My older brother likes to do this bit from a comedian whenever I tell him how tired I am from parenting. It’s about idea that being a mom is the hardest job in the world. The comedian lists off occupations requiring backbreaking and dangerous labor and then says, “Do Moms REALLY have the most difficult job on the planet? Bending at the waist to put those DVDs in DVD trays?”
So when I plop in a heap on the couch at the end of the day, my brother will tease me, “Exhausted from putting DVDs in DVD trays?” I usually remind him of the time when he babysat just one of my kids for five hours and then needed three days to recover.
But we laugh because it really is funny. Motherhood doesn’t look that hard! So you fed some kids snacks, you wiped a butt, you swept a floor, you put a bandaid on, you answered a thousand questions about Star Wars. None of it alone seems terribly difficult. But this gig is nuts.
While I believe that the family is where many of us are called to practice God’s generous love and is where we learn to give of ourselves til it hurts, I think something twisted is happening to many modern moms. The expectations have changed and the support has evaporated.
The longer I’m a mom and the more women I know who are struggling through this journey, the more convinced I am that something is seriously broken. No one claims motherhood is ever easy, but should so many moms be suffering from anxiety attacks and depression?
And where is this shift in expectations coming from? The factors are many, but I think being plugged in 24/7 is one of the culprits. Instead of comparing myself to the moms in my neighborhood, I get to compare myself to every family on the internet–people I would have never known existed!
And the internet always knows more than you, or at least it wants you to think it does. If you’d asked me, as a first time mom, how to get a baby to sleep through the night I would have had an answer ready. I would have had suggestions, nay principles about babies sleeping through the night that I was desperately devoted clinging to. I would have tried to convince you there was one way to do it and that any other methods were terrible parenting. Why? Because I was terrified about my new role of mother and I needed to be right, or else my insecurities would have crushed me. I wasn’t confident from clocking enough hours in this motherhood gig or worn down by my kids yet until I really don’t care where the baby sleeps as long as she sleeps, or whether I use a wrap or a stroller as long as I get to leave the house every few weeks.
While most moms grow out of their insecurities and loosen up, the internet seems to be perpetually in the stage of the terrified mother–the one who hasn’t figured out what she’s doing yet and needs to believe she’s not failing. There’s always more articles ready to screech at you and guilt-trip you. Then the internet adds that artisan baking, toddler hairstyle couture, and enrolling your preschooler in STEM classes are moral obligations of parenthood. You get to hear from everyone in the world who wants you to know you’re doing it wrong and then see everything on Pinterest showcasing how they’re doing it right.
No wonder family sizes are shrinking and people wait so much longer to start a family! Instead of being a natural season of life that’s supported by your community, having a child is embarking into a land full of judgement and insane expectations with very little community to speak of.
In a stage of life when women desperately need support and community, American moms get the mommy wars of ugly competition, cliques, and criticism. Go back to work and you’re vilified. Stay home and you’re told you’re wasting your life. Or get torn apart on social media for just going out to dinner with your husband without the baby.
Then there’s the matter of the overwhelming expectations for pregnant and nursing moms. While baby stage is only going to last for a few short years with one or two kids, if you want a larger family, it can feel like you’re never out of the baby stage. Breastfeeding in public?! Nobody wants to see THAT, we’re told. But for those of us who are breastfeeding year after year, we’re not supposed to go anywhere for a decade or two without being judged for…wait for it…FEEDING OUR KIDS? It’s just insanity.
And then there’s the guilt of taking care of ourselves. We’re faced with the pressures of getting back to our pre-baby bodies immediately, staying fit, and continuing self-development while simultaneously being told it’s selfish to do things just for us. You’re supposed to be pouring ourselves out on our families, not selfishly working out at the gym!, we’re told. Think of the children pining for you at home while you do your cardio, you monster.
For most of us (including me) it’s not until things start breaking down that we really take self-care seriously. I had my first anxiety attack a couple of years ago and couldn’t figure out where the anxiety was coming from. What do I have to feel anxious about? I have healthy kids and a happy marriage! No complaints! I don’t THINK I’m unhappy or worried. Then my autoimmune issues all started flaring up again, too. What is happening to me? I’m not even 30 and I’m falling apart! So I took stock of my days.
