(In honor of Mother’s Day*) *In this context, ‘mother’ refers to moms, parents, caregivers, etc.
You can’t look at social media without seeing perfectly pressed kids and well-made up moms on a family hike in the forest on a sunny day where everyone is smiling and skipping along holding hands. Or some such bullshit. I mean, it probably happens, but not to most of us.
Society would have you believe perfection is required to be a parent. That your progeny should all be overachievers with 4.0 GPAs and 1st place sports trophies. That you should actually cook meals for your family and make them brush their teeth 5 times a day so the hygienist doesn’t make you feel like a complete failure because your kid has a cavity.
Whatever. It’s all a pipe dream.
Below, are the less popular truths about motherhood. The ones we don’t share on social media. A glimpse into what makes a mother figure amazing even when the kids have tangled hair, haven’t taken off their favorite hoodie in a week, and are snacking on dry ramen noodles and freezer pops.
#1. When in doubt, get a dog.
Seriously, if you’re ambivalent about child rearing, don’t take the plunge. Kids are a lifelong, hair-graying, self-worth questioning commitment. Dogs live a max of fifteen years and are pretty much the same thing. Lots of pooping, noise at random times, demands for attention when you’re busy. There’s always a mess, you can’t leave precious things lying around, and everything is gonna get dirty or destroyed. The scales actually tip closer to the dog option when you consider that you never expect dogs to understand you, and therefore don’t get angry when they don’t listen. Also, dogs don’t run up the stairs and slam their bedroom doors while yelling “I hate you forever!”
#2. Having children is not your purpose in life.
People are obsessed with procreation. Newly committed couples are immediately bombarded with questions about the imminent arrival of their womb fruit. Oftentimes, they don’t bother to ask if couples can have or want to have children. They are floored that some people choose to remain childless. “Don’t you want to live on in future generations?” they ask. Constantly.
Here’s a secret: we all die twice. Once when our bodies fail, and once again when nobody is left who remembers us. I learned that from the Pixar movie, Coco (which you should watch whether or not there are children in your life). It doesn’t matter when my name gets forgotten. Having kids is a stupid way to prolong it. Becoming a mother didn’t complete my destiny or give me value as a human. It gave me a kid. Actually, three of them. My genes carrying on means jack shit. (I’ll get into that later).
So, leave those people alone. People without children have value and contribute. Some would argue at a higher functioning level than those who procreate.
#3. Children do not bring endless joy.
I mean, I’m writing this, aren’t I?
#4. Boobs belong to everybody.
I had a medical professional tell me once that a female body was not fully formed until it lactated. I went around smug in the world, like a total asshole, believing that my pregnancies had somehow completed my journey into womanhood. Since then, I’ve learned that nothing about what makes a woman a woman, has to do with breasts or their development of breasts. In fact, I’ve learned that breasts are good for lots of things and 99% of those should have nothing to do with children.
#5. It’s all work.
So damn much work. Nothing just ‘comes to you.’ There are no ‘a-ha!’ moments at 2 AM. Little mice and fairy godparents don’t rescue you. Instincts don’t ‘kick in.’ I had to read books and ask questions and observe. And then I had to repeat. And then I had to repeat. And then I had to repeat. And then I…well you get the picture. (As an aside – moms need to be well-versed in the art of repetition.)
#6. You’re gonna get so much shit wrong. You decide to reproduce, foster, or adopt, and they let you take the kid home. All of a sudden, you have no clue what to do next. You wing it, and you fuck it up immediately.
I cut my first kid’s nails too short on their first day home. Made my newborn bleed five minutes out of the car carrier. Occasionally, when I walked through doorways, I’d hit their head on the doorjamb. Or on the roof of the car when I strapped them into the car seat. I gave a toddler a peanut, lost a preschooler in a busy store, and heard the watermelon thump of my kid’s head as he fell from the shopping cart onto the concrete at Home Depot. When I first nursed, I did it so wrong that I had to get burn treatment for my nipples. I teased my gay kid about crushes on the wrong gender. I told my youngest ‘feeled’ wasn’t a word when she asked about a ‘field.’ I told my 14 y/o son he was acting like an asshole.
#7. You will never pee alone.
For the first ten years or so, they walk in on you. For the next five years, you’re always afraid they will, so it’s like not being alone. Then after that, they’re either in your bathroom using/stealing your stuff, or they follow you to the commode as thoughts. Sometimes angry thoughts. Sometimes worried. Sometimes reflective.
#8. Being a mom is messed up.
It doesn’t matter who you marry, or partner with, or copulate with, the moms end up juggling almost all of the mental load for their kids. School, extra-curriculars, finding sitters, planning trips, packing, cooking, cleaning, reminding others to pack, cook, or clean. They do 99.99% of picking up socks from the floor. Most of the hard conversations. Most of fridge cleaning. Damn near all the baseboard wiping. Upon reflection, make your co-parenting partner another mom if at all possible. Two moms in the hand are better than one drunk mom under a bush. I’m pretty sure that’s how the saying goes.
