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On Motherhood, Love, Happiness and Reality

May13

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I’m about to send you down a rabbit hole of mothers commenting on mothering, and I’m sorry (but not so sorry that I’m not going to do it). Maybe skip reading this for now, though, if you don’t have a good chunk of time to spend.

For me, it started with Liz Gumbinner’s “Women Who Fake It” piece, which references both this piece on Jezebel and a site called Whisper, which is why I’m warning you that you could lose a lot of time here, if you’re not careful. The upshot: Lots of mothers apparently hate being mothers. Lots of those mothers also insist that everyone else feels that way, too.

Liz’s take on the issue is smart (as always), noting that it’s very likely a lot of these secret-sharers are in trouble and don’t know how to ask for help. Maybe they’re so depressed they don’t even realize they need help. To me, any “everyone feels like this” assertion is nearly always a hallmark of an emotional myopia that signals problems of some sort. She also notes that no one should expect every single moment of life to be filled with joy and ease, but there’s a big difference between having bad moments or days and feeling like you wish you’d never chosen to be a parent.

All of this is true, of course. I’m glad Liz wrote what she did.

For me, motherhood was a deliberate, reasoned decision. It was—is—important to me both as a life choice and part of my identity. I always knew I wanted to be a mom, even when I was a little kid, myself. This isn’t everyone’s trajectory (nor should it be), but it was mine. I knew being a mother was a big part of what I wanted from life.

Like Liz, I love my kids and love being their mom. Like Liz, I am horrified by some of the “secrets” shared on Whisper, along with the various commentary postulating what “everyone” feels about the drudgery of parenting. Like Liz, I think many of those moms need help they’re not getting.

Unlike Liz, I have teenagers. My job in raising them to adulthood is nearly done; not that you’re ever finished parenting, of course, but my days of being their caretaker are dwindling. The pre-parenting days of dreaming about my theoretical children are a distant memory. The heartfelt refrain during my pregnancies of “… as long as they’re healthy” was something I said while worrying about… I don’t even know. Cystic Fibrosis or other chronic diseases, maybe, or four functioning limbs? I know that back then I never pictured what life would eventually look like. When I said “healthy” I wasn’t thinking about ASD or ADHD or PTSD or any of the other joys of “alphabet soup” that permeate our lives these days. I was thinking that if I loved them and took good care of them, my kids would be healthy and happy.

My “secret” of parenting is that I feel powerless a lot of the time. Heredity, life circumstances, chance, the decisions they make for themselves… the older my kids get, the more I realize I can’t control the outcome. Sometimes I think I have no influence on it at all. (That’s probably an exaggeration. I hope it is.) At the same time, I am often overwhelmed with jealousy when considering other families whose kids seem happier (read: easier) than mine. It’s not that I think our life is so awful (it isn’t) or that want those other teenagers (I don’t), it’s that I wish my beloved teens had an easier path. I wish I could be one of those parents who doesn’t even know that it’s hubris to assume their actions directly shaped the nearly-adults they’ve raised.

When my kids were little, I could still make everything “all better.” I could make them warm and comfortable and nourished and see that my choices resulted in them being okay. Even when my youngest was colicky, I did the things I could… and eventually he stopped crying. All better feels like a distant memory, here, a lot of days.

I’m not depressed and I don’t hate motherhood. I adore my children. But if I had known, back then—really and truly understood, on a visceral level—how much some of this would hurt, how much of their suffering I would have to witness, how helpless I sometimes feel, how agonizing large swaths of this journey would turn out to be, would I still have made the choice to have children? The truthful answer is that I think there’s a reason we don’t really know. (Just like we “know” labor is going to hurt, but we don’t really know.)

All I can say is that life and love often make no sense. And even on the very worst days, I’m still glad I didn’t know.

My bottom line: If you’re on an anonymous site sharing that you hate your kids or wish they’d never been born, then yeah, you need help, and I hope you can find it. If you’re merely wrestling with the fact that life is unfair and love is sometimes painful? Welcome to the human race. It’s going to be okay, one way or another.

About the author

Mir Kamin

http://wouldashoulda.com/
Mir Kamin began writing about her life online nearly a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she's become one of those people who talks to her dog in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she's continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she's bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.


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22 Responses to “On Motherhood, Love, Happiness and Reality”

  1. Liz May 13 at 7:15 pm Reply Reply

    God Mir, this is so good. So so good. Thank you for adding to a really tough, complex conversation. I actually thought about you as I wrote the post, and how your challenges have been Herculean at times. And yet, here you are. Loving your kids. 

    You’re amazing.

    • Mir Kamin
      Mir Kamin May 14 at 9:10 am Reply Reply

      You’re very kind, Liz. Thanks as always for making me think about hard stuff. :)

  2. Therese May 14 at 10:29 am Reply Reply

    I heard someone on the radio one day asking a mother if she had to do again, would she have children? She said, “Yes, of course, just maybe not the ones I had.” Best answer ever!! (And no, I don’t regret having MY children.)

