Every mom has her most humiliating moments. I remember mine.
I had finally given in to the requests of friends for me to join the PTA meetings. I felt like an outsider. Unlike many of the other ladies who transplanted to this small town because of their husband's jobs, I was the wife of a townie. I lived in the less popular part of town and didn't have the newest fall fashions like everyone else seemed to. Overcoming my insecurities, I rolled up to the meeting in my car, dropped off my toddler to the haphazard child care they provided with two volunteering dads, and sat among the large rectangle of tables they'd set up to discuss the agenda. “Breathe,” I thought. “You got this.”
Then, from the corner of my eye, I see a naked 3-year-old boy run into the room straight toward us. I recognize him instantly as my own, and soon everyone does as he runs straight up to me and begs to go to the bathroom. (Apparently, when he told one of the babysitting dads he needed to use the bathroom, he was just sent off on his own into a maze of hallways.) From the impression I got from the PTA ladies, though, you'd think they never saw a little boy before. I never did make it into their good graces.
These are the moments when motherhood can be overwhelming. Yet somehow these stories often get airbrushed out of the portrayal of motherhood we hear on TV, social media, or among friends and family. Portrayals of women who have it all together are pushed to the fore. Moms such as Blake Lively seem to extoll the joys of motherhood without really giving credence to the hardships. And the rest of us sit and wonder, why does it seem so easy for them? But lately the latent misunderstandings about motherhood are being aired, and for one, am glad to see it.
Jill Savage's 2013 book No More Perfect Moms exclaims, "There is simply no such thing as a perfect mom. And there are no such things as perfect kids, perfect homes, perfect bodies, perfect marriages, or even perfect meals." Recent films like Mom's Night Out and Bad Moms show the grittier side of motherhood in the effort of relieving a bit of the pressure. Still, many moms buy into the feeling they need to portray perfection at all times, as if breaking a sweat is a failing on their part. Or as if showing the more challenging parts of motherhood is somehow going to discourage people from taking it on.
At some point every soon-to-be mom asks another mom what to expect from motherhood and they’ll only say the positive stuff. Oh, you know, it’s amazing. It's not that hard!
Well, that’s a bunch of diaper poo.
I get it. No one wants to say, “You don’t know what’s coming to you. And there’s no turning back now.” I speak as someone who has had four kids, the oldest of whom is in high school.
But there’s a funny ever-new, ever-challenging aspect about motherhood. You’re never really going to be ready; there’s no right time to have a baby. It has nothing to do with preparing yourself. It is a lifestyle-jarring experience, especially to anyone who has gotten accustomed to taking care of only themselves.
But I do relate to this philosophy of not scaring a new mother. What’s the point of telling her it will get harder? She likely hasn’t slept in days. She hasn’t showered. If she’s anything like I was, she’s feeling completely incompetent and wondering how she’ll be able to clean the house and make meals and still look presentable when her husband gets home. Telling her this is only the tip of the iceberg would only serve to overwhelm her, right?
Well, I'm not so sure anymore. I’m all for being compassionate, considerate, and choosing the right thing to say at the right time. But I also think when it comes to motherhood, we should start being a little more honest. We can afford to say the truth—that it’s really really hard. Because the truth also includes that motherhood is really really wonderful. And I don’t believe we have to say it’s easy to say it’s great.
I think our culture could use a little more authenticity about motherhood. Which is why I am pleased to hear celebrity moms speak up on these topics. As Bad Moms actress Mila Kunis put it recently in an interview for PopSugar, "My parents were raising my brother and I, everything had to go perfectly. Nowadays, if s--t's going wrong and I call my best friend and I'm like, 'I don't know, this color is coming out of her nose and I'm pretty sure she's dying.' And it's OK to do that now, but I don't know if it necessarily was OK before." Actress Alyssa Milano gave similar straight talk in an interview for TODAY: “I think we see how the media and even celebrities portray motherhood and then when it’s not like that for us, we feel like we’re doing something wrong. We’re not as good as. And I think people need to talk about how, not only hard, but terrifying [motherhood] is.” Or as new mom and star of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Ellie Kemper, shared in an interview at the Emmys, “It’s life-changing...Everything changes immediately, so no sleep and lot’s of milk... you’re pregnant one day and then you have a child the next, [but] it’s a balancing act that everyone figures out.”
I love this because these ladies who are so quick to get real about the challenges of motherhood are also quick to speak to how rewarding it is.
Motherhood is like many things, in that, if you're trying your best, the longer you do it, the greater capacity you have to do it well. Yes, it's hard. It's hard to think of any other job in which you feel so uniquely responsible for the outcome. Raising children is both physically and emotionally demanding in a way that few other jobs will ever be. But it also leaves a legacy that few other jobs will leave. Saying there's a lot of pressure is an understatement.
In response to all these challenges, I say let's call it what it is. Because if we want to curb the power of these pressures to cripple women, we shouldn't hide them; we should remind them it's normal. We should remind them that perfection in parenthood, just like anything else, is an illusion. That the rewards make it so worth it. My life gets so much meaning from my children; I can hardly put it into words. A lot of moms feel this way, as it happens. We put a lot in, but we get a lot out. If it's commonplace in our culture to say that about fitness, career, or other ambitions in life, I don't think we should be shy to say it about motherhood. Because you don't have to pretend it's easy to say it's amazing.
Photo Credit: Cathrine Taylor Photography