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Um, no.

January 3, 2014

Isn’t being a mommy just the best thing ever? motherhood

Each time I hear that question I am flooding with disdain, both for myself and for the person asking the question-that-is-really-a-statement; one that is implicitly understood to be one with which you must agree.

Perhaps where I should see a woman blissfully fulfilled by motherhood, I instead see this self-identified “mommy” as self-satisfied, possibly delusional, and worst of all, simple. Then I hear myself thinking these horrible judgmental things and the self-recrimination begins. God, I’m an asshole. Surely there are some women for whom this is the absolute and most sincere truth.

When this question-that-is-really-a-statement is posed directly to me I usually do a combination of nodding and smiling while mumbling something that sounds indicative of agreement. I am too afraid to say what I really think. What would people think of me as a person and a mother if they knew how I really felt?

Being a mommy is not just the best thing ever.  Not for me anyway. It’s hard and endlessly heartbreaking, backbreaking work. It is difficult, if not impossible, to ever feel like you know what you are doing, and while the rewards are great, so too are the sacrifices. (I should add that as a white middle-class married woman, I have it easier than many) I love my child and I love being his mother, but my identity as “mommy” is not one I cling to or hold any dearer than any other parts of myself.

When news of my first pregnancy spread, I was told over and over again about how my heart would burst open and grow in ways I couldn’t even imagine upon the birth of this child. The secret to life would be revealed to me as I stared into the eyes of the fruit of my loins. I can’t say that didn’t happen. My capacity for love has indeed grown. I do have a deeper sense of the purpose of my life, or perhaps, more accurately, a confirmation of what I already believed. I am enthralled with my son in every possible way.

And yet, I cannot get on board with believing that me being a mother is the best thing ever. There are too many other things in my life that are deeply meaningful to me – my work, my relationships, my spiritual life. I object to the use of the word “best”. It seems juvenile; the way middle-school girls feel the need to classify friends as best or other. It seems an inherent need of the young to rank things. Best to worst. Most to least.

As we age into our childbearing years, I have to believe that we have outgrown this need to organize and define experiences and realities in this way. Having children, a career, personal relationships, finding meaning – all of it is amazing and hard and wonderful and miserable. Each thing at times the best thing in our life and at times the worst.

Still, maybe I am just an asshole. I talk a big game about supporting women and other mothers and then one says something to which I cannot relate and I start doubting both their sanity and their sincerity. I just can’t help but wonder how much of what they are expressing is coming from within and how much of it is a subconscious effort to fulfill society’s expectations for women and mothers. Because we are supposed to be completely fulfilled by motherhood, aren’t we? A good mother is supposed to happily and willingly sacrifice anything and everything for her children, including her own fulfillment and happiness, if it is asked of her. In my experience most mothers will do this, but do they have to be thrilled about it? Can we express disappointment and pain along the way? Are we allowed to say when what is asked of us feels like too much, without fearing being labeled as selfish or bad mothers?

Is it possible to be a good mother without allowing motherhood to consume us whole, to become our most favorite thing, the best thing ever? I sure hope so. Otherwise, my poor kids are screwed.

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