Successfully Failing at Motherhood

A few years ago I wrote a post called “But what’s it really like to have a baby?” It ended up getting picked up by the Huffington Post (front page) and for 24 hours I was the most equally lauded and hated woman on the planet. Mothers and childless women from across our great country gathered their spatulas and absurdly limited legal knowledge and campaigned (anonymously, online) to have my child removed from me. Why? Because I just didn’t think being a mom was the super greatest time ever. In equal contrast were the others– the mothers and childless women who were relieved to hear a version of the truth that, in some small measure, mirrored their own feelings. The feeling that children, while chock full of charm and adorable (sometimes), are also a full contact, full time sport. There’s no beginning and end to parenting. It’s not just a sacrifice of your vagina and lower abdomen (which becomes a sideshow), but your actual life.

In those two years, my baby has become a toddler. And frankly, my feelings about motherhood haven’t changed much. In the same way that I love cake and hate baking, I love my child, but I really don’t love motherhood. And as hard as it is for some people to reconcile this, or even accept it, I don’t really feel much guilt about it. My journey now has been about how to balance the choice to have a child and catapult myself into a role that neither comes naturally to me, nor gives me much satisfaction, and maintain my sanity as a human being who craves a life less consumed by the unending demands of motherhood.

For many, there’s a simple, vilifying argument. “You chose to have children. Your selfishness is disgusting.”  To those people, I say “fuck you.” If you truly believe that our society pays even the slightest of lip service to the reality of motherhood in a modern age, you are naive. We’re still taking a page out of a book that has men bringing home all the bacon, women who were groomed from a young age to become mothers and accept the role that was offered, and zero social media pressure or scrutiny. In a day in age where maternity leave is a luxury, leaving early to pick up a child from daycare causes both personal and professional duress, and the choice between children and a career is only possible if your career affords you incredible flexibility or cash, the “reality” of motherhood has been rewritten, but never published. (For example, on top of childcare, which can run about $1600/month [down from $2400 in Boston], I pay nearly $800/month to have someone pick up my child from daycare because I simply cannot leave work early enough to fetch him. I get home between 7:00/7:30 and begin the one hour sprint through bath, dinner, books, and bed.)

I was chatting with my mother on the phone the other day, relaying the plight of the modern mother– the guilt and balance and dissatisfaction. Thinking she’d have some insight (she did have THREE children), she replied, “I don’t really understand that. I was just so happy.”

Welp, there you have it. Thanks, Mother.

But then I got to thinking about it. When she comes to visit, she relishes all the stuff that makes me want to poke my eyes out. She’s on all fours, pretending she’s a pony, coloring Elsa, watching Mickey Mouse. She thinks letting him pick out ridiculous, mismatched outfits is hilarious and cute. (No. Just no.) She can build Lego towers and knock them down for HOURS. I approach Legos with a mind for building something elaborate. A color-coordinated palace with symmetry and functional exits. To A, that’s sacrilege. We build it high and then we knock it to the ground. Then we repeat that… for the rest of the week. I don’t want to be sitting there thinking about being anywhere else, but that’s what happens.

I hate that on weekends, I look forward to time to recharge, relax, and get things organized, and instead we are held captive by the whims of a 37 inch person. Rain strikes fear into the core of my being. I want to eat at a restaurant, but I’m gripped with anxiety about whether it will be a fun and worthwhile meal or an ill-fated nightmare that leaves me feeling like I wasted $100 and 2 hours of my day. Keep them indoors and they bottle up so much energy you will live to regret your decision for days. Take them outside and they’re hot, cold, hungry, wish you brought the bike and not the scooter, need to pee, don’t like the way the sun is shining, think the slide is too green, the other kids are looking at them, or want to be pushed on the swing. For the rest of the day.

And I fucking hate “mommy friends.” I don’t mean my friends who are mommies. I mean people in the world who are supposed to be my friends because we both have kids. What the fuck kind of sense does that make? I don’t like you, your husband, your politics, or your approach to life, but since we both have children born in 2013, let’s hang out and have some wine. I’D RATHER DO ANYTHING ELSE.

And mostly I hate that I’m always fighting with my husband about nothing. We aren’t even fighting with each other, we’re fighting with the invisible blob that is parenthood. The intangible piece of shit that is blameless and evasive, so you have to yell at your physical spouse. Because obviously the husband deserves to take the entire blame for the fact that I’m wound like a top because my child thinks it’s absurd that we don’t kick people in the tits, I haven’t been able to eat lunch without a chopstick flying at my face since 2013, every dollar we make is assigned to childcare, college funds, savings, mortgage and alcohol, and every time my kid finishes a bag of ANYTHING, he flings the crumbs around the backseat of the car. (WHATTHEFUCKISWRONGWITHYOU?! JUSTPUTTHEBAGDOWNLIKEACIVILIZEDGENTLEMAN!)

I miss energy and free time. I miss the gym. I miss extra cash flow. I miss investing in stupid shit like absurdly expensive sushi and shoes. Because as terrible as that sounds to other people, I love both of those things.

But the very, very worst part is that I know I will miss this. Because as much as I don’t love motherhood, I love him. I love his tiny face and his absurd lexicon. I love watching him learn things and his enthusiasm about damn near everything. I love that he thinks we are the absolutely greatest. (Though frankly he far prefers my husband to me. I’m sure you’re shocked.) I love that he wakes up first thing in the morning and asks if today is the day we get to spend the whole day together (weekends). I even love that he tells his entire swimming class that his Mups’ boobies are falling out of her bathing suit. (They weren’t.)

