The Hardest Thing About Being a Parent
This post originally appeared on our old blog, Born to be a Bride.
I am already cringing at the potential onslaught of criticism I’ll get for this post, but I have to keep it real. There is a lot that’s proven difficult in becoming a mom and much of it is not what I expected. I knew tired was coming — I was prepared for tired. I was ready also for arguments with my husband, messes everywhere, and the lack of time for shopping and getting cute like I used to. Of course, living these truths can be harder than conceptualizing them. There are days I want to throw my entire wardrobe in the trash because if I am forced to call one more pair of faded leggings and stained t-shirt an “outfit,” I swear I’ll just die.
But that’s mom life. And for all its frustrations, it’s also pretty damn beautiful. Being needed and loved and having the opportunity to do things for a human being you are shaping and teaching? Just absolutely magical. I won’t lie about it or pretend I loathe it because that’s the popular thing to do. Complaining about being a parent is popular, and I get why. But I just can’t do it for you because the truth is I love being a mom. Not sorry. On to the hardest part, though.
I have been surprised by many things about becoming a parent and have had to navigate through obstacles that often make no sense to me. You don’t know tired until you’ve gotten out of bed every 45 minutes to breastfeed a screaming six-month-old all night long from midnight until 7 in the morning. And then gotten up at 7:15 to start the day. You haven’t lived until you’ve figured out how to open a door with your left foot while holding the leash of an unruly dog in your left hand, keeping a 26-pound shoe-less baby securely on your right hip and not spilling coffee on anybody.
All of the crazy, challenging, awful, incredible, ridiculous, painful moments and problems that have unfolded in the past 16 months since becoming a mom though are eclipsed by something so startling and offensive, I never in a million years would have guessed it was a thing. The scrutiny. The pressure. The criticism from strangers, even family and friends, is relentless. Never in my life have I felt so criticized and scrutinized, so chewed-up and spit-out and spit-on. It’s tireless. It’s horrible! And so. Beyond. Unnecessary.
Here’s the thing. When I was in college my peers didn’t really give a crap what I was doing. If anything, they wanted me to or expected me to do more bad things. Have a cigarette (yes, oops), get a tattoo (thought about it!), drive after a few drinks (didn’t, thank goodness). But for the most part we all kind of just did our thing and listened to each other and gave some form of advice. This advice came only if we could muster it up by looking at our own failures from a wide angle and offering the alternative choice as something one might try, if they wanted to not fuck it up as badly as our friend did.
So tell me why, only a few years ago, we were all running around making choices ever so slightly less terrible than each other and cheering our peers on anyway? You’re a rock star! You can do this! I’m proud of you! We’d say these things as one graduated and another got her first job and a third broke up with the loser who wasn’t good enough for her. And then we had babies.
Now we’re all making organic baby food from scratch in our kitchens, or working like maniacs to afford quality childcare, or creating whimsical photo backdrops for baby-by-the-month shoots, or reading parenting articles on the subway while waiting not so patiently to get home to those little mushes. We are consumed by our children whether home with them or at work. We would give a limb or our whole life for them whether we breastfed or didn’t. We put them above ourselves, our sanity, our dreams, and we’re honored to it. But then we look left and we look right and we are terrified we’re being judged.
And we are being judged.
I am being judged because I can “afford” to stay home with my daughter. But don’t worry — the stay-at-home moms in my circle are judging me for planting Willow in front of Sesame Street for an hour in the mornings and getting a sitter in two afternoons a week because I also work. They get pissed when we have to miss play dates because I’m on deadline. But if you ask the women in the workforce, I’m lucky and/or lazy because I’m at home in those aforementioned faded leggings and stained tees while they’re stuck in a meeting. I can’t win, they can’t win. If you ask the next woman in line, the one behind her is fucking it all up in some way.
Then there’s the boobs. Why the hell do you care what I’m doing, or not doing, with my boobs? To be frank, I couldn’t care less what you’re doing with yours. When I was pregnant, it was made very clear to me by everyone (even the non-moms) that I had to breastfeed. When I had a newborn and cracked, bleeding nipples, the Internet told me to “nurse through the pain” because a wholly breastfed baby is much more important, apparently, than a mother who can make it across the living room floor without crying because her bra feels like a medieval torture device. Now that my daughter is sixteen-months-old, though, forget it. How on earth can I still be breastfeeding? How creepy! I must be some kind of hippie, right?
