I am still figuring out this motherhood thing, but after 3 years the only thing I’m certain of is this:
It’s a complicated mix of Heart Making and Heart Breaking.
I’m probably going to ramble in this blog, b/c my feelings about motherhood are the rambling sort, and because – even though it’s 3 years later – I can still claim baby brain.
Ok, here goes:
There was a recent NYT article asking the question, “how fulfilling is modern day parenting?” It looks at how much time and energy we’re giving to our kids vs. generations that came before us. Turns out, even though women work out of the home more in modern day America, we are spending more energy focused on our children. But are we more gratified?
One woman from a previous generation summed up her view of motherhood like this:
“My job was to love and discipline them, not entertain them.”
Holy shit! What a novel concept!
Meanwhile, in the spirit of modern day parenting, I’m spending every free minute with her, mostly at her beck and call (she is an only child, so I’m often her playmate when I’m home)…
Here’s one mind-numbingly boring example: doing high pitched voices for her stuffed animals for the 1000th time (“talk to Giraffy!!” the little tyrant endlessly commands).
And I’m tired. All the time. A mom friend of mine calls it “life tired”.
But it’s not simply about how much physical or emotional energy we give them, there’s a psychological toll motherhood takes.
As American women, we really don’t understand how much freedom of movement and freedom to your own body and freedom of choice that we have – until we have a child.
I heard all the jokes about not being able to go to the bathroom alone once you have kids. But it’s so much more than that.
A writer friend of my sisters summed it up like this:
“it’s the most crowded loneliest time of your life.” (the “isolation of motherhood” topic will have to be an entirely separate blog at a later date, b/c that shit is real real).
For those of us who need alone time to recharge, and for those of us who thrive on spontaneity and adventure – to be tethered by this great weight – it can feel maddening. At times, I felt like I was suffocating under all the neediness and the rigid routine (all of which I’ve been promised are good for my child. But what about whether it’s good for me?).
The first year they are literally attached to you. Breast feeding every couple of hours, baby-wearing, etc. etc.
The second year they are constantly running away from you …usually towards some perilous outcome like rush hour traffic. (that’ll get the heart rate up)
The third year a hardcore mama attachment anxiety rears its head, and the kiddo is following you everywhere, including into the bathroom. They cannot bear to have you out of their sight. If I want to go to the grocery store alone, that sets off the apocalypse of toddler meltdowns.
Once you become a mom, it’s not just that someone needs you, it’s that someone’s life literally depends on you, and this awesome responsibility looms large. It informs every single decision you make.
I’ve often (involuntarily) imagined how it would go if anything ever happened to my child. And I mean, the worst thing. I won’t play those grim scenarios out for you, but I will tell you that I’ve played them out for myself. And if anything ever did happen to her, I’d have to go to a desert island and drink myself to death. If I didn’t kill myself before I got to that point. Because, I’m not sure, but it seems like it might take too long to drink myself to death.
Seriously heavy ideas to contemplate and seriously heavy awareness to carry with me every day.
Basically, it comes down to this:
I’d trade my life for hers to keep anything from happening to her, and I’d kill myself if anything happened to her.
That’s a mama’s love.
And sometimes it makes me tired. And I hate it. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
And because of this… if I’m honest, some days, I am resentful that, the minute my daughter came into this world, she took my lightness. My heart may be three sizes bigger, but that’s a lot of fucking weight right there. And becoming a parent also took my identity. Who am I now? Where’d that light-hearted, gutsy, hard charging woman go?
I’ve suddenly got all the responsibility, but yet feel totally out of control of my own life.
As a parent, you control so little.
Simply wanting to go to the movies or for a walk is something to be negotiated with at least one person (her father), but more likely 2 or 3 other people (her father, my daughter, a babysitter).
Priority #1 is this powerful drive to keep this kid alive. That’s real level setting.
And, I believe, primal.
The lightness may be gone, but it’s been replaced by feelings I’ve never had, by a ferocity I never knew I had.
When my child is threatened, the Mama Bear version of me goes into full effect.
My higher self goes out the window (i.e. kindness, open-mindedness etc.) as does the lower version of myself (i.e. when I worry about what’s appropriate, or care what others think of me).
The “primal” me takes over, and my focus narrows: the only thing that matters is protecting her. I’ve screamed “HEY!” across a crowded room at a small child, when I saw him knock my daughter over. I’ve thrown a dog to the ground when he jumped up and scratched her face.
