As soon as I get a minute I am going to write a book of affirmations for mothers and mothers-to-be. It’s going to have a pastel cover design with some sort of soft-focus photo of a mother and child, and the title, written in sparkly, curly letters, is going to be: You Are Not A Bad Mother.
It’s going to have a lot of short chapters, and, like all parenting books, it will be marketed as being for all parents, even though it will probably only really fit some of us. The titles of the chapters are going to sum up truths about mothering: Who Cares If You Never Clean Your Oven; Everyone Loses Their Shit Sometimes; Eventually They Sleep; It’s None of Their Business; You Only Have Two Arms; Sometimes They Just Want To Cry; Next Week Will Be Different.
Chapter one is going to be called “Sometimes You Hate It.” It is going to go like this:
The worst thing a woman can say is “I hate being a mother.” We are supposed to like this. Good mothers like being mothers.
But what no one ever says is that sometimes you do hate it. For days or weeks or months, or, I guess, if you’re lucky, just for a few minutes here and there, you wonder why you decided to become a parent at all. You just want to eat your cereal by yourself. You are tired of doing puzzles. You don’t have any more ideas. You want to walk across the living room without stepping on a Lego.
If it took some effort to bring your child into your life (like if you were infertile, or went through a long adoption process, or if you had an awful pregnancy) you feel especially dumb and guilty about this. You longed for this life. You made a lot of noise about wanting it, and you and your partner and maybe your family and community put their hearts into making it happen. And now you don’t really like it.
And unless you are very, very lucky, you can’t say this to anyone. The other moms in your play group complain about being tired or about a list of daily frustrations, but no one ever says, “I just hate this. This is not for me after all.”
Not only that, but there’s always someone who beams and says that it is her dream job. That in spite of how hard it is there is nothing on earth she’d rather be doing. You want to chew up a fistful of play-doh and spit it at her, and so do probably half the others who are nodding and smiling, but no one says it. No one busts out with “I hate it. Sometimes I think it was all a mistake.” Some echo her, some stay quiet, some dig a burp cloth out of the diaper bag.
But the key word—for all of us—is sometimes. Even the beaming play group mom has moments—even if she never, ever admits it—where she hates it, too. Where she’d like to leave the children in the living room, check into the Holiday Inn with a novel and a loofah and spend the next month doing nothing but exfoliate, sleep, order french fries from room service and NOT be a mother. And when you hate being a mother? That’s a moment, too. Even if it’s a month or a year. You’re not a baby person, or not a toddler person, or not into hanging out with 7-year-olds, even ones you love, or for whatever reason you just need a break. That’s not forever. You hate it now. That will end.
But I don’t want to gloss it over: You DO hate it. “Just a moment” is not the same as “just a mood”. I believe you when you say that right now you hate it. What’s to love? You are tired. You are doing, over and over, things that are just not that interesting. Hard is not the same as challenging. Vital is not the same as lovable.
You do hate it. But before you start thinking of yourself as a miserable ogre for feeling that way, ever, consider this. These three things can all be true—unequivocally, absolutely true—at once. Without contradicting each other:
- You wanted your children so much you would’ve given one and a half of your lungs to bring them into your life, and if you hadn’t been able to have them you’d never have really gotten over it.
- Your children are the most important people in your life. They are beautiful and brilliant. Losing them would kill you.
- You hate being a mother and can’t stand the thought of continuing with this gig for even one more hour.
The cliché is that your heart grows when you become a parent, and this is why: to hold all of those things at once. You want your children, you love them, and right now you hate taking care of them. It is all true, all at once. You are not a bad mother.