Yesterday was one of those all-time parenting low days. Typically when I have a day like that, I pour my heart out on the screen and share it with the world – I’ve found a lot of relief in doing that in the past. But yesterday, I’m not exactly sure why – I was too ashamed. Maybe I felt like I’ve complained too much, like I’ve already reached my allotted sympathy levels from fellow moms. What I also felt for sure was this deep dark secret – I’m worse at mothering than most people. I was certain that nobody struggled as much as me – that it was easier for everyone else. Not only easier, but more enjoyable. I really believed that.
But the shaking in my hands and the tears in my eyes had me feeling desperate, so I reached out to a couple people I trusted and felt safe asking – am I having a nervous breakdown? Am I failing at motherhood? Am I The Worst There Ever Was? After I sent out the text I felt like puking, being that vulnerable. When neither texted back instantly I wanted to reach out into the text universe and pull back my question so they could never see it.
But they did.
And they responded loud and clear and assuring – you are NOT alone. One said something along the lines of yeah, that’s a normal Tuesday over here. They responded with examples of their own meltdowns, what they are going through right now, and promising me I don’t need to re-home my children to a better mother. I could have collapsed on the floor with gratitude.
But here’s the thing, y’all – if I hadn’t reached out, I would have never known. Nobody is really readily offering up these highlight reels of the reaaaalllll bad stuff for anyone else to see. I have lots of practice letting out my deep dark thoughts and failures on the wide open plains of the internet on the regular, and in return I get a lot of people willing to share their deep, dark stuff with me. But what about the mamas who aren’t chronic overshare-ers? Where is their support?
Today I read a post by Hanifa Abdul Sabur that began with “I think that mothers owe it to each other and to future women to be honest about how much mothering hurts”. And I felt it deep in my bones. I felt it.
I’m not advocating that every mother goes out and airs her dirty laundry for the entire world to hear. But I am going to argue this – It is our moral obligation to speak out on the truth about motherhood.
Do I mean taking to social media and preaching the terrors of motherhood or cornering every woman you know and telling her your worst moments of parenting? No – what I’m talking about is counteracting with a little levity the bullshit “embrace EVERY SINGLE moment, you are going to miss this! You better be thankful for what you’ve got” narrative. The rhetoric I firmly believe is a huge culprit behind preventing women from being fucking HONEST. That these well-loved, often-repeated, stitched on fabric and posted on walls words are preventing women from reaching out, from finding out we aren’t alone, from being proactive about making changes in our lives. These words, repeated by our grandparents, parents, friends, church, online communities – keep us silent. The underlying fear beneath all of these statements is this: Don’t you dare speak ill of your gift. It could be taken away, and then how would you feel? Translation: your children could die if you aren’t thankful enough. Shut up and be thankful. Talk about the ultimate punishment.
And we all know its not true, but isn’t there a part there that maybe entertains that thought for a beat longer than it should? But what these cutesy sayings don’t acknowledge is that we can be thankful at the same time we are honest. Gratitude doesn’t require blind stupidity or flat out lying. And these things can co-exist at once – I am so grateful for my child, and also the stress of parenting is giving me an ulcer. Both true statements. But when we conveniently leave out parts of the truth, we are effectively lying by omission to future generations. Because lets be real! Once you have left a certain stage behind for long enough – you fucking forget! I honestly cannot remember many details from my daughter’s newborn days – and she is four. If you are asking a friend how their trip to a resort went and they said “oh it was just magic! The beaches were gorgeous!” and left out the part about how the resort ran a wailing siren every night at 3 am for 2 hours, that’s kind of a big fucking thing to leave out. And when you get there and hear the sirens, are you supposed to pretend you don’t hear them? Or that you LIKE the sound of them? Or maybe you don’t say anything because you are thinking maybe you just got a bad room or maybe you are being personally punished or maybe something is wrong with your ears because WHY WOULD YOU LEAVE OUT THIS VERY IMPORTANT FACT??
And the longer we are silent the further this cycle repeats itself. It’s not fair to our daughters. For them to grow up and believe something is fundamentally wrong with them, because nobody is fucking talking about it. It is imperative we speak out for them – that we not sugarcoat everything and pretend motherhood is rose colored and gauzy.
I’m the friend texting moms of newborns saying “its ok if its terrible! Its ok if you hate this part!” And believe me, there have been times I get the response that actually, things are going amazing and this is the best time of their entire lives. I’ve often felt shame in those moments, again feeling that maybe there is something inherently wrong with me. But invariably, at some point in motherhood I get the response “oh my god. This part is so hard.” Because it is. Different parts are hard, for everyone.
My husband and I were discussing a social media post from a new mom and he said something along the lines of why is she lying about how perfect everything is? And I said – because she can’t say the true thing. And because this thing, the perfect/amazing part is also true. But only one of those parts is “ok” to say out loud. Only one of those parts will get the “awwwws” while the other will get the slow, sideways sliding away without making eye contact.
Because the only truth about motherhood is that it is both brutal and beautiful. Both horrible and incredible. But we cheapen the beauty by refusing to acknowledge the struggle.
So let us speak up a little more – notice when we sense a struggle in a fellow mom. Remember to talk about not just the gorgeous beaches, but toss a mention in about the 3 am sirens. Reach out with our own experiences and struggles and failures. Reach out with a cocktail. Reach out with humor. Reach out with anything – just let her know she’s not alone.