Earlier today, totally off the cuff I posted the following on a message board for mothers that I’m a part of:
Lately I’ve been exploring the idea of quitting motherhood as I have known it. I’m sick of being everyone’s maid/servant/lady-in-waiting. I think prior to motherhood I had this idea of having a child to leave a legacy – like prized roses that you carefully prune, water and feed. Of course I was a whole person without children but there was some sense of “completeness” I thought I’d feel from becoming a mother. Then it took long years to conceive and somehow that idea grew and became even more romanticized during this time.
But now my oldest is almost 10 years old and I have two other children plus two step-children and this motherhood martyrdom thing is for the birds. At dinner time I scurry around preparing dinner and then everyone sits and the second I have time to sit, everyone needs drinks so I hop to attention. In the mornings when I want to drink my coffee in peace, everyone is hungry or late or needs to be changed and again I step to the plate. I am exhausted and just done.
The thing is that I’ve hesitated to say this out loud for a long time because it sounds harsh. It sounds like I don’t love my kids or I don’t want to be there for them. There’s a guilt that comes with being a mom – you’ll never be good enough or never give up enough or there might be needs you can’t meet. Well I’m here to call bullshit on that guilt. What’s more is that I’m here to stipulate that my kids might DO BETTER without me as maid/servant/lady-in-waiting. Maybe they will learn self-direction and get their own drinks. And then they will gain confidence knowing they can do it. Or maybe they will gain patience and wait till I am able to get them a drink.
My kids will always know I love them and would do anything for them but maybe they need to learn that sometimes it will be on my time, not theirs.
I typed the post as I was putting my youngest down for a nap, after teaching my oldest child Social Studies and before finishing an essay for a class I’m taking. I’m not sure where it came from other than my frustration with The Way Things Are and, like many things I write, it simply flowed out of me taking on a life of its own. Usually when I get out of the way, the truth comes. In this case, its clear that I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit, even if just unconsciously and as my children get older, I’m realizing that my servitude isn’t doing them any good.
The comments on my post varied from advice about chore charts to cliché tangential thoughts on “husband as child.” Many of the comments were simply along the lines of “preach it, sister!” Then a new friend replied with gratitude for exposing the reality of motherhood. And it hit me: we don’t talk about the seedy underbelly of parenthood enough. Sure there are “mommy blogs” and articles about depression and parenthood. We speak with humor about the things our kids put us through, but in the end, it is expected that our stories will always be bookended by statements about how wonderful kids are and how our worlds are filled with awe because of them. And of course, our kids can be wonderful and our worlds ARE often filled with awe because of them, but many times (sometimes a majority of the time), they are complete leeches. Often, as we go through the numb motions of dinner and bedtime, we wonder what we got ourselves into and who we’ve even become. We find ourselves in a fantasy about child-free life – all that fantastic freedom – and we question ourselves: What were we thinking?
And then we feel guilty. This is what we wanted after all and this is what many of us longed for. These children have allowed for greater connection to the world. They show us stripped down parts of ourselves – they mirror our wit and sarcasm, our senses of caution or of risk; they have our pinkies and our eyes. They blow us away with their observations and expose our made-up answers to their existential questions. So there’s this canned idea that we’re supposed to be grateful for every moment: seize the day, live for each minute and so on. But that’s not real. That’s not taking into account humanity. That’s not honest.
So I’m joining (starting?) a campaign of parental honesty. It is time to acknowledge our diverse humanity. Can we start by assuming that we love our children to the ends of the earth; more than the warmth from the sun, more than our hearts can hold and, once we’ve made that assumption, can we set it aside and just be honest with each other about how hard it is? Can we find solidarity with one another, especially as mothers, and talk in real terms about how being a mother sometimes creates a feeling of incongruity with who we actually envision ourselves to be? Can we talk about how our children challenge us and suck every bit of energy we have and how sometimes we just want to walk away? I am convinced that if we can talk about the nitty-gritty of it all, we will find new support within each other and release judgment. It’s time to be real, people.