“I feel guilty saying this,” I recently overheard a friend whispering
in conversation, “But she’s been sleeping through the night since she was 2
months old. It’s kind of amazing.”
I couldn’t help but wonder why a
statement like that would have to be prefaced by guilt. Why a new mom couldn’t
just outright brag about her relatively easy child?
We’ve entered this realm of parenting where it
is no longer polite to talk about enjoying the early stages of motherhood. Not
only is it no longer polite, but you might be considered a liar if you gloat
too profusely. There is this push to shed light on the “realities”
of motherhood, to write and talk honestly about the darker depths of being a
mother and about all that is sacrificed, especially in those early months.
In the name of sisterhood, unity and providing support for our
fellow moms, we are all now called upon to dig deep and share openly. But what if your truth isn’t nearly as dark and horrid as the truths
others seem to want to hear?
I was recently editing a parenting book that included lines like,
“Even if every mom isn’t talking about it, they are all struggling with a loss
of self,” and “No mom actually likes parenting in the early years. It’s hard and
requires self-sacrifice and dedication that doesn’t come naturally to anyone.
But we do it, because that’s the job we signed on for.”
Let’s stop acting like it is a universal thing to feel as though you are trapped in the role of motherhood.
There was this generally bleak outlook of motherhood throughout the
pages, accompanied by proclamations that any mother who doesn’t openly
admit to the same dark feelings is lying. But this wasn't my experience at all.
I could have shrugged it off as being the opinion of just one
author, yet it seems to be part of a more universal shift in how we talk about
motherhood overall. Writers are pushing mothers to “Tell
the Truth” about motherhood, and we are now seeing article
after article dedicated to saying, “You’re not alone. Motherhood
doesn’t come naturally to any of us. We’re all just doing the
best we can.”
While I agree with that to some extent, I have to admit that I find
myself cringing when I read a lot of these pieces. They aren’t
reflective of my experience, and I feel like I can’t admit that without being
exactly the mother they are admonishing—the one they claim tries too hard to
make it all look easy, only accomplishing the act of making other moms feel
guilty in the process.
But what if it really wasn’t that hard for me?
I am totally one of those moms who thought
new motherhood was pretty damn blissful. Even with the sleepless nights, doing
it all on my own and the chaos of trying to cram nine months of baby prep into her first few
months of life, there was never a point where I sat back and thought,
"Wow, this is really hard." In fact, I was kind of soaking it all in,
just loving every second of being a mom. The panic came before she was born,
Compared to the years prior to that, when I had been sick, in constant pain and
terrified that I would never be a mother at all, those months of new motherhood
really were some of the best of my life. Even I almost felt guilty, because
I had friends who were in the early stages of parenting themselves who would
call me up, wanting to commiserate about how hard it all was, but I just didn't
feel that way.
Maybe it was because of how many years I spent afraid those months would never come at all, or because I hadn't given birth myself (and
therefore didn't have all those hormones surging through me and a healing
process to contend with). I'm even willing to admit it might have had something
to do with the fact that my daughter was such
an easy baby.
But those early months weren’t something I ever felt like I had
to “survive.” And there has never been a point where I have felt like I needed
a break or escape from my girl. That isn’t a judgment against those moms who do
feel that way, because I think that can be normal too. But let’s stop
acting like it is a universal thing to feel as though you are trapped in the
role of motherhood.
Why does my experience of motherhood have to be downplayed or pretended away in order to make anyone else feel better about theirs?
Because it isn’t. And because I know I can’t possibly be the
only mother who has never felt that way. I can't be the only one who didn't
struggle with the shift that took place or who didn't spend nights crying in a
corner, wondering if she would ever sleep again.
I don't think that makes me a better mother than anyone else,
not by a long shot. I think I was absurdly lucky in a lot of ways. I just hate
this shift we're seeing toward early motherhood being represented as something
grueling and awful, when it really was anything but for me.
Sure, there have been bits and pieces that have been less
enjoyable than others. When my daughter has gotten some illness or another from
daycare and been miserably sick for an entire week, I could have used a
partner. But those times
have been few and far between, and I would argue they have felt more difficult
because I am a single parent, not because parenting in and of itself is so
For me, motherhood was just something that felt like it came
naturally. Right from the very beginning. It felt like the role I was always
meant to play.
It’s human nature to want to believe that everything we are
going through is normal, and I get that someone having a difficult time
adjusting to the rigors of motherhood might desperately need to know she isn’t
alone in that. And you know what? She isn’t! There are plenty of
others who have experienced the same thing. But why does my experience of
motherhood have to be downplayed or pretended away in order to make anyone else
feel better about theirs?
I think we all need to realize there is no one experience of
motherhood that is true for everyone, and that how we experience those early
months is not a reflection of what kind of mother we are, but rather a unique
combination of our personalities and situations. Just as some mothers are
suited for staying home and others would prefer to return to work, we are all
built a little differently. And the early months are going to affect us in
different ways. Not to mention, our kids are all different as well.
Look, I am never going to be a Pinterest mom, and my efforts in the
kitchen are less than impressive. But I am good at adjusting. I’m good at thriving
on very little sleep and remaining calm under pressure. And I have always been
at my best when I am around children. I have a lifetime of experience
babysitting and nannying and a degree explicitly geared toward early
childhood development. So for me, the hard part was always just about becoming
a mother—not embracing that role once it was finally mine.
If the same
isn’t true for you, that’s OK. It doesn’t make you a bad mom and it isn’t
anything to be ashamed of, if it took you a little longer to get there. There is
nothing wrong with struggling. It’s all a crapshoot, and how we experience motherhood is going to depend a lot
on our personal frames of reference and the unique qualities each of our
children possess. There are no guarantees.
because I say it wasn’t hard, it doesn’t mean I’m lying.
It just means
that my experience was different from yours.