Thoroughly Modern Motherhood

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Dearest reader, I had a “fun” blog post planned for you today. One that required little to no emoting and plenty of links to nice goodies for a babe or two.

But, the truth is, I haven’t been feeling very fun. I’ve been feeling heavy, burdened under the weight of a million things to do and not enough time to do them. Irritable, short, exhausted, dissatisfied…depressed.

And I know I’m not the only one feeling this way. I hear similar cries of overwhelm from my friends: My very pregnant work friend who has to take her darling daughter to expensive daycare every day and who is dreading the day she’ll have to pay for two kiddos to attend, not to mention fearing how she’ll even pay for maternity leave. One of my best friends who is just returning from maternity leave and jumping back into the mayhem of prepping mom and kids for each day. My sister who is worrying about how to tell her work she’s newly pregnant because they’ll likely be upset that she has to take a leave.

Sound familiar?

I’m a part of a group on Instagram, Not Safe For Mom Group (nsfmg), that’s doing amazing things asking the tough questions. Last week’s was something like “Have you felt unraveled by motherhood in some way or at some point?” The answer was a resounding YES from multiple members, and the question couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Many of the moms responded with descriptions of exactly how I had been feeling lately, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that in order to shed this lowness, I had to share it here. That in order to fill my bucket with all those warm and fuzzy things this holiday season, I first have to empty it.

So, here goes.

You see, the more I settle into this role of mother, the more thoroughly I am convinced our society, at least in the United States, does not support modern motherhood.

Let me paint a picture for you:

A young mother wakes from a night’s sleep to a pot of oatmeal put on by her mother or mother-in-law, aunt or older cousin. She eats and showers in peace, kisses her sleeping babe goodbye and thanks her matriarch before she leaves for work.  At work, the mother is relaxed knowing her daughter is in the care of a family member who is telling her stories of their family history or culture, who loves her just as much as she does.

At home, the matriarch is relaxed, knowing that later in the day she’ll be visited by Auntie X and her granddaughter.  They’ll do chores, run errands, and tend babies together while recounting their own memories of childhood or motherhood.  Tomorrow they might swap houses.

Mom returns home exhausted after a long day of work to a clean home, laundry done and folded, and dinner on the stove.  She’s handed her sweet child, who is satiated by a day’s worth of nurturing and play with the ones she loves.  They play more, or talk about their days, or go for a walk.  Papa returns home from an equally long day of work.  He showers in peace.  Auntie/grandma rests as Mama serves everyone dinner.  They laugh more, watch a little TV, and collapse contentedly in their beds.

Wonderful scene, eh?  Now let me tell it to you like it too often is:

A young mother wakes from a night’s sleep to an empty house.  She makes some toast and drinks her coffee while writing notes on what is needed to be done for the day: call the doctor for baby’s 22 1/2 month checkup, pick up cat litter, call cable company, buy gift for X’s birthday, renew museum membership, workout, etc., etc.  She showers and does her makeup in 5 minutes because ain’t nobody got time for self care in parenthood.  She packs her and baby’s lunches with the current standards for nutrition in mind, wakes and dresses baby who is crying because her sleep was disturbed, and kisses everyone goodbye as she hopes she didn’t forget anything (but knows she probably did).

At work, mom worries about her daughter’s care.  Is she doing the right thing for her daughter by sending her off to people who may not love her all day?  Couldn’t she do a better job staying at home with her?  But then, how could they afford that?  She hopes baby naps according to the daycare schedule today and gets some stimulation.

Mom returns home exhausted after a long day of work, plus picking up baby, running to Costco, and making sure to stop by the park for quality time.  She forgot to call the doctor, but oh well there’s always tomorrow, right?  The house is cluttered, cold, and the cat pooped on the rug, again.  Mama starts dinner with babe on her hip because she refuses to be put down because she missed her all day.  She speed tidies while attempting to make it a hide and seek game so baby doesn’t feel too neglected.  They play a bit while dinner bakes, and then mom tries to squeeze 20 minutes of working out in before Papa gets home (after all, he needs some nurturing, too).

