There are some things I will never understand. Why people fight over parking spots at the gym. Who green-lit the 'Sex in the City 2' movie.
Toddler beauty pageants.
But one of my biggest questions? Why people act like Motherhood (and Parenthood, for my male readers) is this amazing, effortless experience, all the time.
I've thought long and hard about this post, and how I want to phrase things to make sure my thoughts are adequately conveyed. First disclaimer (well, second): this has nothing to do with how I feel about my child. I love Scotty. I love him to pieces. He is the best little Bear we could have asked for, and there are days when I look at him and marvel, "You were once in my tummy. I feel like I've known you forever." He's a great kid and is growing up to be a very sweet little boy.
With that said, what I'm about to say has nothing to do with my child. It's just...Motherhood. And Parenthood. And massive amount of responsibility that comes with it. Being in charge of another life form 24/7 is quite daunting, and it's certainly not all roses all the time. And I feel like every time I open a magazine or turn on a talk show, there is a woman gushing with multiple superlatives over the context and quality of Motherhood. And quite frankly, it's kind of a misnomer.
If you are pregnant, there is a good chance that you are sweating, hungry, and mad at your husband. If you are the mother of an infant, your life is a perpetual haze of grey punctuated by moments with a snuggly baby, a screaming baby, and a sink full of dirty dishes. If you are the mother of a toddler, there's a good chance your throat is sore (from shouting directions/words/threats) and you approach your child like he's a very intelligent wolverine - slowly, with food and zero expectations. And you worry you may get bit in the process.
(Case in point: Scotty's new favorite hobby is to pinch me and pull my hair while I'm using the bathroom. I am stuck, literally. I cannot escape. My attempts at re-direction have not worked, so I'm left to shout "No!" repeatedly and cover my head/face/throat area against his tiny, powerful fists.)
If you are the mother of an older child, well, I have no idea what that's like because I'm not yet there. But I'm guessing it's tough.
One of the unexpected bonuses of writing this blog is that many people email me about their own struggles and thoughts about Motherhood. I can't tell you how honored I feel that other moms want to confide in me about their frustrations and challenges. And honestly, since there is this idealized concept of Motherhood, I worry that there may not be an adequate platform for women to discuss such sensitive matters openly and without judgment. Because let's face it - it's easier to "tote the company line" than it is to discuss real, honest struggles. Are we, as women, doing each other a disservice by perpetuating the image of the Perfect Mother?
Then I ran across this article by Erica Jong of the Wall Street Journal:
(argh, so sorry it's not clicky. One day, I will learn how to make links clicky. One day.)
In the event you don't want to click and read, let me summarize: bearing and rearing children has come to seen as life's greatest good. Thanks to Dr. and Martha Sears, attachment parenting is making a resurgence and one's bond with their baby should take precedence over all things, including one's job. Jong even goes as far as to say,
"Attachment parenting, especially when combined with environmental correctness, has encouraged female victimization. Women feel not only that they must be ever-present for their children but also that they must breast-feed, make their own baby food and eschew disposable diapers. It's a prison for mothers, and it represents as much of a backlash against women's freedom as the right-to-life movement."
Wait, there's more.
Jong goes on to say that Motherhood is actually more malleable than we imagine - there is nothing encoded in our DNA that insists we do "it" a certain way, yet due to societal pressures and environmental factors, we feel like there "should" be rules. And by sacrificing ourselves, our identities, and our careers for our children, we are essentially attempting to exert control over an uncontrollable world. In reality, we are simply fooling ourselves. By giving up our lives for our children, we set unrealistic expectations that are going to be unmet when our children naturally, and eventually, detach. In short, based on the current Western model of Motherhood, we are setting ourselves up to fail.
Sing it, Ms. Jong. Because the pieces are finally starting to connect.
And then almost like the stars aligned, I saw this article on CNN.com: "Kid Crazy: Why We Exaggerate the Joys of Parenthood."
(cut and paste: http://healthland.time.com/2011/03/04/why-having-kids-is-foolish/?hpt=C2)
Again, the author (male) looks at the financial implications of having a child and discovers it is a losing proposition: you will never recover the money you spend on your child. It is an economically silly investment. And yet, we continue having kids -- and toting the company line -- because the desire to procreate is so deeply embedded in our DNA.
And my first thought was, "Maybe I'm not crazy? Maybe it's not me? Maybe it's just...Parenthood."
Remember, this isn't anti-kids. This isn't anti-pregnancy. What it is is two articles that finally speak to my own cognitive dissonance -- how I can hold onto the very positive idea of loving my child while attempting to reconcile equally intense feelings that "this is so hard."
Because honestly, who would take a job that requires you to sleep for less than 45 minutes at a stretch for the first three months? Who would deal with a boss who throws food at them, bites them? Who would take a job with the disclaimer "YOU WILL NEVER POOP ALONE AGAIN." And by the way, you won't get paid a dime. It will actually cost you money.
No one, that's who.
And I didn't even touch on the sacrifices required during pregnancy, especially if you were on bed rest. Parenting is not a rational investment, whether you look at it from an economical perspective or an emotional one. It's hard, dirty work. Period.
I think a large chunk of my cognitive dissonance comes from knowing stats about marriage and children (hence, the old occupation.) I knew going into this that couples with a child - one or 14 - in the home, under the age of three, report the highest levels of stress. I knew that marital satisfaction significantly decreases at the onset of the first child, and remains that way until the youngest leaves the house. I knew that in multiple studies, when asked about their favorite ways to spend their time, mothers were least likely to report "with my children" than any other activity.
Parenting, by the books, is not a glorious endeavor. Yet we glamorize it.
We idealize it and pass it on to the next generation. In the past week, I found myself talking to two newly pregnant friends and I am 100% guilty of toting the company line. I was gushing and cooing, and finally caught myself mid-conversation. I changed my tune pretty quickly. "This is hard," I told each friend. "If you want to vent/bitch/complain, it's okay. There is nothing wrong with having those feelings. No judgment. The last thing I want to do is make you feel like what you are embarking on is easy." I'm not sure each person took it, but I am sincere; I don't tote the company line. Motherhood can be about fuzzy blankets and striped onesies but it's hard, in-the-trenches, thankless work. We do it, we continue to do it, but we don't need to pretend anymore that it's not a tough, exhaustive practice.
In conclusion, the best description about Parenthood I found was by Jon Stewart in his book, "Earth: the Book: A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race." The book was written (in jest) as a tool to aid aliens in the event they take over the world after the human race has been extinguished. He describes everything about being human in very, very sharp detail. In one Q&A in the family section, they say, "Parenthood sure seems like a lot of work." The response?
"It sure was -- but for all the hassle and worry, once in a while came a moment of pure innocence that touched your heart and tickled your funny bone. But don't take our word for it!"
Which is what makes a completely irrational, expensive, and overwhelming endeavor completely and totally worth it.