Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: The stresses of modern motherhood

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Motherhood: it's complicated. It's relentless. It's forgettable. It's why we all deserve breakfast in bed this Sunday. 
Photo / Thinkstock
Motherhood: it's complicated. It's relentless. It's forgettable. It's why we all deserve breakfast in bed this Sunday. Photo / Thinkstock

When my daughter was born in 2003 I remember embracing some theory that said the first three years of a child's life were the most crucial to her development. This message had a great deal of appeal to a new parent staring down the barrel of a job with demanding expectations, uncivilised hours and no fixed timeframe.

Accordingly, I went all out for those 36 critical months. Her wooden crib was painted with five coats of organic citrus-based white paint. She went to Gymbaroo classes. We started honing her ball skills before she could walk. We washed her with a luxurious European skin cleanser formulated especially for babies. We blew bubbles, stacked blocks, watched The Wiggles, collected leaves and knew all the words to the Horse in Striped Pyjamas song. Her father read Where's Spot?, Who Sank the Boat? - and Hairy Maclary and Zachary Quack to her every day.

Looking back, it must have been exhausting - for her as much as anyone else. And now, of course, I wonder why we even bothered. Lately we've been bumping into old kindergarten friends in the street. We stop to chat and it's awkward because my daughter does not know who these people are.

"You must remember Ted from kindy" I say. But she claims to have no recollection of him - or pretty much anyone else she knew prior to the age of five. It's the same every time we meet old friends. Sometimes she looks at me as if I'm making it all up. Anyone would think she's in some witness protection programme and must deny all knowledge of her former life. "Honestly, I don't know why we put so much effort into those first few years. You don't remember any of it. We may as well have kept you in a cardboard box," I told her the last time she silently accused me of hallucinating.

When she turned three, and with that original theory still in mind, I remember thinking: "Oh well, we did our best here. Let's see if it was good enough." I felt even more of a relief when she skipped into her classroom on the first day of school. There was an overwhelming sense of my-work-here-is-done. Amateur hour was officially over. Trained experts would now oversee her development and education.

Yet now my daughter is 11 I'm hearing mothers say they feel children need more parental input as they grow older than when they were babies and in no position to be fussy about who tended to them. It's a sentiment shared by Kate Hawkesby. In Best job for this mum is always putting the kids first, she said: "It's ironic, but the older they get, the more children need their mum ... It was easier to leave them when they were babies. It tugs on your heartstrings, but really, anyone can cuddle them, love them and put them back to sleep ... When children get older they have friendships and relationships ... they are making decisions, processing values, trying to work out how the world works."

Read more: Find out how New Zealand ranks in a new report of the worst country in the world to be a mother.

Different preoccupations certainly emerge as they grow older. For me, 2012 was the year in which I struggled to get my head around iPads and Wi-Fi at school. And, right now, 2014 is shaping up to be the year in which the humble school bag is giving us grief.

On the second day of term two my daughter complained about being unable to fit her raincoat in her school backpack. When I realised how full and how heavy it was I took it upstairs to weigh it. This 30kg student was carrying a backpack that weighed 8kg yet health professionals recommend that they should be no more than 10 or 15 per cent of a child's body weight and warn that back problems and spinal abnormalities can result from overloaded school bags.

Needless to say, this subject fast became my new hobby horse. The transition from primary school to Year Seven means the students become first-time educational nomads who must move continually from specialist classroom to specialist classroom. My daughter obviously needs to figure out how to use her locker and her organisational skills to lighten her load.

Yet her backpack is not the sum total of what she must lug to school. On the day in question she was carrying her sports gear and laptop separately. Even though all students in her year have the latest MacBook Pro with wireless technology enabling them to access the collective wisdom of the world, old-fashioned physical textbooks are still required. If they were phased out maybe we could worry less about our children's spines and backs. Mind you, then we (okay, me) would start obsessing about excessive levels of screen-time. Motherhood: it's complicated. It's relentless. It's forgettable. It's why we all deserve breakfast in bed this Sunday.

Share your experience of motherhood. Do children require more or less attention as they grow older?

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