“I don’t want a new mummy”

Today is Mother’s Day in the UK. (c) Millennium Images/Superstock

One night, lying in bed, saying goodnight to Rosie. Ben is there, too. We’re all squashed in, listening to a recording of Alan Bennett reading Winnie the Pooh, when Rosie says: “What happens if you get married again, Daddy?”

He pauses, caught off guard. “Well, I don’t think that’s going to happen. Not for a long time, I don’t think,” he says.

“But I don’t want another mummy!” she cries. “If you do that, I won’t ever go with you, Daddy. Never ever.”

“You only have one mummy,” he says. “That will never change.”

“I’ll always be your mummy,” I say.

“I love my mummy,” says Rosie and hugs me. “I don’t want another mummy.”

I hug her back, thinking, that’s my girl. I’ve never spoken to her about the possibility of her dad having another relationship – or me, for that matter. But five-year-olds today, right? A few months earlier, when she’d asked me why her dad doesn’t live with us and I explained we were separated she’d replied: “Oh! Now I have to tell my friends that my parents are split up.”

Anyway, that hug from my little girl. And that spontaneous expression of total loyalty – well, it caught me by surprise, too. Because even though Rosie is only five, she and I have had a fraught relationship. It’s my fault. I’m strict. I shout. I am wholly unpleasant sometimes. There is no excuse. I am this person: the impatient, shouty mother. I hate myself often, because each day I fail in so many ways. Sometimes, within hours of waking up.

I will not shout today, I vow as I greet another morning. I hum to myself as I cut mango and strawberries for Rosie’s breakfast. But as the minutes tick away from us in that last dash to get out the door in time – as Rosie faffs yet again when I’ve asked her to get dressed for the eighth time that morning – my volume increases dramatically. Inevitably, as the door is locked behind us, Rosie runs ahead of me in exasperation and hurt – runs away from me as we tread the mile to school.

I see her little legs pumping up the road and I can see her in the future – out of reach, surly and probably always feeling like she isn’t good enough because her mum shouted at her nearly every day. I can see it even as I’m doing it. And yet it happens each time. And then I hate myself. I hate myself because I know that this is the type of thing that leads people into alcohol and drugs, right? What if all of this makes her find self-worth in dangerous behaviours? What if she ends up ruined – all because of me?

Every week, I find myself apologising to her, telling her how much I love and care about her. Explaining to her that even if I’m shouting, it’s because I’m impatient, not because I don’t love her. Telling her that she really is a wonderful, clever, beautiful child and that much of my strictness and pushiness is down to how much I care for her.

I tell her, I don’t give her treats every day, because I care about her. Because it’s not good for her health. If I didn’t care, she’d be eating sweets and cakes for every meal, because that’s the easy path to take. She sort of understands. But that doesn’t make it right for me to shout. And she knows that. She has said, on more than one occasion, that she is going to write to Santa to ask him to help me not shout any more. I tell her this is a good idea. And then I hate myself some more.

And so, this memory – this memory of my little girl turning to me and hugging me and telling me she doesn’t want anyone but me for her mummy, despite everything. I cling to it. And I hope she never changes her mind.







11 thoughts on ““I don’t want a new mummy”

  1. She won’t! Parenting when there is addiction in the mix is so tough. I am not one for regrets but for some of my behavior when Molly was little – sure she was the key to triggering his ‘bottom’, distracted by the problems and grief caused by my husband’s insanity. I don’t think I yelled a lot but sometimes. And slapped her more than once and remember each time. Oh, yes, I know about hating one’s self. Today she is 18 and gorgeous and clear thinking – the one who takes her drunken, foolish friends to the ER. And we couldn’t be closer. Children see it all and they know who keeps them safe. You do that. x

  2. She will never change her mind. I love how 5-year olds speak with their whole hearts and complete honesty.
    We all get “shouty” and Lord knows I’ve had meltdowns with my son (more so than my daughter) that make me hate myself, too. In fact, reading your post brings up those emotions all again. I don’t shout or get mad very often, but when I do…it’s ugly!
    A good friend told me that we have “infinite chances” to “make it right” with our kiddos. The healing (and learning) comes when we practice self-compassion and talk about it afterwards. I used to think that an apology was futile with a child but the friend told me that apologies are not empty and it gives us an opportunity to teach vulnerability with our own kids and point out that we aren’t perfect and we don’t expect them to be either. As you’ve said, we reinforce that we are strict because we care. It still doesn’t totally take away the UGH I feel inside–sometimes months after the moment, but the smile on his face and the mutual hug brings us both back to the right place and keeps us there 80% of the time.
    In fact, hugs go along way for “fixing” things on both sides 🙂
    Is it too soon to say that I’m your biggest fan??

    • Hey there, thank you. I do hate my shouty self. But if it’s true that we can always make things right with or children, then I will cleave to that. My cousin once said that it’s always the horrible things we remember – all those times we were unfair or snapped at our children. The good things we’ve done seem to dissolve – in my memory at least. I do hope that our children remember the happy moments, though. If anything, that’s what will save us.

      • I think your cousin is right. We’ve had more good times than bad, but it’s easy to continue the beating on the bad, isn’t it?
        So glad our paths crossed 🙂

  3. I hate my shouty self as well. Even in the moment. But it’s really hard to stop then, isn’t it? Apologizing truly does help. I know how much calmer and happier I feel after my kids apologize for their own poor behavior or shouting sprees. It kind of melts me when they apologize, so I always try to apologize for my own shouty times when they arise. The kids may or may not remember the shouty times and either is okay… As long as we make sure those times aren’t the norm, the kids will remember all the tender moments. All the books read together, all the places visited, all the silly dances and songs made up, all the many hours of baking/cooking together, all the talks about their dreams, all the schlepping to and from activities and sports, all the play dates and sleepovers… All the many fond memories that we create with them.

    • Yes, we hope they remember those times. I was saying elsewhere that we often fixate on the difficult times. I’m reassured that I’m not the only one, although still feeling like an ogre. Today I didn’t shout. That’s something…

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