I know that there will come a time when motherhood does become me. At some point, some age, the winds will shift and motherhood will too. What my child needs and wants will be something I can offer. The sacrifices will become less physical and more emotional. And I’m sure that hindsight, that bastard, will be 20/20. I’ll laugh at what seems like petty, long-ago misery and cry as he walks across a stage or down an aisle.

This idea that we as humans are expected to sacrifice our lives for the lives of others isn’t sustainable. I want for “motherhood” to be a parallel journey to the bigger one that I am on, the journey of life. I don’t want to feel that choosing to have a child means choosing to jump track from continuing to become the person I should be to dedicating everything I have to someone else’s journey. I want to set him up. I want to help him find his path, but I want to stay on mine too. I don’t want to be consumed by motherhood. I just want to be a woman whose journey includes a child.

And I think that should be okay.


15 thoughts on “Successfully Failing at Motherhood

  1. Thank you. You said all the things I’m afraid to realize. But I’m going to keep on pretending I don’t feel that way.

  2. I love your honesty-always! You know from personal experience, that we are different! I might qualify as one of those mom’s that you want nothing to do with at this point, BUT I still identify with and understand your feelings. Motherhood definitely=sacrifice. Sometimes, you just wish you could go to a different world for a little while(or a long while)…

    1. You qualify as one of those people who was born to be a mom. You are patient and kind and love babies! I should have know I was shit out of luck when I hated babysitting as a kid. 😉

  3. I’m on the fatherhood side of the parenting adventure. Neither my partner nor I like being parents, but as your post points out, disliking having kids is absolute taboo. We feel incredibly fortunate that in our community we have developed friendships with other parents who feel equally or more resentful of the demands of parenthood…for which none of us were adequately prepared. I certainly was never told about or witnessed the true level of challenge, frustration, and that comes with having kids. Yes, we did make the (privileged) choice to have kids, but to say that it was a truly informed choice is bullshit. These friends of ours, however, ARE having this dialog about how we actually feel about parenting, and contrary to what our own mothers or the knowitall anonymous commenter may express, it isn’t whining or self pity. It’s about saying shedding the shame, learning how to deal with frustrations and personal limitations, and being good parents to our kids who love.

    (The discussion about the wildly different expectations and societal demands on mothers compared to fathers is a topic for another time…)

    1. I owe it to the dad’s to write a dad POV on all this. Because I know that for every gender bending, modern bias, child rearing mother problem, there is an equal (and sometimes more acute/painful) issue on the dad side. (I know for a fact that much of this leaves my husband struggling with his own “WTF” about traditionally defined roles and where all of this leaves him.)

  4. This is why I am so uneasy about the idea of becoming a mother! I am 34 and being told by EVERYONE it’s now or never. I feel shamed by everyone else who has kids. Some of them look happy, some of them clearly are not into their new lifestyle, but god forbid anyone say that.
    I don’t know what to do. But thanks for being honest. I knew I couldn’t be the only one.

  5. this is awesome – I love a nice does of acerbic reality.

    I have to ask though, what you mean by “I want for “motherhood” to be a parallel journey to the bigger one that I am on, the journey of life.” If you had the resources, what would that actually look like?

    1. Such a good (and complicated) question. And I’m not even sure it’s one of resources, so much as societal mindset. A good friend of mine who is a driven and accomplished career-gal once told me a story about a bake sale at her son’s school. Knowing she wouldn’t have the time (or mental energy) to bake a bunch of treats, she instead wrote a generous check to the bake sale committee. Rather than being regarded with gratitude and respect for her contribution, she became the target of scathing remarks and distain from other mothers. She obviously didn’t care enough about her child, she wasn’t a “good” mother, and should have taken the time to bake treats like everyone else. So in that sense, her value was judged not by being a woman making every effort to keep all the balls in the air, but rather by the way she “failed” at motherhood– by not baking treats. (And come on. I wan’t everyone in this story to go straight to hell.) In this story, I want for people to understand that her life isn’t about motherhood. It’s about a lot of things, and in the bake sale situation, cookies get sacrificed and that’s okay. Because when you weigh the impact of cookies over a big project at work, or a few minutes peace in the evenings– fuck the cookies.

      Similarly, the “rules of social engagement” somewhat dictate where you can and cannot take a child. If you take a child to a nice restaurant and they act up, people look at you like you’ve ruined every good thing to ever happen to them. If you take a child to a nice restaurant and allow them to play on an iPad so that you and your spouse can eat a nice meal in peace, you have random older women walking up to you, schooling you about “what happened in their day.”

      In sum, I want for my day-to-day to be more of a balance of things that are about me, my husband, and my child and less about all the things being about the child. Because my husband and I have lives to cultivate too. Ya know?

  6. Such a great read, you’ve echoed my thoughts exactly, except one thing. I don’t miss those formative years at ALL. My kids are in their teens now which I find so much easier than the hair raising journey that took from birth to 5 years. Not everyone would agree which is fair enough; we’re not all the same and we therefore shouldn’t be vilifying any parent’s personal journey; it’s their own. Parenthood can be a really tough gig!!

  7. For not liking it your damn good at it! Ok, you’ve wanted to hear me to use it or 32 years so here it is – you’re fucking great at it.

  8. Well fuck yeah!! I can tell you, telling your psychology class in college that you empathize with the mother that just drowned her 3 kids in bath tub isn’t popular either, they were narrow minded. Lol!
    I have two beautiful daughters. I wasn’t going to drown them. I just felt like I knew where she’d been.
    …I should probably wipe my feet before going to hell tough.

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