Saturday, April 25, 2009

On being a mother

Oprah featured moms on her show a couple weeks ago. The two "experts" who "wrote the book" were bubbly, sharp, blond business-type women who wore chic outfits that had never seen spit up or spaghetti sauce stains. They rallied the audience into a frenzy of confessions about motherhood which variously decried the hardships of this "first order of creation" occupations.

"I hate the fluids of babies: pee, spit up, spilt milk, snot."

"I cried the day I drove to the car dealership to buy a mini-van."

"There were days I wanted to 'send them back to the hell from whence they came'."

On and on the tales of woe pored from the mouths of devoted parents. Video clips of small kids on bikes, disastrous laundry rooms, "stuffed to the gills" cars with seats and sippy cups floated by, making one wonder why anyone would sign up for the task of mothering, let alone sustain it for decades. Moms confessed things, too, like the one who said she didn't want to wake the sleeping baby by stopping the car for a potty break, but she needed to pee so badly, she took a Pampers diaper, stuck it between her legs and let it "go" as she drove. Yeah, I thought that was way more information than I needed to know about her, too.

There was a surprising lack of joy represented in the discussion of mothering. Mostly being a mom was held up as the hardest job on earth, the most demanding, the most self-sacrificing, the most misunderstood and overlooked work on the planet. A kind of shared martyrdom, underdog status united everyone and Oprah, never having mothered anyone, had to declare that indeed, they were right. Mothering equalled sainthood (which we all know implies burning at the stake and smiling through it!).

With my kids in the room, listening to the pain of childbirth and engorged breasts, the relentlessness of little voices, the demandingness of the small child's need for food, sleep and comfort, the annihilation of a woman's identity and sense of self, I couldn't take it any more. After all, far from being the hardest job in the world, mothering has been the happiest, most satisfying, life-giving, joyful, rewarding, fulfilling and (dare I admit it?) easiest job I've ever had. Oh sure, the hours suck, there are anguishes deeper than the ocean, there are seasons (years!) of such utter exhaustion you can't imagine ever being rested again... but all those discomforts are easily and unequivocally overturned by my children, themselves.

I punched pause on the DVR to set the record straight:

"Being your mother has been the single greatest joy and privilege of my life: not a burden, not a perennial unrelenting source of emotional and physical agony, not the 'hardest job in the world', not the knee-capping blow to my 'adult individuality' nor has it been the thankless, under-appreciated, most overlooked profession these mothers would have you believe. In fact, my sense of personhood, identity and self-knowledge have grown more through mothering than any business I've started, any degree I've earned, any relationship I've pursued. I thank YOU for being the best people to ever happen to me."

Then I spewed in bullet style the privileges and unique joys that came with mothering them (all five of them, each one popping into my life like a fresh daisy, every two years for 10 years).

Cuddling: Being your mom means I got to have someone to cuddle non-stop for 12 years while sleeping with at least one of you at a time, nursing you, carrying you, holding you, helping you in and out of car seats, backpacking you.

Sleeping together: There is nothing more divine than a baby who falls asleep on your chest while you fall asleep and the whole world stops while mother and tiny child become fused as one content, quiet, shared being. No meditation, yoga, prayer circle, private retreat has ever come close to providing me with the depth of peace, pleasure and abiding hope that sleeping with a baby has given me.

Playing: Board games and hopscotch, dress-ups, face paint, finger paint, walks in the woods, trips to the zoo, picking up bugs, rolling down hills, blowing bubbles, eating too many cookies, watching Arthur on PBS, rewatching Disney movies, cards, chasing a dog in the backyard, trampoline jumping, creek splashing, snowman building, skiing, middle of the night slumber parties, bike rides, soccer in the backyard, soccer on the official fields, ultimate frisbee... What adult gets to do any of this on his or her 9-5 job? Talk about luxury!

Conversation: Oh it starts off good - why do bubbles float? How did I get red hair? Why doesn't Santa Claus visit Moroccans, too? But boy does it keep getting better! I've learned about human rights, veganism, Role Playing Games, Shakespeare, Klingon, fashion, exercise, lacrosse, birds, fantasy novels, conspiracy theories, atheism, feminism, linguistics, alternative monetary systems for world peace (serious!) and more by talking to my kids.

Mothering is the job that means taking the dog and kids for a walk in the woods is on task. It's the one where teatimes and picnics are considered achievements worth trumpeting to friends and family. It's the job where even on bad days, someone tells you "Hey, I love you Mom" and then hugs you so tightly, you believe it.

There is no comparison to the jobs I've had in business and writing. Sure, affirmation and personal achievement are nice... but they are nothing like the bond that comes from the devotion of loving people who live every day looking for you to see them for who they are. I've found that the easiest thing in the world is to love my kids. All it takes is entering into their lives on their terms and giving all I've got. I get it all back and more.

Yes, there have been nights where I cried myself to sleep over a non-stop crying toddler or a teenager's emotional pain. There are times when I feel out of control and invisible and fearful for my child's future or welfare. But the rewards of mothering so far outweigh any of its challenges, I can't relate to the repeated refrains of "how hard I have it" simply because I chose to have five kids. Instead, I just feel perennially lucky that my lifestyle has included such richness, tenderness and connection to immortality through my children.

I think it's time we blew the whistle. Mothering isn't a job. It's a privilege.


redheadedreader said...

Nothing is all roses, but motherhood is one of the best gardens I have ever known. Thanks for making sure your kids know that their mother loves being a mother.

NoVA Dad said...