Oh, but don’t worry. The hippies won’t get down with me because I’m too yuppy. I eat meat and I don’t cloth-diaper. I drive to yoga in an SUV and I get gel manicures. Oh, and that one time I brought my daughter with me to the nail salon? Child abuse, clearly. Also, I drink wine. At least a glass a night. And I never gave up my morning cup of coffee, not even when I was pregnant. Drag me out back and shoot me, okay? I’m obviously a hideously terrible mother.
Want another fun one? 89% of the time, my daughter refuses to wear a hat. If it has a string, she will pull on it to the point of choking herself to get it off. Every once in a while (because I try every single time we leave the house October – April), she will miraculously leave it in place. But typically the hat game goes like this: put hat on. Watch it get pulled off. Replace hat and add a snack for good measure. Hat is pulled off more angrily, snacking commences. Replace hat again — SCREAM — hurl hat outside of the stroller. Snack is gone. What now?
I have to walk three blocks to the grocery store to pick up milk. I can either race the three blocks to the store and pick up the milk, hat-free, and risk at least two comments from strangers about the fact that she should be wearing a hat. Or I can wait till we get outside, put it back on her, and hope for a miracle. Usually, I go with the second option. She then REALLY SCREAMS, hurls that hat even farther than before, and I’m lucky enough to get a nasty look about the screaming and a comment on the hat. Yay!
Target runs go like this when your baby is walking: leave her in the seat of the shopping cart strapped in with a buckle she knows how to undo. Pray silently that she won’t. The very minute she unclips it though, she’ll take a shoe off, too. “Ma’am, your baby should have shoes on!” Really? I was unaware. Thanks. You can try putting your toddler down so she can walk next to you, which will result in her running off ahead and don’t worry, at least five people will tell you as you walk around the store to “be careful” and “watch her.” What the fuck do you think I’m doing? Watching the ceiling?
My daughter sleeps in a crib and not in bed with us. I don’t give a crap where your kid sleeps. But I also don’t think it’s cool if you feel you have the right to criticize me for this choice. She eats organic, homemade food about 75% of the time. But if you catch me at McDonald’s the day I get my period, I don’t want to hear it for offering her a freaking fry. In our house we do it our way, and that’s always evolving and changing with our experiences, the things we read, and the innate changes in our own child. No new parents — no parents, period — get it all right, all the time. But we also don’t need to hear it constantly from every angle.
Being a mom is hard enough. It’s complicated and stressful and overwhelming. Some days we nail it out of the park. Some nights we huddle under the covers, zombie-like with a massive bowl of ice cream to eat away our failures while watching Teen Mom on Netflix and thinking, at least I’m old and not missing out on high school for all of this. We need to be doing this together, though. We need to be in it as a team. Working, stay-at-home, or a crazy mix of both. Breastfeeding, formula-feeding, whatever. Had a C-section like me? You’re a freaking rockstar. Surgery is a big deal and it’s terrifying! Pushed the kid out “naturally” without meds? Pat yourself on the back, Mama, because you freaking nailed it and that’s amazing.
LIFE is not about who is doing what and why we think they shouldn’t be. Motherhood needs to be a sisterhood and we have to have each other’s backs. Our kids need to see us being kind and generous and hear us say things like, “Wow, Mrs. ___ is doing such an amazing job. Her kids are so happy!” instead of, “I can’t believe she has that many kids and a full-time job. What was she thinking?” (Say WHA? Yes, I’ve actually heard these words out of a real-live mom.)
SOCIETY is going to judge us. The generation above us is really going to judge us. We can’t control what the people who are not living it right now are thinking and feeling, but we sure as shit can start protecting our own. I can tell you this much: I’m not a perfect person, but I am not judging you, even for a second. I want you happy, but if you’re not, I’m here to listen. I might do things completely different from you, but that’s my house and this is yours. And if I see you in public with a hatless child on a March morning, I’ll give you nothing more than a knowing smile. Because this shit ain’t easy, and I for one could use a double dose of empathy. Hold the judgment.