The worst thing about feeling like a failure as a mother is that I was pretty sure it was a job that I should automatically be good at. I mean, I was born for it right? All the basic parts came with the package. Two breasts, one womb, one vagina, two arms with which to hold a child, hormonal urge to nurture….. Being born a female with a desire to mother and then not feeling like I am a good mother sort of seems like being crafted to be a boat and then failing to float once placed in the water. At best, someone wants a refund on that purchase and if the truly unimaginable happens, being a broken boat whose job it is to carry others from one point to the next means being responsible for someone drowning.
When people said that motherhood is the hardest job on the planet, I was pretty convinced that was just a bit of propaganda developed to perpetuate a socially-beneficial role but that it over-stated the difficulty of the position. People raise kids all the time. Family life is the foundation of society. (When I picture a foundation, I always see those cement blocks- grey, functional, dull). Parenting is necessary to an orderly society. We all came from parents. Many of us become parents. People with less experience, less desire, less education, fewer resources, even people with the worst of intentions claim this job title. I didn’t assume it was easy exactly, but since it was a vocation one could come by without any training, endorsements, education or even planning and because I had spent a good part of my childhood as firstborn female caring for my younger siblings and other people’s children, I thought I could wrangle it, no sweat. I mean, I even have an MPH in maternal and child health so I pretty much had this thing locked up from both an experiential and academic perspective, right? Ha!
As long as I’m being honest, I’ll just say the this thing. This really awful thing for a woman to say: I assumed that women who stayed at home all day with their kids just had more time to mother them, making their job easier than a mother who also had to balance a career. Instead of squeezing in an outside profession and being a mom, my faulty logic went, they were just filling one role and probably could then easily pursue other activities like volunteering at a shelter and maybe taking an art class or running to the gym daily. Personally, I pictured myself being one of those moms who strapped their babies on their backs and took them to neighborhood meetings to plan community gardens and made a few trips a session to the Capitol to advocate for better maternity leave policies. All the while, I’d have my baby sleeping peacefully tucked into a hands-free carrier and any older children in the background coloring amicably as they listened to the empowering community advocacy scene surrounding them. Later, we’d take nature walks around local lakes, pointing out butterflies and picking wildflowers and, where appropriate, I’d use those encounters with nature to illustrate object lessons for my children on the meaning of life. Then we’d arrive at our modest but cozy house to place a loaf of homemade bread in the oven and start supper while my kids had a quiet time creatively constructing placemats that we’d use at the table that night.
At this point, I fully expect mothers all over the world to either hate me or laugh at me.
This, of course, is not at all what motherhood has been like for me. I was shamefully wrong about the ease of being a stay-at-home-mom. The job I expected to be a breeze for me completely broke me. I became a mother and then turned 30 a week later. The first eclipsed the other in a way that foreshadowed the dying of self that was to become a daily reality.
The prophet Isaiah said of Jesus, “He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.” I spent the next 4+ years feeling as feeble, crushed, and bruised as trampled swamp grass. A perfectionist, born and bred, I could not tolerate my brokenness in the area of motherhood. My entire identity and my feeling of self-worth had been based on all that I could achieve and motherhood was not a task that I could check off my list, well done, or place on my resume with bulleted highlights of my accomplishments. Motherhood, this thing I assumed would be second nature to me, has left me feeling like the weakest reed, bent over and barely hanging on as this season of my life blew chaotically around me.
What assumptions about motherhood did you make? Have you been proven right or wrong?