It’s been a rough week parenting-wise. I’ve reached new heights of frustration and hit uncharted I-have-NO-idea-what-I’m-doing lows.
I’m just a woman who loves her child. Some days, like today, that doesn’t feel like enough. I’m reposting this entry to remind myself that it is.
I love my child. I loved him the first time I held him and every moment since. This is not the confession. It’s a fundamental fact of who I am. I will love my child until the day I die.
Motherhood is hard. That’s an accepted fact. But what I find difficult – more than the actual work of raising my child – are the conventions and expectations that exist around being a mother. I don’t have many “Mom” friends. By which I mean, I have friends who are moms but motherhood isn’t the basis of our friendship.
When The Bean was a baby, I attended a few play groups. I found they were difficult for me. First of all, all of the adults were women. That’s not surprising ut for whatever reason I’m often uncomfortable in gender-segregated groups. I also found had a strong need to focus on something other than my much adored baby. At the play groups, the conversation revolved almost exclusively around the babies and the work of parenting. Again, I shouldn’t have been surprised. That was our common bond. And parenting is hard. I understood the need to compare notes on feeding, sleep schedules, vaccinations etc…but I didn’t want to. I wanted to talk about anything else. I wanted to be distracted from minutia of baby care, not immersed in it. But I didn’t know how to say that. Not without disparaging the needs of the other women. And not without sounding like a bad mother.
Once I took the still infant Bean to the playground in the suburb where we used to live. Another woman, also with her baby, remarked that she had often seen me out and about in the community by myself. She commented on my apparent comfort in leaving my baby with The Man of Mans (who at the time worked from home 4 days a week, to facilitate a more equitable parenting arrangement). I assured her that The MoMs was as capable and loving a parent as anyone could be. She chuckled and said something along the lines of fathers and their bumbling good intentions being inferior to mothers and their precision parenting. It was clear from her tone, that I was expected to laugh in agreement because hahaha, men are SO clueless! They can’t take of babies or change toilet paper!
But I didn’t laugh. It wasn’t funny and it wasn’t true. Instead, I replied, “I wouldn’t have had a baby with my husband if I didn’t trust him to take care of it.” My playground companion was thrown. She thought for a moment, then said, “Hmmm. Maybe you’re just not as attached to your baby.” It was clear from her tone that she hadn’t intended to be cutting…but what she said eviscerated me. I was devastated. I was furious. I loved my son. I had never worked so hard or committed myself to anything or anyone with such devotion. But because I was the mother, interests and activities outside of that role were cause to call my love into question?
I wanted to scream. I felt nauseous, cold and I could feel hot tears of rage stinging behind my eyes. When she saw my reaction, my playground critic did some frantic backpeddling, explaining it was self-criticism, an admission of her own overprotective nature. I was angry enough that I felt I might hit her. “Don’t talk to me,” I told her. I took my child and went back home.
I’ve been wondering lately if my reluctance to speak honestly about mothering with other mothers stems from that one bad experience. The “Mom script” , which is how I think of it, demands so much. It hard…hard in different way from the “Dad script” which seems to imply that men are naturally inept at parenting and thus praised effusively for any involvement. Interestingly, I find I often related more easily to other father. My personality is similar to my dad’s. So is my parenting style.
The truth is, The Mans of Mans is a much more detail-oriented parent than I am. He also more of a planner and more organized. Meanwhile, I tend to wing it a little more. I don’t totally buy into the notion that being a mom is something I can do “right”. I know I’m smart. I’m reasonably sensible. I’m loving. I have financial and personal resources at my disposal should I need them. Many a decent person has been raised with a lot less than my son has. So while marketing copy tells me that as a mom I should work in constant pursuit of smiley, sunshine-y parental perfection, it’s too exhausting and so very not-me. I have to cross my fingers and hope my standards of “good enough” suffice.
I admit I didn’t breast feed. Those who understand the circumstances generally accept my decision not to do so. But, I have to confess, even if it had been possible…I still might not have chosen do it. It’s not meant as an indictment of any person who does. Formula feeding with its lesser antibodies and admittedly cumbersome preparation meant The MoMs was an equal feeding partner. My son got to bond with both his parents and we each got eight hours of uninterrupted sleep on a regular basis. I’m a restless soul. Having the physical freedom to leave my baby, kept me happy and energized during those arduous early months. My son — and perhaps this is just a stroke of tremendous luck — has a pretty sturdy immune system nonetheless.
I don’t deny the claims of breast milk is best. I just don’t parent like that. I’m so familiar with the notion of mothers who give endlessly of themselves for the sake of their children. I’m not that mom. Mothering has effected me in some soul-altering ways, but it didn’t change my fundamentally selfish nature. I will never deny my son anything he needs from me…but I won’t deny myself if I don’t feel it’s necessary.
I work. I go running and I go dancing. I go to the theatre. I cram a lot of fun into my life, even if that means I have to stay up very late to do it. I see my friends as often as possible. I send my son to pre-school, to his grandparents, I hire babysitters. I’m very comfortable exposing my child to a community of caregivers. I feel great taking time for myself.
I confess I’m relatively lax on the application of sunscreen and the educational merits of his toys. We spend a lot of time outside, but I have no issue parking him in front of the TV with an age-appropriate show when I need to get shit done. I’m happy when he eats nutritionally balanced meals, but I’m not terribly concerned when he doesn’t. I confess to losing my cool. I confess to losing my temper. I feel bad, but at the same time I expect it of myself. I almost never read parenting books or websites. They generally serve to undermine my faith in my own instincts. I encourage The Bean to take risks, run freely around playgrounds, cut vegetables alongside me. I draw the line at life-threating/altering risk but I want him to do things that can and do result in falls, scares, bumps, cuts and other unpleasantness. Life is shitty sometimes. I want him to learn how to deal.
While I sometimes feel nostalgic for his baby days, I’m thrilled at his growing independence. I’m certainly not wishing his childhood away, but every step he takes away from me and towards self-reliance feels like an affirmation. Someday, he won’t need me at all. My dad once told me that the day I moved away from home, he was very sad, but tremendously relieved. “Once I knew you could take care of yourself, my biggest responsibility as a parent was over. I could relax and enjoy watching you live your own life.” Now that I’m a parent, I totally relate.
Sometimes, I’m afraid to talk to other mothers. I’m afraid of being judged as inferior, uncaring. I’m afraid of asking questions that might seem judgmental or intrusive. It’s a sensitive subject. In that way, I’m as typical as any mom I’ve met. Maybe one day I won’t be. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to trade notes with the great moms at the playground, secure in the knowledge that a pretty good mom is the best I can be…and that’s totally okay.
Originally posted December 14th, 2010