find themselves resisting some parts of parenting – this is not a sign of failure. And you’re not doing anything wrong.

What makes any parent ‘mumsy enough’ or ‘dadsy enough’ is the love and commitment they share with their own children. And the lifestyle they build and nurture to protect and keep what is an innate and transformative bond. 

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