  3. Brigitte May 14 at 10:36 am Reply Reply

    I’m not really into kids, especially babies, but agreed to spawn one with my hubby when I married him. I love my little peapod to death, and think I’ll keep her! But I really don’t think I would have pined away, all unfulfilled, if I didn’t have one.
    . . . Sometimes I think there are women so conditioned by society and their upbringing to expect to be mothers, that they just assume it’s natural and never admit, even in their deep subconscious, that maybe it’s not something they truly want. Then reality is a huge slap in the face! I went into it with both eyes wide open, on purpose, knowing the work it would take – it’s NOT natural for me at all, and I always feel like I’m faking it, but the kid thinks I’m an awesome mom, so I must be doing Something right. ;-)

  4. Lindsay May 14 at 11:17 am Reply Reply

    This is so timely for me, as my pendulum has recently swung from “no kids ever, no way, they ruin your life!” to YES, BABY, NOW. I realized that I’m a different person now than I was when a kid really would have ruined my life. If you think about it purely from a practical perspective, there is never a good reason to have a kid. They DO take so much of your time, energy, freedom, money, etc. But so does my dog, and I never think of him in those terms– just that he brings so much joy and love to our home. It’s an emotional decision, but I’m grateful that I’ve also had a lot of time to accept and prepare for the practical sacrifices.

    What I DO worry about is all of the things about creating and shaping a new life that are out of my control. Do I still want to do this knowing I might end up with an autistic child who grows up to do heroin, stab a girl who declines his invitation to prom, and then sinks on a Korean ferry? I mean, WHO would sign up for that?

  5. Ann Garniss May 14 at 11:32 am Reply Reply

    I definitely don’t regret having VV. I also don’t regret waiting until my late 30’s to have her, even though I worried that I wouldn’t be able to get pregnant at all. I don’t regret talking to my husband for years before even starting to try to have a baby about what we wanted out of life, how having a baby would change or even prevent that, what kind of parents we wanted to be if it happened for us, and deciding that one was enough.

    That said, there are still moments when I’m doing something just for VV, something I wouldn’t be doing if she didn’t exist and I wonder “What would I be doing if it wasn’t for her? What is the opportunity cost of having this baby?” Sometimes it’s going to the gym, or going out for dinner without impacting bedtime. Sometimes its a play or a concert without finding a babysitter. Sometimes it’s just sitting on my butt in front of the TV instead of interacting with VV.

    There are (and probably always will be) moments when I wonder what our lives would look like if we didn’t have VV. But I wouldn’t change a minute.

  6. parodie May 14 at 11:36 am Reply Reply

    “Everyone feels this way” sounds an awful lot like what I (and many others) experienced when my marriage feel apart: I had been secretly miserable, so clearly every other couple was also secretly miserable behind closed doors. Years later, now in a healthy relationship, I know that isn’t true – but it felt very very true at the time. Pain is hard.

  7. MomQueenBee May 14 at 1:15 pm Reply Reply

    My youngest (of four) is graduating from college this weekend, so we have finished coaching our boys to adulthood. If there is one “secret” I’d like to whisper to those unhappy parents, it’s that they are not in control. They can influence, they can coach, but they cannot control, and that fact is not a design flaw.

  8. suburbancorrespondent May 14 at 1:32 pm Reply Reply

    I am always SUPER grateful that I can’t see the future.  There’s no way I could have functioned, knowing what was coming down the pike. And yet, I’m glad I had kids.  There are plenty of times I can’t stand one or the other of them, but that doesn’t affect how I feel about the overall decision.

  9. Tracey May 14 at 1:37 pm Reply Reply

    I should have read this when I didn’t have somewhere to be later, because I’m trying not to cry so I don’t have to redo my makeup…but yes to all of this. I guess you know going into parenthood that there is always a risk, but it’s so abstract that you don’t really think anything bad will happen to YOUR kids. 

    I do have some dark days but I don’t think I would have wanted to know either. But please don’t tell me something like, “God made sure he had special parents” or some other such banality about not getting more than we can handle because I might want to kick you really hard. 

  10. jwg May 14 at 1:42 pm Reply Reply

    Oh you poor thing. You think the worst is over when the kids reach adulthood. Resign yourself now to the fact that the worry is never over and then there’s the matter of grandchildren. Now you get to worry about two generations. The problems are different, and you have less power and influence . I wouldn’t have missed out on my kids for the world and the grandparentiing thing is really fun when you watch the grandkids do to their parents what the parents did to you. Payback is a bitch!

    • Mir Kamin
      Mir Kamin May 14 at 2:31 pm Reply Reply

      As the parent to a child who is statistically a whole lot less likely to even survive to adulthood, this comment is rubbing me the wrong way pretty hard. But I’m trying to take it in the spirit in which I assume it was intended.

