I was in bed, sick and useless, basically all weekend. It had been building for a while. Last week I started to feel tired. Overwhelmed. Pulled too thin like a rubber band just before it snaps. At work I say yes to basically any new project I’m offered, both because they’re interesting but also because I don’t want to miss any opportunity to learn a new skill. At home I try to cook all the meals and pack all the lunches and go sledding and do laundry and make sure homework is done and fingernails are clipped and no one’s watching too much TV. Sometimes I'm even social with other adult humans! (Hi mom!) And because I’m me I want to do all of this without any help from anyone, ever. But even when I’m managing it all, I somehow still feel like I’m floundering. Most nights I lay in bed and think about the things that I forgot to do.
I vented all of this to a friend last week, who assured me that I was a great mom.
“I know I’m a great mom.” I replied. “I must be with all this crushing guilt I feel all the time.”
I was half kidding, but half not. I really do feel guilty most of the time, and it’s exhausting.
Even as the progressive term "modern motherhood" is thrown around, the subtext continues to encourage a selflessness that to me seems both impractical and unattainable. I think women have the unfortunate, inherited propensity of treating motherhood as a form of martyrdom; As though your success as a mother were measured solely by what you’ve given up. Last year when I flew from Japan to the US for a week without my children, I had several friends comment that they were shocked that I was “leaving” my kids on their first day of school. Mind you, they were with their father, safe and cared for, and it was the first time I had gone anywhere alone in more than five years. Instead of a community of support and compassion I was faced with judgment and criticism.
In the face of all this turmoil I reflected back on my own relationship with my mother. It has never been solely her physical proximity to me that offered comfort, but her emotional availability. I know that if I need her, she’ll be there. I don't need to hear her say she loves me for me to know without a doubt that I am loved. When I was younger and she was in grad school she was very busy, but I never felt angry about that. I felt proud of what she was accomplishing. When she would on occasion go out with friends, or date, or go on trips, I never felt bitterness or abandonment. I felt a freedom to live my life knowing that she had one of her own. She used to host Mardi Gras parties with all our friends and neighbors, and after I was ushered to bed in the early morning hours I remember lying there listening to her laughing, and I felt happy because she was happy.
There’s this thing that parents say sometimes when explaining something to their children. “I’m doing all of this for you!” First of all, it’s a weird thing to say. It’s too much responsibility to place upon the shoulders of a child. Second, it’s bullshit. It’s a way to avoid responsibility or justify your decisions, because surely if you’re “doing it all” for someone else, then you’re absolved of personal accountability. So following that logic, if you go through life unhappy and unfulfilled, hey, you did it for your kids. If you don’t accomplish what you want to in your lifetime, surely your children's success will negate that failure, right? THAT MAKES NO SENSE. Someday your kids will grow up and they will see you for what you are. Not some perfect saint, but a flawed human no different from them. They will not buy into this whole martyr thing then, if they ever did. They will know of the sacrifices you made for them, but wouldn't you rather they remember the sound of your laughter? Wouldn't that be more of a comfort and inspiration?
We all know in theory that it takes a village to raise a child, but as a mother it’s hard to relinquish control to your village. It’s hard to let other people, even family, help you raise your children. It’s been hard every snow day in the past month to rely on friends and family to check on and entertain the boys while I work. It will be hard to watch them get on a plane without me this summer. Alternately, it can be hard to withhold judgment when we see someone else seemingly doing this mothering thing with more ease, more help or more grace than we feel we have. Motherhood is tough enough without all the outside influences and subliminal messages we're bombarded with on a daily basis. Don't feed the machine. It's broken and outdated and turns women against each other. We all mother differently. Our children will be brilliantly diverse, isn't that great??!
I constantly find myself slipping back into this mindset of feeling like I should value certain ideals that I just don't. So I get very silent and listen to myself. I tune out the voices criticizing me for wanting a different kind of life. I'm immensely lucky to have this village, so I'm going to let them help me. I'm going to try to lead a life that I love, and in turn give my kids what they need, which is me, happy.