I was getting up at the crack of dawn to get writing and blogging work done–partly because I love it but partly because it helped pay our grocery bill. Then rushing around feeding three kids, changing diapers, homeschooling. Grocery store, library, ballet, karate, playdates. After lunch I’d frantically try to get everyone down for a nap so I could answer emails and get more work done before dinner prep. Dinner, bedtime, crash. No minutes for just relaxing. No minutes for me. Who else works from 5:00am-9:30pm with no breaks? Moms!
But I still didn’t feel like I was doing enough. I think when two-income family emerged expectations about motherhood shifted, all the moms ended up with too much on their plates. You go to work all day AND do the housework, AND cook the meals AND volunteer at school AND maintain friendships, marriage, etc. It’s too much for one person! When I was working full-time when my oldest was a baby, I could barely function. Baby awake all night, working all day, and then there’s laundry to do when I get home? Dinner has to get made? When do I deposit checks or go to the dentist? There is NO TIME.
And staying home has it’s own unreasonable expectations. If you get to stay home you should have time to do all the things. But you don’t have any more hours in the day than your mother or grandmother did. You can be wiped out by noon because it’s been the mom show non-stop since one of the kids woke up at 4am! You’re home during the day so as soon as you pick up one room, the kids have destroyed another. Showers? What are those? And how long has it been since you saw another human over the age of 7?
The neighborhood moms don’t all hang out together and talk over coffee while the kids play in the yard. The community that mothers have always had to mentor, support, and encourage them has evaporated. We’re alone all day with no adult interaction. It’s not normal! We’re exhausted physically AND mentally. And no matter what our day looks like, we’re beating ourselves up that we didn’t do more. Clean more. Read more. Engage more. Go out more.
I have a shocking claim to make, moms. Maybe we are not super heroes. Maybe we are not robots. Maybe just maybe we are human women who need good food, exercise, occasional silence, friendship, a night out, a creative outlet, help with the housework, and to finish JUST ONE cup of coffee before it gets cold in order to feel like thriving human beings.
We cannot spend the last minutes before that precious soon-to-be-interrupted sleep at night telling ourselves we didn’t do enough when what is really true is that technically we could have done but it would have killed us. Our kids will always want MORE of us. Our house always could be cleaner. The work email inbox refills as quickly as we empty it. But are we so overwhelmed with what’s on our plates that we are no longer the mothers, the women we want to be?
I’m not saying we should all hire Mary Poppins, check out, and neglect our families. Although sometimes I think what I need to make mothering easier is the entire household staff of Downton Abbey. I’m not saying we should forget that this motherhood thing is a spiritual practice of generous love. It’s about self-giving, that’s just the nature of it and it’s beautiful, transformative, and redemptive. But we are running ourselves into the ground until we have nothing left to even give our families?
Let’s be kind to ourselves, moms. Let’s be gentle in our expectations. Let’s admit that we need to treat ourselves like human beings who deserve to thrive. Let’s get more sleep and unplug. Let’s find a community of moms who encourage and inspire us–be it in our neighborhood or inside our laptop. The village has disappeared, so it’s up to us to rebuild it. And it is possible, I’ve seen it happen–little pockets of women who are choosing to make life easier and more beautiful for each other.
Let’s do all of this and watch the joy of motherhood come back into our lives.
Amen to this! I became a mom recently and I found myself crushed by all the judgment and expectations about my new role. I couldn’t count on much support (all close relatives and friends live very far and hubby is super busy with work) and when mil decided to step in to help I did not find a positive encouragement but I was left feeling like a total failure. I am glad you are talking about it, there is a very big taboo about how difficult it is to be a mom today and too many people think motherhood is just a beautiful Pinterest album.
It can feel crushing! I feel like my confidence continues to grow the longer I’m a mom, but the things on my to do list continue to grow, too. I think it’s just a matter of learning to say no to 9 out of 10 things for me!