      This is a pretty good illustration of why I dislike “everyone feels like this” or “lemme tell you how it’ll really be” kinds of comments, actually. Everyone’s on their own difficult journey, you know?

  11. Sarah Heat May 14 at 1:49 pm Reply Reply

    I love being a mom!  But, I didn’t always.  Looking back,I was extremely depressed during that part that I just really didn’t like being a mom.  While I didn’t get professional help, fortunately my depression was of the post-partum variety and it eventually phased out.  
    I still have young kids (4 kids from 8 years down to 1 year), but I’m so grateful to be in a good place now.  I love parenting- not every minute of it, but parenting as a whole.  And I love that being a parent has allowed me to be a different human than I would otherwise be, even getting to experience a bit of divinity that I might not otherwise get to experience.

  12. Jamie May 14 at 2:30 pm Reply Reply

    I didn’t want children for quite a while as I felt like I raised my sister in childhood, but once the decision to have them came, it wasn’t a hard decision to make. I don’t regret it at all. I think there are days I want to string them up by their toes, but in general I’ve got good kids who just need guidance. Coaching like MomQueenBee said above. I feel more pressure now, post-divorce, because I don’t think my kids are getting enough parenting from their father. I feel like I have to give more love and patience, as well as more discipline as he’s more worried about being their friend. As much as the divorce sucks, I wonder if it’s actually making me a better mother to my boys? I hope so…

  13. Karen. May 14 at 4:57 pm Reply Reply

    Sure, there are days when Age 4 is bawling because Age 6 hit her and Age 6 is bawling because he has to sit in time out and Age 6mos is bawling because she’s overtired and Age 2 is bawling because no, she can’t help wash the knife … and I think to myself, “I want new kids.” 

    But I don’t, really. And my mom reminds me not to say that out loud. 

  14. DontBlameTheKids May 15 at 10:11 am Reply Reply

    Yes, OMG, yes! If I had known my husband would leave me while I was pregnant with our second, would I still have chosen to get pregnant? Probably not, because I am a pretty practical person. BUT. I am so, so glad that I did not know, because now I have her in my life.

  15. Meri May 15 at 10:51 pm Reply Reply

    Thanks for writing this. I’m at a point where I need to decide if this is something I want to make happen and if it really is worth the opportunity cost for me, it’s a fairly complicated situation. I’m scared of being one of those who is so sunk in depression that I can’t see any of the good stuff.

    • Mir Kamin
      Mir Kamin May 16 at 10:18 am Reply Reply

      Meri, I do think that if you have any history of depression/anxiety it’s imperative to front-load your situation with as much knowledge and support as possible. That means taking aside your partner, friends, family, whomever and saying, “These are the things I need you to be on the lookout for, because I may not realize I’m slipping into a bad time.” (Says the woman who had PPD twice….)

    • Isabel Kallman
      Isabel Kallman May 16 at 10:21 am Reply Reply

      Dear Meri, please do know that postpartum/maternal depression is real but also treatable. PLease visit the brilliant blog Postpartum Progress to read more about how there is help.

  16. Brooke May 19 at 4:13 pm Reply Reply

    How very much like the internet for articles and forums to abound with such rigid corners of “hate motherhood” versus “love motherhood” when, like most things, doesn’t it lie somewhere in between? Mir, you did a great job addressing the complex conversation, and by your comments, would likely agree with me that it is less important that we assign ourselves as lovers or haters and more important that we recognize that motherhood is not always pretty, not always innate for everyone and perhaps easy for some but difficult for many more. I think there are no perfect children. Whether religious or not, I completely subscribe to the notion that humans come into the world broken, and it is largely their parents’ job to help slowly mold them from self-centered, energy draining infants (ASIDE – I love babies! But let’s face it! That’s what they are when they are first born!) into self-sufficient, empathetic adults. And mothers today are given quite the guilt trip if they don’t totally put their lives/careers on hold such that it is subservient and less important to the needs of our children. Children are important and raising them is crucial to society, so maybe this is exactly what should happen. But one can’t expect all women to make this self-sacrifice (or process the guilt associated with the expectation of such self-sacrifice) and not have some people who are inherently unhappy or resentful while in the boot camp years. I love so many parts of being a mom, and my children. I also hate some parts of being a mom, and on some days (temporarily! like for a second when they are throwing that epic tantrum and being rude to everyone and omg, how did you come out of me?!), my children. It is both. But, of course it is.

  17. Kim too May 20 at 12:23 am Reply Reply

    Years ago, I came across this phrase – “and that’s the joy and the sorrow of it.” Most things in life are complex like that. Motherhood is no different. 

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. What we know and what we don’t | Woulda Coulda Shoulda - May 14

    […] how we feel about motherhood and whether people tend to regret motherhood… and so instead, I wrote this over at Alpha Mom. (Spoiler alert: I don’t regret it.) Mostly I think there are things we cannot possibly know […]

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