UGH. I know. One more thing to worry about, right? Don't you already spend enough time fretting over all the ways you're letting your kids down, and your partner, and your parents, and and and? And now I'm gonna put this shit on you? For real? I know. But also. Momming is hard enough by itself. But then, collectively, we are all actively making it harder for each other by weirdly ignoring that fact. Yeah, everyone says it when we're being smug and self-righteous about how we deserve more respect, but then at the same time we only put perfectly staged photos on the internet and post about how OMG baby Tommy slept through the night at only 6 weeks! or Little Jenny actually asks to eat broccoli at 2 years old- #blessed to have the world's best eater!
WTF, you guys? This curated nonsense we're putting out into the world is making being a mom so. much. harder. And if you're contributing toward letting other moms down? That means you're also making it harder on yourself. Knock that shit off. Below are five of the ways we are letting other moms (and ourselves) down, and why we need to stop.
We say what is expected instead of what is honest
I’ve talked before about how it was not love at first sight when I met my daughter. As I was writing that post, I felt convicted, like a horrible mother. I had to really push myself to hit publish and put that thought out there, because it goes directly against the acceptable narrative. You know the quotes: Childbirth is the only date where you are guaranteed to meet the love of your life, and all that other bullshit. That may be true for some women, but for others it isn’t, and that’s ok. It was important for me to write that truthfully, when Theory came out, I had no idea what to do. I had no clue what to make of her. She was an angry walnut covered in my insides dropped onto my chest and whatever I felt right then, it was not love. But thundering in the back of my head was the thought that I was supposed to feel a deep, immediate connection that would bring tears to my eyes and crack me open forever, and even in that first moment I wondered if there was something wrong with me. The more we push the expected narrative, the more we invalidate the experiences of other moms.
We tie difficult subjects up with pretty bows to keep from making people uncomfortable
Our anecdotes have a pretty little moral, a silver lining, a prize at the end to mask the ugliness, to make the hardships “worth it”. Ambiguity or just plain unpleasantness makes people uncomfortable. They don’t want to hear about the months of depression and anxiety after your child was born; they just want to hear that the clouds lifted and you love your child more than you ever thought possible so they can have their feel-good story of perseverance and keep that endures-all-things sacrificial motherhood ideal intact. Gloss over the ugly, and give me the happy ending. But the ugly is the most important part, and not all stories have happy endings, but they’re still valuable. Don’t try and “spin” your own stories into something emotionally satisfying for someone else if that’s not your reality. It’s only teaching us that struggles are only ok to share once the flowers bloom out of the manure.
We doubt our own instincts and feelings
I imagine myself to be a fierce protector of my motherly autonomy. My parenting strategies are backed by peer-reviewed studies, common sense, and my own innate instincts. I am confident that the choices I have made for my family are the right ones. And yet..a month ago I sat in a male septuagenarian gastrointestinal specialist’s office, sick with worry over my toddler, and when he said “At two and a half she shouldn’t be breastfeeding. You’ve shot your wad in terms of health benefits. At this point you’re just doing it for yourself, and that’s not something good mothers do,” I did not roar with power and righteous outrage. I did not cite the World Health Organization, or the huge number of cultures that practice extended breastfeeding, or even the growing number of American pediatricians who endorse it. I felt chastised, and embarrassed, and scared, and ashamed, and to be honest, a little gross. I was desperately reaching out for an expert to tell me what was wrong with my daughter, and, unsolicited, he told me instead what was wrong with me. And I let him. I didn’t stand up for myself because this person in a position of health-related authority told me I was wrong. When we as mothers allow others to tell us we’re “doing it wrong” and begin to doubt our own internal voices, we are stifling our power. It leaves us feeling vulnerable and lacking confidence, and our children notice it, too.
[For the record: definitely not criticizing what this mama is doing, because it's brave and it's important and acknowledging these feelings publicly is so, so necessary. How valuable could it have been for another mom, instead of saying "I've been there and it turned out fine" to say "Me too. Right this very minute. You're not alone"?]
We only speak in retrospect, not in the thick of the shit
It seems that when we speak about postpartum depression, or finding out our child would have some sort of disability, or any other struggles that go along with motherhood, its always after we’ve “come out the other side”, once we have perspective and the benefit of knowing that everything turned out ok. But when you’re right in the middle of that desert, it’s important to acknowledge that you aren’t ok, that you don’t know how things will end, that you have a ton of scary big feelings and doubts. Where are the voices saying, “This is where I am right this second, and it sucks”? It’s nice for those of us in the quagmire now to know things end up alright, but it’s also important to know that we’re not alone down in the muck right now, either.
We censor ourselves
Have you ever not said something to someone about some aspect of motherhood you’re struggling with because you didn’t want to be seen as ungrateful that a)you have a child b) you were able to get pregnant c) you were able to carry to term d)your child is healthy e)any other reason? Me too. And it’s not that we shouldn’t be cognizant of other people’s struggles, or be empathetic to them, but simply because other people have struggles greater than our own doesn’t mean our struggles aren’t valid, too. Realizing this was such an epiphany for me. It’s not a zero-sum game where one person’s conflict trumps another’s, and renders it moot. Not talking about the things you are struggling with to avoid offending or upsetting someone puts you in the position to be responsible for others’ feelings over your own. Take care of you, mama. Talk when you need to. Ask for help or advice when you need it. But also acknowledge other moms’ hurts. If you are being authentic, you're probably also offending someone somewhere. Be authentic anyway.