Am I the only one who’s tired of reading the endless saga of motherly martyrdom? Seems like there’s alot of it floating around the internet, and it grows by the hour. These woe-is-mom stories come in many different formats. There are the so-called humourous advice lists for pregnant first-timers. Get sleep now because when that baby gets here you’ll never sleep again. Say goodbye to going out, and even running errands, because that’s all over when you become a mother. You will have to look at your calendar to determine what day it is, and even then you won’t know if it’s day or night. You won’t have any friends, but you won’t care because you’ll be too busy to hang out with them, or even talk on the phone. Your body will never be the same – hope you’re enjoying that nice rack while you still can. Your sex life will be non-existant, and you won’t even want one anymore because even brushing your teeth is going to be a challenge, never mind wearing attractive clothing or having good hair days. Forget having nice things. Your baby will poop on everything you own all day every day, and then when he turns two he’ll break what’s not stained.
Then, there are the open letters to the child-free. Dear Selfish Asshole Who Has Somehow Managed To Avoid Spawning, you have no idea what it’s like to love any other living creature. You sleep away whole weekends – I sleep only for two hours at a time, and even then I keep one eye open. You post pictures of your plate at that new Thai place everyone’s talking about. Know what? I havn’t been to a restaurant in seven years. My caloric intake is limited to leftover chicken nuggets, cold pizza with fingerprints in it, and dry cereal. And I eat it all standing up! Oh, you’ve backpacked across Europe? You just received a Ph.D.? That’s nice. Try being a mommy, if you want a real challenge. I’m a nanny, cook, maid, nurse, psychiatrist, teacher, secretary, event planner, referee, cabbie …. and here’s what my services would be worth if someone paid me for them (insert massive price here). We’ve all read these annoying manifestos.
Finally, there are the wildly exaggerated descriptions of day-to-day life. They manage to make it sound like every mother is currently cooking dinner while doing her taxes while a baby screams in her arms and a two-year-old clings to her legs and a four-year-old fingerpaints on the wall with his own poop and the phone and doorbell are both ringing, and her husband isn’t coming home for another three hours, and she hasn’t left the house or even showered in a week. In between the hyperbole and the hysterics, she has to use the toilet, which she will do with the baby digging tiny claws into her neck, the two-year-old still wrapped around her legs, and the four-year-old banging on the door and howling “mommy” like he’s being chased by a rabid grizzly bear.
Take a deep breath …. in …. out. Motherhood is tough, it’s true. It may very well be the hardest thing most mommies have ever done. You’ll be tired – more tired than you ever thought it was possible to be. But you’ll manage – we’re built to manage. And one night, like a magical switch has been flipped by a magical hand, your baby will sleep all the way through – and keep doing that. One day, you’ll waltz into a grocery store with nothing but your three-year-old – the diaper bag now a thing of the past – and you will get all the things on your list, and a treat for her, because she’ll have behaved so well. You’ll pick up the threads of friendships that were put on hold when you were finding your way in the new and scary realm of parenting – and if they are true friends, they’ll understand and welcome you back into their life with open arms. Catching up will feel great. Yes, you can go out and have fun even when you have children – you just have to plan ahead, and be willing to pay a little more for your fun. Your body will change – you’ve housed, grown and released a human being. However, over time, you will develop a self-preserving pride in your very own lived-in work of art, and you will begin to value your body for what it does for you – not just for what it looks like. Give your relationship the time and listening and caring that it needs, and it will survive the craziness of parenthood. Don’t let the little one come between you; let him unite you as the two people who love him most in all the world – two people who have spent years building something beautiful, and are still hammering away at it. Your time will be more limited, your house will be messier. However, you will value your time more because there’s less of it to waste, and your messy house won’t be so bad if you spend about five minutes in each room each day. Unless you’re living in a mansion, that means an hour or less. And if you’re living in a mansion you’ve probably got some help with the housekeeping anyway. A few of your nice things might suffer, but in the end they’re just things. If you can’t bear to lose them, put them away until your small feral human becomes someone with whom you can reason and to whom you can teach rules and boundaries.
As for the shit’s-hit-the-fan-and-continues-to-spin-and-splatter moments, we’ve all had them. There are some memories I have of the noise and chaos and stress of having small children that still make me cringe. Moments when I did not have control of them or even myself, when I did not do the wise thing – or even an acceptable thing. Moments when taking care of them pushed me to the brink of my endurance, and I wondered why I ever thought I could do this thing called motherhood. But those didn’t happen every day, or even every week – and, when they did, they were brief. There were many times when they would lead to laughter.
It’s really not that bad, and the first step to making things easier for ourselves is admitting that, and letting go of the martyr act. Put the baby down for the few minutes it takes to put on clothes you feel good wearing (over-sized, stained t-shirts and yoga pants with holes in them never lifted anyone’s spirits), and brush your teeth. Maybe even drag her swing into the bathroom, and have a shower …. She won’t cry herself to death, and maybe she’ll even learn to self-soothe, a skill every baby should acquire. Go for a walk. If you dress them (and yourself) appropriately for the weather, ten minutes outside will do you all good. Have a cup of coffee, call a friend. Even a five-minute connection with the outside world will make you feel better. In other words, take care of yourself – put your oxygen mask on first so you can help yourself and others. Finally, do everyone around you a favour – don’t let your cyber-whining rival your kids’ real-life whining!
Disclaimer: This rant is not aimed at mothers of children with special needs, whose days are more challenging than I can properly understand or even fully imagine. Or anyone whose baby is under the age of six weeks. Complain all you want – the newborn stage, as every mother knows, is parenting’s trial-by-fire!