Amen! It’s so easy to beat ourselves up but it’s impossible for one person to do ALL THE THINGS. Support is crucial.
You know what I want? Another mom (and hey kids) to come over with her laundry so we can talk while we fold laundry.
I fantasize about this.
Oh my goodness, yes!
My grandmother was a neighborhood mom and my mom had this amazing childhood…and they had five kids in a tiny house and bonsai fast and we’re just free range kids after school and all summer. Times are so different;)
Ok…not sure where ‘bonsai fast’ came from…ack autocorrect??!!;)
Tara Seguin says
Oh yes!! 🙂
Oh my gosh! I fantasize about this too!! A close mom friend where going over to each other’s houses is as natural as going to our own. :bliss: she must live close by so that drop by visits can be a thing and must not think I’m a nut job! Lol 😉
I’ve even thought about posting on some kind of friendship-seeking site. :O haven’t. Kinda want to. 😛
Hilary and Jacque, how far are either of you from the Texas coast??? 🙂 I’m in!!
You said it, Sister! Amen to being kind and generous to one another! I’ve been married for 31 years, a mother for 26 and have four children and three grandchildren. Community is hard to find and I’m glad I landed here on your site from the Ultimate Bundle! Thank you!
So glad you’re here, Robin!
You speak the truth. I do have to say that the Ultimate Bundle sales pitch at the enddid sour it for me. 93 resources? Ain’t nobody got time for that., as they say. I’ve gotten the bundle in the past, and I don’t deny there are many good things in it, but this time I just feel like things like that are part of the problem. Those are 93 pressures to pile more on that I’m just going to say no to. This year I’m just going to bleach my toilets when I get around to it, and not feel guilty because I spent money on a guide to natural cleaning.
Hi Mary, it’s not meant to be a collection of resources to be overwhelming (at least I never get to every single book and not everything even applies to me!), but so that there’s something very valuable for every mom. As someone who didn’t develop any domestic skills growing up, I really appreciate having the resources to learn things I never learned about caring for my family and making things easier on myself. (Can you say Crock Pot meals?!) I love the bonuses, and I believe that the wisdom that’s included in those resources helps me be a better and more relaxed mom. Obviously, if it feels like more pressure to you, then it’s not worth it. But for me, it’s like a breath of fresh air that bolsters my spirits. Because I contributed a book written from my heart, I really believe in this project and I’m very proud to participate in it. I’m glad you’ve found bundles in the past to be very high quality.
This was exactly what I needed to hear! It’s been a rough morning, and I was feeling defeated. Thank you for reminding me that motherhood is not easy! So thankful to have your encouraging words to read. 🙂
Hang in there! <3
Haley, this all rings as truth to me!!!! Thank you for writing this. I could quote so many lines from this post…
Aw, thanks, friend!
We have three little ones ( 3, 21 months, and 7 weeks) and 7 weeks ago I was really feeling overwhelmed and unworthy to be their mom ( thanks a lot postpartum hormones). The biggest change in my day came when my husband switched to night shift. Getting our 2 somewhat stubborn nappers to sleep for even an hour has made such a difference. I have decided to ignore comments (as best I can- they do find a way to sneak up when I am feeling low) about “when does he sleep?” or “isn’t he tired” because right now it is working. He sleeps after breakfast until the afternoon and wakes up if I need reinforcements to help get the older two to sleep. He gets a nap in after they are alseep for the night because they usually go to bed easier if theybhave napped. We all get more together, alone, and one on one time this way. And if mommy is yelling and crying less we all benefit.
Living a Catholic Fairy Tale says
I can so relate to what you’ve written, thank you!
Since I’m a Mom I always feel I’m not doing enough and I’m sure every other Mom is more capable of all the tasks we have as mothers. But I know I’m wrong, the other Moms are struggling, too.
I try to accept that I just can’t do it all. I can clean, and cook, and do laundry, and go out to the playground, and make playdates, and blog, and look gorgeous, and mother my kids all day. This is just not gonna happen.