You’d think it would be freeing to have your priorities level set like this. To no longer care about trivial matters like propriety or manners. Oh, but it has a heavy toll.
When you are hard-wired to protect your young, you are incessantly scanning for threats. You are constantly on high alert. My brain plays out insane, unlikely worst-case scenarios:
–our chandelier falling on her head while she’s on her play mat in the living room
–SIDS while in crib
–cars running her over
–a piece of cement breaking off a tall building and crushing her skull
–second hand drowning from being under the bath tub water for a millisecond
I have imagined a lot of worst case scenarios that involved my kid’s skull being crushed. What is that about?!!
I probably needed some anti-anxiety meds, looking back. Who would choose to feel or think this way? Wine helped, for sure.
It’s exhausting, and I sometimes want to escape the weight of parenthood. I find myself desperately wanting to get away, wanting to have fun …
And when I am finally away, I want to be back with her. And while I am away, it’s as if I’m simply incapable of having fun the way I used to.
It all seems a bit silly and superficial, and damn it, I miss silly and superficial sometimes.
But you can’t go back.
At this point, I don’t care if a guy flirts with me at bar. I don’t care about a nice meal out at a fancy restaurant. These days, I simply want my people happy & healthy, and a good night’s sleep. But there is a part of me that wishes I still cared about the “meaningless” moments. That could go back to a lighter, simpler time.
And ideally, one that doesn’t involve the drudgery of parenting.
I hate negotiating bedtime with my little tyrant (“one more song!”). I hate making her meals she won’t eat. I hate cleaning up the endless litter of toys that seems to multiply daily in every room of the house.
I get triggered by her lack of impulse control and her giant feelings that present as loud, physical tantrums. The kind you think are simply a stereotype from the movies until you see your own child dissolve onto the floor, flopping around like a fish out of water. Her distress pains me. Her crying is an ice pick piercing my heart. And my inability to make it better makes me feel ineffectual and useless. For someone who is driven and results oriented (me!), on really bad days, I feel a hopeless certainty that I am failing as a mother. This hopelessness translates to irritability and frustration, usually directed at her or my husband. Good times all around!
Age 3 has been dubbed “threenager” because of the big mood swings and I am living it in real time. Thank God we’ve invested 3 years of love and nurturing because if she’s arrived like this, I might have sent her back. Ok, don’t call child protective services on me…I’m hyperbolizing a bit. But holy high emotions. This week alone she lost her shit because I didn’t have any more cheddar bunnies, and then because I wanted her to wear a coat in 41 degree weather, and then because I wouldn’t let her have my phone, and then because I wouldn’t let her sit on my lap during dinner, and then because it was too hot in the car, and also because it was too cold in the car (same trip)… you get the picture.
Yet you wouldn’t change it.
You can’t take it back and even if you could, you wouldn’t want to.
But sometimes the trade doesn’t feel fair.
So why do we do it? I mean, why would anyone in their right mind want all this struggle and anxiety?
Some of it is has to be biological.
Again – that hardwired drive to keep the species alive.
But it’s more than that.
Because along with the weight I talked about, comes a powerful connection.
I’ve never felt a love like this. I’ve never felt this depth of feeling.
This longing. This loving.
With a child, you get goodness, laughter, heart bursting moments when they turn to you and say, unprompted “you are a great mama” (often at moments when I am certain I am a terrible mother) or “I love you, mama” (usually when I don’t deserve such kind words). And their hugs!!! OMG. Nothing feels better.
This year during the holidays, my daughter and I giggled as we danced around the kitchen to “Last Christmas” by Wham. I suddenly found myself getting choked up, and overwhelmed by the sheer joy and purity of the moment, and more importantly: the real time giant love I feel for her.
In between the drudgery and the frustration, there are these moments of wonder where you are fully aware of the goodness being bestowed on you in the moment.
You are aware that it’s fleeting and because it won’t last, you understand just how imperative it is to hold on tight before the moment shifts to something else. Gratitude in real time feels more potent and rare than nostalgically looking back on memories through rose colored glasses.
They say nothing worthwhile is easy.
That’s 150% true for parenting.
It’s difficult, draining, confusing, boring, magical, fun, exciting, and ultimately crazy rewarding.
Both heart-making and heart breaking,
Like I said, it’s complicated.