John and I had talked on and off for years about writing a kind of anti-parenting manual, or an honest memoir. I had resisted, feeling blocked, muggy and even slightly re-traumatised just discussing it. But John said he wanted to keep it hopeful- if not actually light and amusing- and so offsetting and limiting my tendencies to go all the way down and thereby hopefully protecting my mood and mental health. Once we had decided to do it suddenly articles were everywhere, and of course the more you look at stories on a phone or tablet, the ‘suggested stories for you,’ the more you get.

One of these was an article about an online support group called The Motherload The article was about the fact that they had to tighten everything up stop getting direct messages to protect their mental health because people had been so abusive and it became too much for them. It made me think how mean and judgmental women/mothers can be which is also why it’s so hard to share difficulties, as these people had tried to create a really nice online environment with their motto ‘Sharing the load of motherhood, without judgement.’

It also made me laugh that their examples of shameful things to admit to, that people could share on the forum but wouldn’t be able to share on their own Facebook or whatever, were things like for example you let your child play on their tablet for longer than you intended to or that you ordered a takeaway for tea…

It was like the other week when we were talking about our embryonic ideas for this book and John’s sister said that the worst thing that ever happened to her was that her daughter once threw some French books out of the window because she didn’t want to have a French lesson. As John said to his sister, we don’t want to be dismissive of people’s experiences but…

From our perspective the above examples are laughable of course, and for dealing with the things that we’ve gone through and for anyone dealing with things of a similar magnitude they’re gonna need a bigger boat. I suppose that’s what we’re trying to do here, we’re trying to build a bigger boat. 

I put a photograph of the beginning of the word document with a very brief announcement of what we were doing on Instagram and had a couple of thoughtful responses including a long and thoughtful message from our dear friend S, the only person who truly understands my experience as a mother. John and I have just discovered the joys of speech into text and so we read out S’s message to the computer and then each spoke our response. I’ll check with S before it gets published but I hope to include her message and our responses within the book. This is an extract from John’s response, which is for anyone who tried their best to do a good job and parented with tons of love but had a lot of difficulty:

I want to say something about how I think all of these women have done such an amazing job and they never give themselves credit for it and very few other people do and I suppose also you know what this book is about is about giving that a voice and it’s because they feel shame for the things that they perceived to have been bad or wrong they don’t want to talk about it so they don’t get a chance to have any positive feedback from it because they don’t mention about it in the 1st place (speech to text we haven’t mastered punctuation yet!)

We are writing our own stories of parenthood, which are very different: I became a mother at nineteen and was a single mother for most of the time. John became a father at forty and can talk from the other side, of being a separated father. Both of us went into our journeys full of love and the very best intentions, both of us have guilt from mistakes we made. We also have friends to interview who parented with love despite being alone, being victims of domestic violence, having mental health problems, having problems with drug addiction, and who are still here, as are their children now all grown up. We hope that in sharing our stories others may feel less alone.

“Our stories are all we have. The only thing that can save us is to learn each other’s stories. From beginning to end….For every life we know, we are expanded.”― Karen Fisher

For the parents