On Motherhood, Love, Happiness and Reality
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.