I Make Motherhood Look Awful
By Vanessa Rasanen
Tomorrow is Monday. Again. I will get up before the sun — and hope I rise before any of the kids do. I’ll feed the dog, let him out, and groggily reheat coffee that I brewed on Sunday morning, because 1) I only know how to make 12 cups at a time, b) I can’t drink 12 cups in one day (*for shame!*), and finally, meh. Reheated day-old coffee is as home to me as cold eggs on a slice of toast that my three year old has snuck a bite out of while I hear cries of “Mom! I need help wiping my bum!”. After feeding, clothing, nagging, and chauffeuring the four kids to summer camp and daycare, I’ll meander over to my office and awkwardly fumble for my keys while juggling my mountain dew, sunglasses, phone, and whatever else I happen to be hauling. And like clockwork I’ll stop to chat with a coworker, sigh, and lament how tired I am.
Maybe it’s my way of calling attention to the haphazard look I’m sporting lately — why, yes, I did go for the very trendy beach wavy hairstyle, because I’m obviously hip and not just frazzled.
Perhaps it’s the only thing my exhausted brain can think of to say after 9 years of interrupted sleep and the past 5 weeks of my husband being nearly 2,000 miles away.
Or it’s just that I’m completely awful at making small talk or conversing with anyone without complaining or whining.
Whatever the reason, it’s my thing. And I hate it.
Of course, I also hate that my brain is slower these days — super groggy, like I’m swimming through mud. I loathe my apparent inability to focus or stay on task. And I dread the inevitable anxiety that hits when I realize I have no idea what I’m doing despite my copious amount of notes and caffeine. (Don’t tell my boss. Oh, who am I kidding. He already knows. But I still get my work done, and done relatively well, so I guess that’s something… but I digress.)
Above all I detest how quick I am to blame all of this on the four littles God has placed in our care.
Logically I know the night feeding, the bed time stalling, the whining, the sassing, the nightmares, the growing pains, and the tantrums are just phases that will all-too-soon come to an end. These kiddos won’t be little forever. They won’t want snuggles or a million hugs and kisses for too much longer. But, dude, that doesn’t make these ordinary trials of parenthood any easier — especially when solo parenting while your spouse is traveling for work for weeks on end.
On one hand, I guess I could argue that I’m just “keeping it real” (do the kids still say that? Probably not. I’m showing my unhipness now despite my trendy hairdo). Or wait, what is the blogg-y way to say it? Authentic? I’m being open. Genuine. Authentic. Ooooo.
Psssh. Whatever. My coworkers don’t need me to be real with them. They can already tell I’m tired by the giant energy drink I’ve hauled into our meeting. The folks at church know I’m exhausted without my uttering a word. And the cashier at the grocery store probably knows I’m frazzled without my stating it.
But it’s not the worry over unnecessarily burdening them that makes me hate this habit of mine. It’s not really that I hate to unload my problems on unsuspecting folks who made the mistake of asking me how I’m doing. I also don’t really feel all that awful about ratting out my kids for keeping me up and driving me a bit batty. I mean, anyone who has ever met a child knows they aren’t born with perfect manners and calibrated inside voices.
It’s ultimately the picture I’m painting of motherhood in general that has me cringing.
I have always wanted to be a mom, and I still have enough of my wits to understand that not everyone shares that desire. While many of my colleagues and acquaintances have grown children and grandchildren, I know a fair number — of the younger persuasion especially — who are single or newly married and uninterested in raising kiddos (in the near future or, well, ever). It’s these cringing faces that cause me to hate this less-than-rosy picture I too often share.
And then come their comments. They could never be a mom. They never want children. They don’t know how anyone could give up their freedom. They’re happy with their cat. Kids are just such a hassle/headache/mess. They don’t know if they have the time/money/love/patience/fortitude to be parents.
Cue hefty load of guilt upon my whiny shoulders.
I walk away freaking out over how I’ve failed my neighbor by portraying parenthood as such an awful, horrible, no-good, very-bad existence. Why didn’t I tell them how amazing it is when that three year old who just threw a tantrum wraps her arms around you and says “I love you, mommy”? Why didn’t I express how absolutely incredibly wonderful it feels to snuggle with the one year old, even at 2am?
Why? I could give a slew of reasons. It’s easier to complain, for one. The sighing and the venting spills out effortlessly. And those sublime moments? How do you fit that into words? Can words ever do it justice? Can anyone ever fully understand the magnitude of a parent’s joy until they’ve experienced it first hand? At the very least, I’m guessing it would require more than any two minute water-cooler chat could allow.
Thing is, while it’s honorable to want to share the delights of our vocation with others, it is not our duty to shape their worldview of this vocation. Our duty as parents is to shape our children, to raise them and care for them and love them and discipline them. Yes, that’s tiring work. Yes, it takes a toll on us parents. Yes, it is hard. We don’t need to sugar coat it for our other neighbors in hopes of convincing them that this gig is something they really should want. Does that give us license to just rant and vent and complain all the time about every little thing parenting requires of us? By no means!
We can be us — tired yet joyful, frazzled yet thankful. We can strive to be more careful in how we speak about our mothering and our children — because this serves our closest neighbors by honoring them and protecting their reputations. But we don’t need to shoulder the burden of convincing the world that motherhood and fatherhood is a divine vocation. God’s Word has that covered.
Let’s worry less about how we’re representing this holy vocation to the world, and focus more on serving our children, our families, and our other neighbors the best we can — being forgiven when we fail and knowing God’s Word is efficacious no matter how exhausted we are.
I don’t suppose it’s occurred to you that you just might be attempting too many other things besides “motherhood” just now?
Some of them will wait. I am retired (at 84) but I had a rewarding career after my kids finished grad school. That’s when I got my Master’s and a job.
[First I raised my own three kids. And yes, I know all about managing them alone while their father was elsewhere.]
Besides your listed job, I see your name in several other places quite often. [I have leisure to amuse myself on the ‘net these days; nobody needs my time.] Maybe too often for your own health’s sake? “Energy drinks” are not a solution! Put the laptop away and take a nap instead. For everyone’s sake!
@helen #-49 I have stepped back considerably. I shut down my blog. I only write here and there when I can. I have an etsy shop, sure, but it’s not exactly booming nor am I really trying to grow it. I also took a cut to my benefits so I could have more flexible hours at work. Napping is not often an option while my kids are so young, but 3 of the 4 don’t nap themselves. My husband works long hours and a crazy schedule, so I’m usually on my own with the 4 and no good chance to catch a snooze. It is what it is. But I can’t not work right now, and I’ve pretty much cut back as much as I’m able to at the moment.