If the first rule of Fight Club is “You do not talk about Fight Club,” then the first rule of motherhood is “You do not talk about how HARD motherhood is.” Hard, not like a level three yoga class or an SAT math problem, but HARD (all caps) to the core of your being. I have moments when my toddler is screaming and I feel as though I might split apart into a thousand little pieces, and I am incapable of doing anything but convert oxygen to carbon dioxide.
I am sure that people told me. I am sure they said, “it’s really hard (lowercase), but wonderful.” Or “children are a lot of work.” I am sure people said things like this to me. But I didn’t listen, or to be more precise, I didn’t hear. The truth is, there is really no place to tell future parents. You can’t tell a woman who wants a child how hard it is—she won’t listen. You would certainly never tell a pregnant woman how hard it is (that would just seem rude). But those of us who are already mothers, we sometimes whisper it to one another, “today was a tough one,” while our eyes well up with tears.
I go on Facebook and see pictures of people’s perfect children in perfect places being perfect. Don’t get me wrong—I post those moments too. And I am not the type to embarrass my daughter by posting a picture of a tantrum or her running around naked when she needs to get ready for school. But those moments exist, and although my daughter sleeps blissfully well, I am exhausted in my bones, all the time.
But let me start at the beginning. I love my daughter. I love her more than anything I have ever known. Sometimes I feel my heart might burst from how much I love her. I am incredibly grateful for her. I pray to God as often as I can remember to thank her for my sweet little girl. We had to try for years to conceive her. We did everything to bring her to us. Eastern and Western Medicine, prayer, three rounds of IVF, all of it. I have never wanted something as desperately as I wanted her. And finally we got pregnant, and I loved her from the moment I saw the blastocyst (one of the few joys of IVF is that you get to see your child when they are just a jumble of cells). And then she was born, wet and pink and screaming and beautiful.
But it was hard those first few months. I cried every night at sundown for the first month (I blame that on the hormones). And even after the tears stopped, I lived in a perpetual haze. I went back to work after three months. Let me clarify, I RAN back to work. TGIM—”thank goodness it is Monday”—was my new motto. I still feel like this. I know it is might sound like a crappy thing to admit, but I look forward to Mondays. To my cool, air-conditioned office. To my quiet cup of coffee and the ability to get work accomplished without the fear that my daughter could become unglued at any moment and scream like a banshee.
All that said, I am a good mom. I spend all my non-working hours with her. I am what my colleague calls a “floor sitter.” I get down on the floor with my daughter, and I play with her and her toys and blocks. I make her stuffed animals come to life by giving them voices and making up stories. We play hide-and-seek and read together. We watch (a limited amount) of child-appropriate television together. I tell her I love her all the time. I read all the books about being a good parent. My husband and I practice respectful parenting and let her take healthy risks. I take my role as mommy very seriously. Perhaps too seriously? Maybe if I half-assed parenting once in a while, I might find it an easier gig.
I recently read that part of what makes modern-day motherhood so difficult is that we try and do it alone, without extended family to rely on. We live in tiny, isolated homes and rarely reach out to others. This is true of our family. While my husband is a great father and we have a wonderful nanny, we don’t have any local family with young children to help. We create artificial “play dates” with other families in the hopes that our children will play together or at least near each other long enough that we can have a sip of wine or a few lines of conversation. I long for the “village” that would help me care for my child, so that I could get some housework done or exercise or make dinner. Instead, we hire nannys and babysitters and pay for schools. All of this is fine—those that we employ are wonderful and care deeply for our child and allow her to grow and become independent—but what if we couldn’t afford to pay for those things? What about the mother who is truly stuck home without a car or without funds for any of the above? It is so HARD.
And don’t get me wrong, my daughter is a textbook child. She is right on track developmentally. While I would also call her “spirited,” she is no more or less challenging than your average child. In fact, most of the time she is quite lovely. While I think that all children are wonderful, magical beings, I think that some moms are tipping the scale of HARD. I want you to know that I bow down before you, to your grace and patience and love and fierce protection of your children. I know there will be those who read this article thinking, “You don’t know what hard is,” and you are totally right. I don’t know. I can’t even imagine; I am struggling for air myself. I have just one child. Not two or twins, or three or five. So again, I bow before you all and just say, Well done, keep going, and if I can find one, I will send a life raft.
If there is one thing I have learned by becoming a mother, it is a deep respect of all mothers (and a deep love of all children). I no longer judge. I think we all need to do whatever we can to get by. Co-sleep/cry-it-out; breastfeed/formula feed; stay at home/work; cloth diapers/paper diapers. My thought is if it gets you through the day and works for your family (and of course isn’t harmful to you or your child), go for it. Goldfish for dinner? Been there. Another half-hour of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse? Fine.
My daughter is two now and everyone says, “Oh, what a fun age!” I will admit, mainly, she is charming and adorable. I love to hear what she has to say, and watch her accomplish things on her own. But fun? Oh, we have moments. We laugh and play and cuddle (for about 10 seconds and then she runs away). But it’s not really fun, or at least not fun for me. It is joyous and lovely and heart-warming, and I love to watch her have fun. But it is not my fun, not grown-up fun like a great yoga class, or drinks with the girls, or a day at the beach reading celeb rags.
I have heard it said that for parents the days are long but the years are short. I have found that to be true. Sometimes, I find the days so incredibly long. Sometimes, I will admit, I eek up her bedtime just by fifteen minutes to make the day end sooner. I know someday I might regret this. I know someday my daughter won’t want to spend time with me and that she might live far away and won’t call me for days. And that is hard too. That is all part of what makes motherhood so HARD.
But this morning I walked into her room, excited like all mornings to see her shining face. She looked at me with love in her eyes and said, “Mommy’s here!” And for a moment there was pure bliss.
And then she screamed and threw her milk bottle against the wall.