Beautiful post. Fatherhood has its own special rewards, but nothing can compare to the tremendous bond that a mother and child will always share. Your kids are blessed for many reasons - the latest being that you took the time to set Oprah's record straight. Of course, kids know everything, so I'm sure what you told them came as no great surprise:-)

Sarah @ Ordinary Days said...

There is definitely too much emphasis on the not so great parts of parenting right now. A scary trend, if you ask me.
I love how you described falling asleep with your baby. There truly is nothing better.

sambrooklyn said...

This is great! My days aren't always rosy with the little ones and I do find my life is sometimes so full of them that I forget "me", but as overall, I wouldn't trade a second of their life to recapture what was once my own.

Lostcheerio said...

Thank you for this. I completely and totally agree. I think there's a fair amount of one-upping that goes on, with mom bloggers who each want to relate the most awful experience, and "confess" their own dissatisfaction and angst. Even if it's said in jest or hyperbole, it still will have an effect on those children. Those women should be ashamed.

Mike said...

if motherhood is as awful as these moms on Oprah described why would anyone do it? If that was all there was to it one would have to question their sanity.

I am glad Julie you are able to view from a different perspective...a (very) early Happy Mother's Day to you and other mothers who can see the joys through the challenges!

moiraop said...

Thanks so much for this post. You beat me to it! I have spoken to a few mothers about this particular Oprah show and, oh no, don't get me started again. I was sickened by the whole tone of the show. I have been an Oprah fan since the beginning but I was so disappointed in this portrayal of motherhood. I raised 3 kids who are now responsible, independent adults with entrepreneurial spirits and good morals and values. I was a stay at home mother who loved being a mother, who put her life on hold because when I made the choice to have kids I told myself that I would dedicate my life to those kids to my fullest potential. Shame on those who complained about way too many things where they could have found joy.
The more frightening thing to me though, is how their kids will perceive mothering.
I am writing an email to the Oprah Show to vent because I think it's really necessary in this case. She has way too many viewers who have now been given permission to "give up" because it's just too inconvenient.

Watchman said...

Well said. Our kids are teens, and as a dad, I miss the years that have passed. Would not trade them for anything.

julieunplugged said...

I posted this same post to my brave writer blog as well. It's wonderful seeing the homeschooling community weigh in with their comments. I shared the following in response to them and wanted to share it here too. (I also want to say: I think Dads could write their own passionate defenses of fatherhood!)


I love all your comments! I was thinking today at our homeschool co-op how when you have babies, you move from obscurity to rock star status everywhere you go. I remember the curious gazes, the constant flow of admiration for my kids’ curly hair, the praise and validation for doing such an important job (raising kids and homeschooling them too!). Despite the assumption that mothers don’t get enough appreciation, I’ve found that now that my kids are older and not with me, I become invisible in public. With children alongside me, I enjoyed praise, support, enthusiasm and kindness from perfect strangers every single day.

My job now, in my late forties, is to shower those young moms with the same admiration and sweetness shown to me back in my thirties.

Congrats to all of you!


Thanks for contributing to the discussion!

mapelba said...

I found my way here because of lostcheerio, and this post got me thinking enough to come back and reply.

I didn't see Oprah, so I can't speak directly about that, but I am a mom and certainly have feelings there! I know I'd never go on TV and complain about my son. I make sure every day to tell him how I love him. Even when I'm completely ticked off I take a breath and remind him that I love him even when I'm angry.

But I think it would be helpful to ask why these women are so angry and bitter about their children. Surely they actually love their children, but they appear to be unable to face the reality of their lives or they had unrealistic expectations or some other need is not being met and taking it out on their children is the easiest and safest thing for them to do.

I've long felt that our culture doesn't truly like or appreciate children and so child bashing is acceptable in many places. At the same time, my own mother was so miserable as a mom when I was an infant she attempted suicide. No one would help her because they insisted that motherhood was supposed to be so wonderful every minute of the day, she felt horrible for not being "perfect" at it.

Maybe these women on Oprah rant about their children because their children show them themselves and they don't like what they see. I know I've felt that my son has revealed my inadequacies plenty of times.

If Oprah really wanted to be helpful (and maybe she did this--I don't know), she'd help these women get at the real reason they're complaining.

Glad I found your blog.

Heidi Renee said...

hear, hear! good on ya julie -and good on your kids. minus the sleeping together thing i'm with ya!

Jane D. said...

found your blog from Susanne at Meditative Meanderings - so pleased I have read it. You have written this beautifully - I have had rather a bee in my bonnet about 'choices' recently - people do seem to forget that they can choose to focus on the positives or the negatives - just as they chose (in the majority of cases) to enact behaviour that enabled a fabulous creation to be born. Thank you for such a great uplift!

Searching For My Willoughby said...

What a beautiful post. There's so much that can be said about motherhood, but what I owe to my five daughters is huge; I tremble to think what I might have been without them to guide me. What I find most appalling about the show (I didn't see it myself so going on the description) is the fact that mothers would go on national television and talk about their children in such a manner, as if they're lesser people. For me, that is the height of disrespect and a total betrayal of your child's human dignity. I'm probably reading more into it than was actually there, but when I here people complain about their children, that's where my thoughts run.

something akin to drowning said...

This is beautiful. And so refreshing to read in a time when children are considered burdens and motherhood has been deemed "good enough" if you just manage your children instead of training and loving them into who they are meant to be, nanny them with the television, and medicate them if they get to rambunctious. I hope, aspire, will work, to be the type of mother you so love being.