So what I try to learn right now is to say no. And that’s so hard…
I’m so glad the internet was not a big player when I had my first baby 22 years ago. Back then I was blessed to have a network of real live mum support, and blessedly I still have many of those friends today who have journeyed with me, many children and many years later.
I continued to have babies (our 10th child is now 2yrs) and have seen many changes regards parenting expectations over the years. No wonder mothers are anxious indeed. Oh I could write and write on this topic!
This is so true! You’ve inspired me to find 5 things I can do this week to push back against the mom culture you’ve described. http://www.sweepingupjoy.com/momsolation/
Wow! Sounds like I could really use this with Bernadette. ..those determined little persons can be so tough!
Amazing. Just what I needed to hear. Anxiety has become the norm, and joy the one off, instead of the other way around.
Thank you for this, Haley! I will try to remember how you nailed it when I am feeling overwhelmed. Why is it so easy to believe I am the only one feeling this way? So much points to other women feeling similarly. God bless!!
Hi Haley, I’m a new mom (well new-ish, my son is almost 1) and this is exactly what I needed to read! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.
Josée Bergeron says
After having my third I struggled with anxiety in a BIG way. Anxiety attacks? Yes, been there. My struggle was partly because of the many things you mentioned above (isolation, exhaustion and perfectionism – yes! yes! yes!) and partly because of my own tendencies towards anxiety (unhealthy thinking patterns). There are lots of great resources for help with changing thinking patterns (I really like = Retrain Your Anxious Brain: Practical and Effective Tools to Conquer Anxiety). I’ve also found that being more aware of my anxiety triggers and taking an active approach to address them as quickly as possible (instead of ignore them!) has made a big help! Thank you for sharing your thoughts Haley 🙂 Us moms always need a reminder that they are not alone.
Did you crawl into my head when you wrote this?! lol You hit the nail on the head with this one. Love it and love you!! Thank you for having the guts to say this stuff. We need to make it more talked about. Us moms are running ourselves into the ground and losing ourselves because of it! It’s like they say, “if momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”. I feel you girl, I’ve been having more anxiety and anxiety attacks to go along with PPD. And when you have a big family (5 here with the oldest at 7 1/2 and the youngest at 14 months) it feels never ending. I forget how to “adult” sometimes!
Sarah Ku says
Thanks for this, I read it in the middle of a frustrating day of parenting yesterday, so many helpful truths in this post. The part that caught my attention most was at the end, where you exhort us to build our own village. Everything in me was saying, yes, I want this! You mention that you’ve seen pockets of women doing this. What does this look like?!? I’m a mom of 3 in the Silicon Valley, literally in the same city as Google, and building a village just seems HARD. I’d love some ideas, maybe a part 2 post?… 🙂
Karen Edmisten says
Such a good post. I have one in my Drafts file that is very similar, which I now don’t have to finish! 🙂 I say no to a lot of things in order to stay sane and to be the wife and mom I want to be. Our fiats are vital, but the power of “no” is vital, too.
I love it that you are able to articulate this dilemma so well. I had my first child when my husband was in medical school. He had to leave for a month on a couple of occasions to do his rotations while I stayed home with the baby. I had no car and no washer and dryer. I had no family in town. My daughter was relentlessly taking things apart and climbing all over things, and then banging her head on the crib for hours at night. I almost went insane. Now with my second I am blessed enough to take my kids to the Jewish community center where they get babysat for up to two hours while I run, take a shower, make phone calls or soak my feet! I now make regular breaks and fulfilling activities a priority. As catholic women, we need to realize that it is right for us to take a break from our kids.
Just stumbled across this blog via Pinterest. Very good stuff, I can so relate, especially to this comment by Criscelda.
It is so important to find a way to remember who you are and make use of community resources such as the JCC, mothers-day-out at a church, Community Bible Study…to get a few hours to walk and think and pray and hopefully make a friend to laugh with.
