The other day, I found myself standing over my kitchen sink—so worn out from the last few days of interrupted sleep and endless to-do lists—that I couldn’t stop crying. Parenting had brought me to my breaking point and it definitely wasn’t the first time. I was staring at what felt like an insurmountable workload, wondering when I would find time to rest and take care of myself.
“Pass off anything someone else can do,” my mom told me when I told her how discouraged I felt. “You don’t need to be running yourself into the ground alone. You have a partner and I can help, too.”
I heard her and I tried to take her advice, but I kept running into the same wall—it felt like I was the only one who could do my job. I was the mom, the person responsible for the food and the discipline and getting everyone ready for the school year and obsessing over whether or not there was something wrong with my kid who keeps wandering the halls at night or if this is just a phase I can ignore.
It wasn’t until I tried to explain it out loud, that I tried to voice why I felt like I had to take on most of the hard stuff in our lives, that I realized it was pretty ridiculous and downright unfair. Both my husband and I were operating under the assumptions that some things come more naturally to me because I’m the mom. As a result, more of the hard stuff was landing on my shoulders.
I don’t think our family is unique when it comes to what we believe about the capabilities of moms versus dads. In fact, I know we aren’t. I’ve had friends confess their husbands won’t get up at night, because “they don’t do well on a little sleep.” I’ve watched fathers defer to the mother on all of the child-related decisions not because she wanted to take them on, but because he believed she was better at parenting.
Well, I’ve got news for you, if moms are better at parenting, it isn’t because it comes naturally—it's because we don’t have any other choice.
This whole belief system that being maternal makes moms superhuman while dads are klutzes with the kids doesn’t do anyone any favors, but it's especially harmful to moms.
It leaves us feeling like there isn’t anyone to step in if we drop the ball, that all the hard things fall on us, no matter what's going on in our lives. On top of all that, we’re basically the go-to when our male partners drop the ball because, well, “it doesn’t comes as naturally to them.”
Being a parenting doesn’t come easier to moms—we just work damn hard at it.
That leaves us in this perpetual state of saving the day and, quite frankly, it's more than any one person can handle. For me, it means I swoop in and take over when my partner is getting frustrated because the expectation to be patient, even when he doesn’t feel like it, doesn’t weigh on him like it does on me.
It means moms are constantly thinking about giving their husband a break or shushing their kids on Saturday morning while they’re feeling strung out and exhausted from the week, too. I’m not saying that dads shouldn’t get rest, I’m just suggesting the scale is uneven.
So I’m here to put an end to the myth, in my own life and in yours: Being a parenting doesn’t come easier to moms—we just work damn hard at it.
I know I have to learn to be speak patiently with my child, because I’m their primary caregiver and that’s my job. I know I have to keep getting up at night, even when I haven’t had more than four hours of sleep a night for months on end, because no one else will come running when my baby needs me.
I’m not exceptional, I’m just doing the next hard thing that needs to be done because that's what being a parent is like.
We have to stop with this cultural norm of putting moms on a pedestal, as if there's a level of self-sacrifice and hard work reserved for our gender alone. There's no reason why dads can’t jump in and pull tangled hair into ponytails, walk babies up and down the halls or keep track of everyone’s vaccine schedules. Anyone—male or female—can work hard, can learn to be a better parent, can learn to turn the selfishness aside.
And that's really what should be considered "natural."