The Truth About Motherhood

Just the other day I had one of those blissed-out mommy moments.  The kind where I was enjoying motherhood so much it was euphoric.  My baby was happily babbling, telling me all about the train he was playing with, helping me open the blinds, cheerfully toddling about the apartment, wide grin on his adorable face.

Those are the moments where I want to gushingly post on my Facebook status about how much I love being a mom.

But before I ran to my laptop I thought about a recent conversation I had with a friend.  We were talking about how sometimes being a mommy to little ones is so frustrating that we feel like we want to tear our hair out (or sheitels off, if you like).  You know, the moments where we are pushed beyond our threshold of patience and understanding.  She expressed the sentiment that she feels like she is the only mother who is exceedingly frustrated by raising her children.

It made me think about how there can be an expectation to be a perfect parent, to enjoy motherhood all the time, to not share our frustrations and concerns with our peers.  It’s possible that we don’t share our struggles with other mothers for fear of exposing our vulnerability.

I think that’s a mistake.

About a month ago there was an article by Glennon Melton where she wrote about how she chooses not to carpe diem.  Basically, she acknowledged that motherhood is not all sunshine and roses, and to expect mothers to “enjoy every moment” because “it goes by so quickly” is unrealistic.

Motherhood is FULL of struggles.  Full of them.  Chock full.  To the brim.  Every day.  It’s hard.  It’s not always enjoyable.  It’s mind-numbingly frustrating at times.   Sometimes it’s a whole day of frustration ending with a nightcap of near-insanity.  And the terrifying thing is that my kids are still very small.  There’s a whole world of parenting challenges which I haven’t yet experienced.

Everyone reacts differently to the stress of parenting.  Some mothers tune out, some yell, some get sarcastic.  Some people have shorter fuses than others, some are more controlling, some are more distant.  It’s hard not to judge other parents for their methods of coping with the stress.  There’s such a pressure to do things right, to be the best parent (Here’s a great list satirizing how it can feel like everyone one is a better parent than you are.)

As for alleviating the pressure of trying not to make mistakes, I think of a quote attributed to Gila Manolson:

The mistakes we make as parents are the opportunities we give our kids for working on themselves when they are adults.

What a relief, right?  Most parents I know genuinely have their children’s best interests at heart, and I think most of us have an internal monitor which helps us gauge when we are doing the best we can.  Everyone has their own unique combination of strengths and limitations, and we are usually the only ones who genuinely know when we are succeeding in our struggles.

Like anything in life that’s challenging, the harder the work, the greater the reward.  I’m reminded of a Beethoven piano sonata that I worked on in college (No.30 in E, Op.109, if you’re interested).  While it may seem trivial to compare the responsibility of parenting to learning a piece of music, bear with me here.

This piece was challenging.  It’s one of his late piano sonatas, which are generally more complex than his earlier ones (as an aside, he was completely deaf when he wrote it.  Talk about overcoming challenges!).  It is also heart-wrenchingly beautiful, and I wanted to play it very badly.  However, as it was above my level as a pianist, it took me quite some time to be able to just play the notes.

There were many moments in learning the piece when I would plateau and even regress.  I would have long stretches where I would make the same mistake repeatedly.  It was very frustrating.  But then I would have a breakthrough, and I would be able to play something which had been previously unattainable.  When I was able to play the entire piece, it was a tremendous feeling of accomplishment.  Tremendous.

That’s kind of how I view parenting.  I have a goal, and I have moments where I feel like I’m not progressing, where I feel stalled and frustrated.  Then I experience extraordinary moments of success and growth, and it gives me energy to continue.  I imagine the nachas a parent feels when they see an adult child living happily and successfully must be absolutely amazing.  But the amount of work it takes to get to that point, well.  It’s not a small amount.  But it’s well worth it.

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16 thoughts on “The Truth About Motherhood

  1. It gets easier, but those early years were rough. Half of my fiction MS is about the challenge of being a mom and how it is an invisible struggle.

