No mother has her shit together.
I don’t care if she and her beautiful husband are globe-trotting with their toddlers, or living the free life in an RV, or free schooling and letting their children play in the woods each day. None of those mothers have a clue what they’re doing any more than you or I do. Each has shed tears on her pillow, has raised her voice at her children, has questioned whether she even can even do well as a mother, and occasionally thinks about things she would rather be doing.
I’ve been a mother for twenty-three years and I’ve done every one of these things and if I’m honest, the worst time wasn’t with the birth of my first child, but the birth of my third.
This post isn’t meant to bring anyone down. I’m not going to bash motherhood. I love being a mother. Even though I occasionally think of things I’d rather be doing than watching My Little Ponies for the 845,397th time, I honestly love being a mother. My children have gifted me with all of the emotions and I’m more grateful for them than anything else in the world.
That said, motherhood is hard. It brings you to your knees. It exposes your weaknesses. It shows you your strengths. It fills you with fear that you feel in your bones. It also fills you with a love that cannot be explained. My children can do anything and I’ll not love them less. I cannot say that about anyone else on earth. For example, if my husband had a temper trantrum and started kicking and hitting me, I’d divorce him. No questions. Talk to my lawyer. I’m out.
Yet all three of my kids have done that.
We can read all the parenting books. We can talk to parenting “experts.” We can prepare our homes for our new arrivals. We can meditate and take parenting classes, and do all the shit they say to do and when we are handed our babies for the first time, we realize that motherhood is bigger than all that. We know deep within our bosoms that we have no fucking clue what we’re doing, only that we will do it. We caress the tiny, tender fists and stroke the fuzzy heads and know that our lives are small in comparison to this little being in our arms and we will do anything for this person we just met, whatever that means.
The problem with motherhood is this – you may have one child and things go exceedingly well for the first couple of years. Your child responds well to redirection. He learned to use the potty with relative ease. He loves riding in the car. He smiles a lot and enjoys playing alone. With other children, he’s gracious and kind. You feel like you know what you’re doing. Let’s have another baby. You whisper to your husband in bed one night. Let’s have sex, right now is all he really hears. (just kidding). Anyway, you agree you want another baby.
The next baby has a double lip tie, which means latching onto your breast is difficult. She’s not getting enough milk each session and therefore wants to nurse every hour. Your nipples are cracked and bleeding and the thought of nursing her makes your eyes burn with tears. You find yourself glaring at your sleeping husband in the wee hours of morning and you swear that if he mentions how tired he is, you may punch him in the throat. Not only that, the baby hates her carseat. She screams as soon as she hears the straps click and she doesn’t stop until you reach your destination and get her cozy in her carrier. Later, she doesn’t take redirection well and is described as “assertive” by kind people everywhere. Sometimes you’re kind of embarrassed by her loud, raucous behavior and you have no idea what to do.
Occasionally you do the very worst thing a parent can do and you compare her to your children. “Why can’t she be more like him,” you think – shame filling you up, threatening to swallow you whole.
Does this sound like you?
If so, please know you’re not alone.
Every parent has experienced some of this, even those gentle parenting parents, even the so-called “parenting experts.” That phrase always irked me.
How can you be an expert in parenting? What credentials does that person have?
I can see being a parenting expert for one child, but for all children? Surely they sometimes feel the need to be honest and admit, that’s beyond the scope of my knowledge. The fact is, each parent is different and each child is different and all of these variables come in to play. How can anyone be an expert in all of this?
It used to be that if a mother had difficulty, she turned to her mother or to a trusted neighbor. Back then, front porches were still social spaces and neighbors knew each other. The children played in the yard while the parents chatted. I know, because I remember this from my childhood.
These days, many homes lack a front porch. Many yards have six-foot privacy fences. Most people have never talked to their neighbors except to exchange the obligatory wave. We live in a very isolated world and this is at the expense of mothers and children.
Because of this isolation, young mothers are turning to books and blogs, and mommy groups, and “experts,” all of which make her seem less equipped to mother effectively. When she finds herself struggling with any part of motherhood, she picks up her book, or reaches out to the mommy group and she’s flooded with solutions and all of these solutions are coming from people who seem to have it all together.
But she doesn’t feel like she has it all together. She feels like a failure. She feels alone.
Motherhood is hard.
And I don’t think the answer is out there somewhere in Internet land, or books or blogs or parenting experts. I think the answer is in friendship. The problem with this is the isolation we’ve given ourselves over to.
Why are we so afraid to connect with each other? Mothers, we need each other. We don’t need the Pinterest-perfect meals, or the filtered reality of your recent vacation (although those are nice for social media). We need coffee together. We need playdates in homes we didn’t have time to clean up and we need friends who don’t care because they aren’t there to see our houses. We need honesty. We need openness. We need to be able to share our fears and concerns (and joys and successes) without feeling judged and even without suggestions.
Sometimes the suggestions hurt just as much as the judgment. It says, “I know better than you do, so try this.” Sometimes, dare I say, most of the time, we need someone to simply sit next to us and listen, to cry with us, to be confused with us and to keep going in spite of it all.
No mother has her shit together. I don’t care how nice her home looks. I don’t care if she’s using a certain product or curriculum, or has her children in the perfect daycare and works a wonderful job making a killer salary. All of us are a mess.
Each of us is trying to navigate waters that are constantly changing and the last thing we need is someone else telling us what to do. What we need is friendship. What we need is love. What we need is a safe place to be the messes we truly are and to know that in our mess, we are still beautiful and our children are healthy and loved and cared for and dammit, we’re doing a great fucking job!
To all the moms out there, I send much love. I understand your struggle. I understand the deep love behind everything you do (including the times when you lose your shit). I get it.
You are not alone.
You are beautiful.
You are doing a great job!