Last night I sat at a table in a restaurant with several friends. All of us are in our later thirties and forties. Each of us have two to four children, and are probably done bringing forth new humans from our loins. We had drinks and talked about what new things life has in store for us. We talked about how women want sex, too, and how mothers are invisible. We talked about how nothing prepares you for how hard motherhood is, and how we wish we would’ve been given a realistic picture of what it is to be a parent.
Mothers who came before us, we wish we would’ve heard you whine.
Our generation of mothers is dealing with some new things, true. We worry about our children being bullied through text messages or addicted to video games or swollen to an obese state by high-fructose corn syrup or saddled by hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loans and unable to find jobs. But the basics are still the same: We work hard at loving and caring for our kids, and sometimes it makes us want to lose our minds.
I talk a lot about maternal (and paternal) mental health. When I attend Childbirth Collective Parent Topic Nights, whether as a presenter or member of the audience, I almost always try to chime in with some information on the topic. It is important to me to normalize how freaking hard parenting can be, because it caught me by surprise. Even when it is going well—even when you are bursting with love for your little one(s)—it is hard.
One of my mantras was, and is, “It is hard to be mama.” (Substitute “baby” and “dada” as needed, for whomever needs the most sympathy at the time. Sometimes it’s everyone.)
My mother-in-law gave me one really wonderful gift when I was pregnant. One evening, she said to me, “You know, you don’t always fall in love with your baby right away. It took me awhile to feel it.” With that in mind, when I didn’t feel googly-eyed-in-love with my first baby, I didn’t panic. It’s hard to have room in yourself to feel such a thing as love of that intensity when birth was scary and hard; you’re clueless about breastfeeding; and you’re ushered from the hospital to home with little more than a knit hat with a logo, a video about how you shouldn’t shake your baby, and a (figurative) pat on the head. To not feel the pressure to be ~*~IN LOVE~*~ when taking those first steps as a mother was something I didn’t appreciate until much later.
Beyond the postpartum time, we have plenty of stories to share—good, bad, funny, sad. Some of us edit ourselves because we don’t want to seem ungrateful for what we have. We’ve got friends who will post “#firstworldproblems” if you complain on Facebook about how you’re out of coffee on this mornings, of all mornings, when your baby was up all night due to teething and your toddler peed on three things before 9 a.m. We don’t want to be “that mom” who is whining all the time.* Sometimes we know we should be laughing about it all but feel like crying instead, and that’s not so easy to admit. It’s hard to admit what we have told ourselves (or have been told) is weakness, especially in the face of potential criticism.
But I encourage you: Whine. Complain. Vent. You will feel better, because you will be reaching out, and for every person who might push back, there will be ten wanting to hold you.** And you will be passing forth your wisdom to the next mothers to come along, who will realize that they’re not broken if they’re not in love with every moment and that you can hold both wonder at these tiny human beings and a desire in your heart to flee at the same time. If we keep talking about how damn hard it can be, fewer parents will be surprised and ashamed when it happens to them, and more willing to reach out for help when they need it.
Do everyone a favor: Be real.
*I do think it’s possible to complain too much and advocate moderation in all things (sometimes punctuated by periods of too much of something, such as ice cream).
**Friends can also serve as a barometer for your mental health and may notice before you do if there’s a concern beyond what is normal in the postpartum time or in general.