    That said, I don’t think our mothers suffered the way we do. There wasn’t as much noise. Definitely not as many voices.

    I loved that Carpe Diem article too! ;-)

    1. An invisible struggle – how well put! And I think you’re right about our mothers. We are absolutely bombarded these days with very strong opinions on the right way to parent. Don’t get me started…

  2. Beautiful! Thank you for writing this.Today I had one of those incredibly frustrating days (13 mnth teething & crazy 3 yr old!). It’s like you read my mind!
    I have just a few select friends I can be completely honest with and discuss my difficulties. You’re so right. I think mothers need to be more open and honest about their struggles.
    Now powering down for (hopefully quiet) Shabbat. Something to ponder over :) Shabbat shalom

    1. Having a few select confidantes is such a great thing. Then you can be open and honest, but not with the whole world (over-sharing can be a problem, in my opinion) Hope you had a wonderful Shabbos!

  3. I’m pregnant with my first, and there are definite scarinesses inherent in the thought of parenting. And I’m not 19 here, I’m 30.

    But every time I feel pregnancy discomforts or think “Oh my, I’ll never sleep again….” I think of the experiences I have at work as a nurse in Kupat Cholim:

    – The man who came in to ask where his wife could go to get her daily blood tests to measure hormone levels
    -The women who sit and line up for those tests before work and for ultrasounds of their ovaries to see if maybe this month it’ll work
    -The expensive private doctors and trips to see them
    -The daily injections for IVF treatments
    -The heartbreak couples go through, especially in our culture when having children is such a central part of life
    -The checks of the hormone levels to make sure that a miscarriage is over
    -Not to mention those who have not yet been blessed with a husband to even start the process.

    And I know that many of these people would give up everything to have the heartburn, back pain, moodiness, and the expectation of eventual tzaar gidul banim, B’Ezrat Hashem, that are part of my life right now.

    The next time we feel overwhelmed by any of this, let’s stop and say a tefillah for those who don’t have it yet.

    May we ALL be blessed with the joys and challenges of marraige and parenting, many many many times over.

    1. Amen! As an “older” first-time mother, you have the advantage of maturity. I was 28 when I had my first, and while the fear of the unknown was real, I like to think I settled into motherhood more quickly and with confidence that I wouldn’t have had had I been 20. Your perspective from your work at kupat cholim is very welcome; thank you for sharing it.

  4. rivki, you wrote that so beautifully, as well as everything you write.
    I am new to parenting, my daughter is only 16 months, and what you wrote completely hit home!
    thanks, keep up the good work.

    1. Thank you for the sweet words, Batsheva. Hatzlacha rabah with your daughter – she’s about the same age as my younger son (he was a chol hamoed Sukkos baby). It’s a really great age. Of course, I say that about a lot of ages…

  5. I remember hearing two people discussing a new book that came out, a biography of a famous rav. One said, “This shouldn’t be printed, in a couple of stories, the author showed that the Rav made a mistake. People will lose respect for him.” The other man, a student of the Rav, replied, “Yes, but did you see how the Rav fixed his mistakes? Do you realise what strength people will gain in seeing that even a great Rav makes a mistake, and has to work to rise above it?”

    It’s a real issue, that people don’t feel they can discuss their mistakes, because everyone needs to see them as capable and perfect. I think, like the second man, the mistakes are the best part. It’s the part that makes us alike, and able to connect, get inspiration, and become better in the future. Thank you so much for sharing. With 2 little ones, some days are better, some are worse. On bad days, I feel guilty for not being a perfect mom. On good days I feel like I’m flying and can do anything. I think without the mistakes, I wouldn’t appreciate the times I do get it right.

    Loved the No Carpe Diem article also.

    1. That’s an excellent illustration, Penina. How can anyone aspire to gadlus if it’s presented as something which requires no work, but as something which some people just “have?” I think one tricky part about discussing mistakes is to watch that it doesn’t become a validation of bad habits, rather, encouragement and strength to improve. Mistakes are precious opportunities to see where and how we can grow.

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