This Mother’s Day we’re grateful to share Veronica Sherman’s story of motherhood and the parallels she’s experienced with mums raising kids in rural Cambodia.
I find it increasingly uncomfortable to write exclusively for mothers because I am very aware that there are plenty of fathers and those without children who this will strike a chord with as well.
We’ve all heard of, if not experienced Mother’s Guilt. No matter how much we think that we can rise above and not get sucked into the stereotype, it’s there, tugging at our heart as we go about our day trying our hardest to be the best mother our children deserve.
I remember reading a book about Mother’s Guilt when I was pregnant with my first child. I had found it on my in-laws bookshelf and the title caught my eye. I skimmed through the book, not really paying attention because I knew that it didn’t apply to me. I would be different. My love and commitment to my soon to be born baby would be enough to overcome anything.
The waves of motherhood
I’ve just celebrated my son’s 21st birthday, and I can tell you I was completely naive and unprepared for what I was about to experience back when I was raising my children. I had no idea how hard the waves would hit and how often they would crash down on me and any preconceived ideas I had about what motherhood should look like would be washed away.
Same same but different circumstances
Of course I will never really know, but maybe it’s because of those waves that hit me so hard that I had such deep compassion for the women I met when I moved to rural Cambodia. Seeing a young mother holding her baby with sores all over his face would trigger the memories of me holding my own son with chronic eczema and feeling so desperate about not being able to find a cure for him. The difference of course was that I had access to free doctors and medical experts that I could turn to for help. Here in Cambodia the young mother would need to beg for money only to afford a local healer who would tell her that she was being punished by ancestral spirits.
There was also the new wife and her toddler who had to escape from the alcoholic husband. When that was me, only a few years into my first marriage, with two young children, I could ask our government for help and would have rent support and money come into my bank every two weeks. There was nothing like that for the young woman in my village and she was desperate to find work where she could bring her little boy along because her family refused to look after him.
Similarly when I had moved to Melbourne after living in Cambodia and was a single mother with four children, and all of a sudden became paralyzed from my waist down, I was operated on the same day and then had weeks of free physiotherapy provided to me by the hospital. Thanks to our medical system I was able to return to look after my children and have ongoing therapy and support. I look back at Cambodians that I met who had life-long disabilities because of not having access to therapy or the correct medicine when the initial injury took place.
These blatant injustices tugged at my heart while living in Cambodia and I made myself a promise when I moved to Melbourne that I wouldn’t forget the women that I had met there. I was so scared that life in suburbia would consume me and that their faces would eventually fade from my conscience.
I knew that it wouldn’t be long until I would get used to the weekly rubbish truck emptying our bins. Having access to playgrounds and libraries full of books for my curious children would no longer be something I pined for, but took for granted. No matter how alone I felt or how much anxiety there was leading up to rent needing to be paid, I knew that I was safe and that my children would be okay.
It’s not a story I mention
It’s outrageous to even imagine having to sell one of our children in order to receive some money, yet that’s what some women in Cambodia were faced with on a daily basis. It’s not a story that I mention to a lot of people, but I often wonder what happened to the little baby boy that a young mother tried to sell to me for $300. How desperate does one have to feel in order to put a price tag on your own child?
The common thread to all these stories that I came across in my two years in Cambodia is that the mothers needed a way to generate an income in order to slowly improve their lives. As I was reminded when I returned for a visit at the beginning of this year, the changes are small but they make a really big difference. For some of the women it’s as simple as being able to feed their family more nutritious food, for others it’s saving up for a motorbike which will give their family members a lot more options for employment and for some it means being able to make their homes more comfortable and not so exposed to the harsh elements. These small changes take time but they are not insignificant and visiting the women who have been trained by our team and now working with us for a few years it was obvious that the impact is positive and lasting.
So do I still feel guilt after all these years of being a mother? Yes I do. And I suspect it will continue way after my children have left home and started their own families. What I have learnt though is that there is a way to live with the guilt and use it as fuel instead of feeling overwhelmed by it. By taking a step back and observing myself through a kind lens and acknowledging that being a mother is incredibly hard and that there is no way that I can do it all on my own is a start. Practicing saying yes when others offer support and not feeling like I have to be the one who always helps other but that I need to be on the receiving end as well.
I’ve jokingly been saying the last few weeks that after 21 years of being a mother I’m ready to unsubscribe. Of course I don’t really mean it, but yes, it’s been a crazy ride and no one could have prepared that naive, young, soon to be mother of what lay ahead.
Our guest writer this month is Veronica Sherman, founder of Happily Made, mother of four kids and all round powerhouse of inspiration and compassion. Through Happily Made, she employs marginalised Cambodian women. The majority of these women are also mums. Click here to find out more about Happily Made
This article first appeared in our monthly newsletter The Gazette. Sign up here and never again miss your monthly dose of good stuff.