#9. You have ZERO say in how your kids turn out.
I say this with a caveat. Environment is obviously a strong influence…for habits and behaviors. For the kids themselves? Nope. They’re going to be who they’re going to be, and you’d better figure out how to steer that mothereffing ship or it’s going to run you right the hell over, leaving your dreams squished into a bloody pulp that oozes through the exposed chambers of your heart.
#10. The bond between mother and child is only as strong as a mother’s understanding of popular culture.
When my oldest was born, I loved them, but I didn’t feel that promised instant sewing together of souls. In fact, I cried. A lot. Post-partum depression, colic, and walking the neighborhood at 3 AM turned out to be quite emotionally draining. I would die for my child, but I would also place them in the crib and let them shriek for just a little bit while I screamed into the universal void of my forgotten freedom.
Eventually, we got along better – the bond on my end, at least, grew strong. But the kid resisted. Until we discovered The Doodlebops. Apparently, feeding, and loving, and clothing, and nursing, and nurturing, and playing with my kid, wasn’t enough to establish the trust of a true connection. Nope, it was three people in pastel costumes singing ridiculous songs about colors and trips to the park. My entrée into my child’s inner circle was the ability to record a television show and play it on demand. Or better yet, sing snippets of Bus Driver Bob’s latest tune while, oh, I don’t know, standing in the checkout line at the grocery store.
And the pattern continues. I need to keep up with popular music, television, and god help me, memes, in order to maintain a relationship with my children. Because, if I don’t, I have no idea what in the hell they are talking about.
#11. You love those little shits. Even when you want to punch them.
Yup. I said it. Sometimes, I want to punch my kids. Or push over their chairs or slap their arrogant juvenile faces. Nothing too lasting. No permanent injury. Just a bit of a wakeup call. I mean, I don’t. But sometimes the impulse is there.
To be clear, if you ever do actually hit your kid in anger, especially over and over again, you should seek help. There is a difference. It reminds me of laying the baby in the crib and shutting the door. Sometimes walking away is the best thing to do.
#12. Motherhood does not make you whole.
I was sure, once I held that squalling kicking lump of limbs and hair, I would find inner peace. That every yearning I’d ever had for ‘more’ would be stifled. My soul would be healed. I would finally feel as if I’d found my place in the universe. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Excuse me while I laugh. I mean, I’ve found those moments of joy. I’ve learned things I never imagined. These kids, they take my breath away.
But mostly, I feel overwhelmed, slightly out of touch, and completely caught off guard.
#13. Your child is not your reason to live.
A birthday party. For ME ! With Friends! No kids!
This is the crux of it. If you can’t be whole without a child, you can’t be whole with one. Kids don’t step in to fix every Daddy issue or make up for every person who made you feel less. They aren’t there to heal you, they are there to be raised by you. The thing is, anybody can be a parent, and judging by the world around us, most of us are doing it wrong.
Parenting is not for the weak or the lost. It isn’t constant hugs and sunshine and rainbows. Parenting is terror. Mind-numbing fear from the moment of discovery until…well, forever. It’s not about safety, it’s about making humans. Raising a socially conscious and happily productive child. It’s hard. It hurts. All the things you’ve said wrong. The uncertainty of the world. The unknown of sending them forward and hoping they stay off drugs, away from abusers, are fed, clothed, happy, healthy, whole. The ache of not being with them. The sting of failure. The agony of shared sorrow.
It’s been said to have a child is to wear one’s heart on a sleeve for all eternity. I disagree. It’s to wear your entire self inside out, held together only by the force of your will and the strength of your love.
Here’s a bonus:
#14. Parenting is moments of brightness on a moving sidewalk of the mundane, resting on a foundation of fear.
Huh. That got dark. Though, that’s also life. Balances of good and bad. Light and dark. Pride and fear. I would not trade my kids for a single moment of past freedom, or a break from the joys and agonies of being their mom, but I also won’t come to tell you that this is an easy job. It’s not. It’s beyond difficult.
And I guess that’s what makes Mother’s Day special. Because, if you are lucky (and not all of us are), someone did all this…for you. This Mother’s Day, don’t think of the times of harmony, those gifts of light. Think instead of the strength it took your mother to hold you to the world while furiously trying to anchor herself.
*A side note – None of what I have accomplished (or not accomplished, as the case may be) could have happened without my husband. If you are blessed with a good parenting partner, it’s all a bit less catastrophic. This particular partner even picks up his socks. I am lucky enough to be married to a nice man and a wonderful father. I don’t mean to sound like he’s not a profound influence, but this is about moms, and specifically about me as a mom. It just proves this is a hard job; that I can have someone to share in my struggles, and still barely survive them.