I’ve been a mom for 27 yrs. We’ve been blessed with three: 27, 22, and 20. Our youngest moved into a dorm last week. We’ve moved a dozen times in those years, sometimes the friends came easily, most often, not. My husband has usually travelled for his jobs, too, so I was often very lonely and isolated. Prayer helped, but what helped the most were other women- they didn’t even have to be my age with children, they just had to be honest (as did I, about the good and bad that makes up our journey on earth.)
Please, please mom’s of young ones- don’t judge yourself harshly, try not to isolate, continue to look for resources and other women who will walk with you on this journey.
Forwarding this article to a relative who had her first child in March. Thanks Haley!
This post resonates so much. Thank you for writing it. It is hard not to feel totally alone & uncertain while at home & exclusively homeschooling our 4 children. Sometimes it seems a as though there is no room for me in my own life. Sometimes it not even that I have so little time, but that when I do, I don’t even know what to do with that time. I think that is one of the reasons the internet is something people spend so much time on… it’s instant consumption of information & that can momentarily break the monotony of the day, ease the loneliness & distract from the emptiness – and it is right there, it is not something I have to load my 4 kids into the van, along with water bottles, diapers, snacks, etc… to go and do. It is hard to find true friends, acquaintances are easier, but real friends to be vulnerable with, I think they are a gift. Sometimes we need to go out of ourselves and try hard to find them, and other times we just have to wait patiently and pray, and other times still maybe we need to invest in those acquaintances and something beautiful will grow.
I think this is my very favorite post you’ve ever written (and I love a lot of your posts!). Thanks for such honesty and for calling it like it is. I’m so tired of the Supermom myth, and I’m grateful whenever I find other moms who feel the same! <3 Also, heading over to get me a Bundle (happy Mother's Day to me!). 🙂
I expect motherhood has always been extremely difficult. Because anytime you get something that makes life easier — a washing machine, or a dishwasher, or whatever — that just ups the standard for how much we should pour into our kids. That pressure doesn’t come from outside — it comes from inside, because we love our children and want to give them the very best we can. That’s not a bad thing!
The one thing that might help … honestly … would be having fewer kids and spacing them out more. I know this probably isn’t a welcome thing to say, especially as nobody here can help having the kids they already have. But I wish more people would recognize that feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, strung-out, and sleep-deprived is a valid reason to leave more space before the next kid. Because sometimes you’ve lowered your standards all you can and called on all the help you can call on and it still isn’t enough. You just have to wait for the baby to get older. And that’s only okay if you don’t have another baby on the way by the time the first one sleeps through the night. It will only get better when you have a chance for a little break.
I know what I’m talking about here — I have four and the oldest is only seven. I had lots of people say it got easier with the third kid, or the fourth, and that was not true for me. It has gotten harder with each kid. My husband is now as burned out as I am. This isn’t sustainable and I doubt it would be even if everything around us were perfect (grandparents near by, husband working only 40 hours with a short commute, no disabilities in the family, etc.).
Love to everyone here, I know how hard it is and I wish I could bake a casserole for every overwhelmed person on this thread. <3 Hope things get easier for everyone.
there is a lot of wisdom in this comment!
This was fantastic!
Also, add to that: for a generation or two women have been pushing their daughters into the workforce and neglecting to teach them how to run a home or take care of a baby (let alone three). For thousands of years, these skills have been passed down, but somewhere we stopped passing the baton, and now modern mothers have to reinvent the wheel. Plus, like you said, the internet is no help at all–type in a simple question: “how much sleep should a 6 month old get?” and you will get a huge range of answers, plus you will get bombarded with guilt about HOW you should get said child to sleep. I was constantly frustrated with this exact question with my first child, and every time I looked for answers it got worse. This should not be rocket science!
I think my depression, anxiety, and just overall unhappiness as a mother could have been greatly alleviated by some preparation, any preparation!
Thank you for your post!
This is my first time commenting on your blog. I’ve only recently discovered it ?. I am 40 today and struggling with every single point you made. I feel like you must have been living in my home for the last year. Thank you for your encouragement and kind reminders about taking care of ourselves.
God bless you.