Papa arrives home exhausted from an equally long day of work.  Mom bitterly stews while he showers: “Doesn’t he know I’ve been on baby duty for hours?  I never get to take long showers without interruption!”  She’s irritable when he gets out, and they eat dinner in silence.  They’re too tired to do anything after dinner except chase the unruly toddler into her room, wrestle some pajamas on her, and collapse discontentedly into their beds.

See the difference?  Which scenario resonates more with you?

For me, the day to day looks more like scene two.  Working motherhood, modern parenthood, full of to dos and make sure NOT to dos, is draining and overwhelming and exhausting a lot of the time.  Modern mamas are expected to do more, take on more roles, be cognizant of more, and master more than we ever have before…and to do it on our own.  The “Village” that has made up so much of our human existence is difficult to find these days, at least in the US, and it feels taboo to ask for help.  After all, isn’t parenting natural?  Shouldn’t we just know how to do it?

Well…no.  I mean, have you ever been a parent before you were a parent?  We used to rely on our elders for knowledge and modeling, to demonstrate child-rearing and take the wheel when we didn’t know how to.

I am a firm believer that we as humans were not meant to live this way, and that it is actually detrimental to our health and happiness.  At least it is to mine.  And I don’t even have it “that bad”.  I am so fortunate that my in-laws watch my daughter full-time, and they love her so much.  But they still live in a separate house that I commute 1.5 hours to and from after work, and because they watch my daughter free of charge so my husband and I can work, it means we don’t like to “bother” them to ask for outside care as well, say, for a date night or two.  I still have errands to run, appointments to schedule (I mean, cavemen didn’t need to get their bangs trimmed!), friendships I want to maintain, and the pressure to raise the HAPPIEST, HEALTHIEST, SMARTEST toddler in the universe on my shoulders.

All of this…it’s just way to much.  And, every so often, like now, I feel it.

It’s taken me a moment, but I’m beginning to come to terms with the fact that I really hated becoming a mother.  It feels awful to say that, because all you ever see on social media is how much in love someone is with their new arrival, how they are floating on blissful clouds of newborn spitup and wipes.  But the actual figuring out how to maneuver my new life after birth was long and arduous, and I feel like I am just now nibbling out of my cocoon.  If we’re being completely honest, it makes me hesitate to have another child.

I believe this was because we as a society have some work to do on supporting modern moms and their many roles.

And, guys, I feel it starting!  With groups like (nsfmg), women are forming a new type of village, one where we can be completely honest about how shitty this journey into and through modern motherhood can really be, and raising a battle cry.  Other projects like The Returnity Project and SAHM Mother normalize and celebrate the many ways we can mother these days while creating safe spaces for moms on similar journeys to relate.  It is becoming clearer to me every day how important these tribes are, whether they are online or in person, family or friends.  I don’t have all of the solutions, yet, but I feel a new sort of movement for moms, bubbling up under all of this dissatisfaction, from the belief that we can do better.  We can have better.

I did not write this today to complain or to whine (if you think that’s all it is I respectfully identify you as part of the problem).  I didn’t even write it to try and figure out how to make things better.  I am a person who often can’t begin working toward a solution until I have properly identified the problem.  In this case, the problem is the faulty axle, the tear in the fabric of modern motherhood.  The idea that we have to go at this on our own.

As usual, I’ve also written this for those new mamas out there who may be wondering why they don’t love motherhood.  Why do you feel mostly like a tidal wave is slowly mounting over your head and threatening to sweep you away?  Why aren’t you reveling in the newness of your newborn or loving your partner so much more as a parent?  well, my friend, it’s not because you can’t do it all alone, as our society has glorified in modern days.  It’s because you aren’t meant to.  You’re not broken, our systems are, and it’s time to fix them.

So now that I’ve dumped this bucket, I fully intend on joining in all of the holiday cheer with open arms and a receptive vessel.  I also intend on continuing to cultivate my own personal tribe and way of maneuvering modern motherhood that doesn’t just mean me and my family are surviving, but thriving.  More to come in the new year!

I hope you found something that you can relate to in this piece, dear reader.  Reach out with your own motherhood struggles, or with tips on how you’ve managed to thrive, too!

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