we need to talk about the moms: part 1
Let’s be honest. Motherhood is a complex gig: beautiful and rewarding and painful and exhausting. It always has been. While being a mom today comes with some great privileges that past generations didn’t have access to, including tools, contraptions and a plethora of research to help guide our decision-making, it’s also terrifying. And lonely.
“There are so many ‘experts’ warning you what to do and not do and so many competing demands on you as a person that it’s exhausting,” notes Emily Waldeck, mother of a soon-to-be two year old. Not only do moms face incessant pressure to keep the kids busy and sufficiently engaged. but there is often pressure or desire (either financially or psychologically) to have a meaningful career, make a difference in the world, and find or heal ourselves. But not much by way of resources to make that easy.
This is my eighth attempt at writing this article. I love writing and have been aching for a way to communicate the pains I’ve experienced with motherhood. But I’ve been interrupted countless times to soothe my son out of a bad dream, tend to dramas at work and home, clean up ketchup smears from the carpet, run payroll for work, and counsel my husband on his career stress. And now, here I am, sitting in a hotel room on the way to an out of state funeral. My daughter is whining that the pink shirt I suggested she wear is, in fact, NOT pink and is a jammie shirt (it's not). And my son is trying to get my attention so I can witness his twirling-underwear-over-his-head skills.
I’ve missed the draft deadline. But my hope was to write about the plight of moms today. So this works. It also demonstrates the dichotomy of being a mom and having a career or vision beyond our children. We never feel like we can be doing any part of our life well.
I think it is the experience of most moms (and many dads, too) that the things they love to do and the aspects of themselves that existed pre-children become shoved to the background behind caregiving and housekeeping and money making and responsibility tending. Our personal desires and our dreams don’t leave us, but we often must leave them, with hopes that once we get out of this stage or that stage that we can rediscover them. But sometimes it just feels hopeless to hold onto these dreams.
And in truth our kids are a part of our dreams, but somehow their needs not only rise to the top, they can drown out our own. Society doesn’t help this one bit. Immediately after birth, attention is primarily focused on the baby’s needs. The advice to “sleep when the baby sleeps” and “make sure you’re eating enough and drinking enough water” is less about mom’s needs and more about ensuring her ability to take care of the baby’s.
And even when the more nuanced advice addresses mom’s needs for tending to her deeper needs of emotional and physical support, it often puts additional pressure on the mom. Because calling for “self-care” when there’s no resource, time or support to get it just puts salt in the wound.
So we need to have a serious conversation. As mothers, we need to give ourselves some grace. We need to connect with one another. We need to knock off the shaming. We need to lose the guilt. But it is not just on us to take care of ourselves. It is necessary that our systems and our culture and our civic representatives start looking at what makes motherhood so brutally challenging and find solutions so that moms can be taken care of.
"Mother’s need care so we can care for our kids. Without that, it’s a downward spiral of depletion that ripples through every system in our society,” says Waldeck. When mothers are strong and healthy and resourced, they make powerful decisions, they come up with innovative and paradigm shifting ideas, they move mountains. If we take care of the mothers, the children and our society’s future can thrive. So let’s keep talking.