It is always curious to me the references that stick within the shared narrative of modern motherhood. Those watercooler moments we can gather around. The in-jokes, the nods of knowing, the references which heed a – ‘yep I totally hear ya sister’.
Arguably, one of the most shared motherhood references is that of the innate desire to tinkle in peace. I wonder…why this one in particular? Why has the common pipedream (sorry) of an undisturbed moment on the lavvy, become such a staple of understanding between mothers on the internet?
Going to the toilet is one of the most basic human functions. Regardless of age, gender, culture, wealth, beliefs, religion we all crap, and we all pee. Yes, even the Queen. It’s a unifier of all people and a lot of us prefer to do it in private. And so for the majority of our lives, if we are so privileged to able to do so, visiting the bog is a ritual many of us are lucky enough to do so as we please and with privacy, (excluding where it’s 100% necessary to invite at least one or two girlfriends into the cubical of a nightclub toilet, because, well, you’re drunk and you have to). Crossing into the threshold of motherhood however is akin to handing in your toilet privacy rights for the next few years. It won’t be until all your children reach the age where the idea of seeing you on the toilet is painfully ‘cringe’ to them, when you hear the ‘omg that’s so embarrassing why are you on the loo?’ when they accidentally walk in on you on the royal throne, that you will be blessed with the return of the privacy card and can breathe a happy sigh of relief that your years of peeing with a child crawling / drawing / playing / crying at your ankles have finally come to an end.
Getting to this stage however, takes far longer than I could have ever imagined. We are talking years here people. Hang in there, it’s a long slog.
Let’s consider what happens when we find ourselves having to share our most private moments with a 3ft audience. As humans we thrive more when we have access to regular moments of stillness and the ability to constantly reset and refocus the mind. I am not talking about a long soak in the bath at the end of day here (though I do love that), I’m talking about when we are amidst focussed, difficult tasks for long periods of time that require concentration and patience then we need to continually reset. We need breaks so that our minds and bodies can keep going. Spending long hours with children is exactly that – focussed, difficult tasks for long periods of time that require concentration and patience. Not enough airtime is given to the skills and stamina required to fill hours of time with a mix of play, scheduling, cooking, organising, chores, exercise and managing 1000 emotions in the space of an hour (your own included). Things can be enjoyable and simultaneously hard work. Hard work also does not only look like someone sweating on the stock market or moving a large pile of breaks around (insert whatever other stereotypical depiction of hard work you have been fed over your life). A woman sitting on the floor for example, for an hour making a tea party with a toddler, 8 teddy bears and an octopus beanie baby is also what hard work looks like. It is not therefore unreasonable that parents feel the urge for more breaks, it’s perfectly understandable and indeed simply human. So to sit down in solitary silence – or in other terms, visit the toilet – is an opportunity for a break. A very short, but much needed stilling of the mind, catching of the breath, self pep talk, rest of the eyes. Once you become a parent, going to the toilet it is the opportunity for a micro reset. And sadly, time pending, one often denied.
Last week I couldn’t catch a break. I was a robot shuffling between my work screen, home learning questions and baby soothing. As I worked, I also felt the acute need and guilt to give my husband a break, who with no childcare support at the moment, was juggling all 3 kids whilst I was working. I however was able to retreat into my work, which, whilst not a break, indeed quite the opposite, had, in the context of a locked down home become re framed as one. My breaks had become work. A messed up logic. By the end of the week I felt like I was about to have a breakless induced breakdown.
I learnt a lesson. Breaks, no matter how small, should be non negotiable. Everyone deserves a lunchbreak, a stretch of the legs, a close of the eyelids, a deep breath…and yes a pee on their own. Breaks are a basic human right. We cannot wait until 10pm at night to rest, we require regular micro resets in order to be able to cope with sustained physical and mental activity. It is not rocket science, but it seems a lot of parents need a reminder of this. I sure do.
And so we return to the shared knowing nod of the shared dream to toilet by oneself. I think then, the reason this reference continues to be repeated over and over is because it is shorthand for an overwhelming need for solitude and the primal urge to want to mentally re set. I think when we share this with one another it cuts much deeper than a toilet joke, we are extending a hand to a fellow mother, carer, parent, saying :
Hey…I see you. Do you feel it too? Do you miss your own thoughts too? Do you ever dream about what you’d be capable of if you didn’t have so many childcare responsibilities? Do you just kinda, miss you a bit? Can you no longer bear anyone else touching your body some days? Do you just crave a bit of you all to yourself? Do you dream about that too? I do.
The early years of parenting are truly unique. They are filled with big, clumsy moments of love, colour, joy and magic over and above any expectation, but it comes at price, and that price is unrelenting hard work. Like, seriously hard work. Firstly, the number of chores and tasks involved in looking after an early years child are abundant. Though they be small, they come with many care needs. Secondly, the careful management of a small person’s emotional status is unpredictable and at times intense. As I find myself diving back in, I am remembering it all over again. It is not so much the challenge of learning how to become patient, calm, flexible, respected, playful, organised, loving and available all in one day (and this is why I get frustrated there isn’t more recognition of the skills built in parenthood which can be applied in the workplace – go back and read those skills! They are highly prized!), these skills are certainly a lot, and take time to figure out, and though we may not nail them all effortlessly, on the whole, they do come, and most parents acquire enough to get by in a surprisingly rapid timeframe. However once skills are honed, the stamina to retain and action them consistently each and every day, is something else entirely. You can be derailed at any point. Hence why breaks are fundamental. And that’s why opportunities of micro resetting start to present themselves in activities like going to the toilet. Or pushing the trolley around the supermarket. Or getting petrol alone. And when those are taken away from us, when we have to share them with a small audience who will steal away the opportunity to have a free and wandering mind, it can be disastrous.
If you are to take away anything from reading this post, let it be to remember that breaks are not luxuries. They are a human right. Do not value productivity above claiming your micro resets. As many as you need or are available to you, just take them. Put down the phone, the mop, the laptop, whatever it is and connect, breathe and give yourself an inner hug and high five. It is not good for our minds or indeed the people around us, if we never stop. And next time you have an eye roll or laugh with a fellow parent about the unexpected socialness of bathroom activity in parenthood, know that you are not alone in craving a bit of you alone.