Whenever someone asks if I plan on a third child, I always give a safe answer: I can’t imagine going through all that again! If it’s someone in the education field I go with a different version: If we stick with two, we can pay for college! If I’ve had a few drinks and the person has a sense of humor: Only if you’ll pay for a divorce lawyer!
All of those answers are kernels of the truth, but none of them are the real reason I diligently pop my birth control pill every night at 9 p.m., which is the latest I am able to stay awake these days. Pregnancy and childbirth were actually pleasant experiences for me. So no, it isn’t sleepless nights, pregnancy, or childbirth standing in between me and a third baby.
This motherhood thing just doesn’t come naturally to me.
Here’s the part where, if you knew me, your voice would get high-pitched and exclaim, “But you’re such a good mom!”
It’s true that my children are fed and clothed. They sleep the proper amount each night (most nights anyway), I read them bedtime stories, tell them how much I love them, and bake homemade birthday cakes that almost look like the ones on Pinterest. I’m the PTA President.
But underneath all of this is a difficult-to-admit truth: when I see the ease with which other mothers throw hair up into a ponytail or kiss a scuffed knee, I feel like an imposter.
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I once read about a survey where parents reported more satisfaction from household chores like taking out the garbage than playing with their own children. My first thought: How sad. The second thought? I can relate. Most moms will probably confess to feeling this way some of the time. But there is another thing we don’t talk about, so I don’t know if it’s just me or if other moms are walking around feeling it, too.
Motherhood has filled me with rage.
I was not an angry person before I had children. I never became frustrated by careless drivers or long lines at the store. Now, those things set me off, but it doesn’t have to be significant. Sometimes all it takes is my daughter asking for a tube yogurt the moment I finally sit down because I know inevitably, she will insist she asked for a different flavor than the one I bring her.
A lot of the time I am able to suppress the mommy rage so that it doesn’t surface. But when I can’t, I grit my teeth and use what my children call “the scary mommy voice,” which is scarier than shouting because it’s a creepy, whisper kind of yelling. I have also threatened to throw out their prized possessions, but to be fair, stepping on LEGO really hurts.
I have a T-shirt that says “Sunny Side Up” across the chest. After a long day, my 7-year-old discovered an empty pajama drawer and asked, “Why don’t I ever have clean pajamas?”
That summoned the scary mommy voice.
He pointed to the shirt and said, “I hope you really do wake up on the sunny side tomorrow.”
I felt like a monster.
I thought mothering was going to come naturally. I didn’t think it would feel like my soul was being sucked out of my body sometimes or that I would have to try so hard to stay present and calm.
Part of what fuels the rage is not just the loss of self I often feel but the perpetual state of anxiety I have been living in for eight years. First, I feared for a healthy pregnancy. Then, I was up Googling SIDS all night. Now, I compare the chemicals in sunscreen and watch for dry drowning symptoms. The global pandemic didn’t help. I am constantly caught between being driven crazy by my children and the sheer terror of losing them.
I know I am only a human.
Some might even say that because I apologize after losing my cool, I’m actually teaching my children a valuable lesson. Part of me knows I need to give myself more grace, but then the other part of me just wants to do better. Be better.
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When I think back to the pre-children version of myself, I wanted to create a family I would have liked to be part of when I was a child. Am I doing that? In many ways, yes. We use real names for body parts. We talk about our feelings. I don’t think my kids are afraid to make mistakes. I love my children and give them everything I’ve got. Sometimes I think I give them too much, which leads to more whisper-yelling. Sometimes I think everything I’ve got isn’t enough. Sometimes I’m too tired to think at all.
After the pajama incident, I immediately apologized to my son and hugged him. He looked up at me and hugged me back, forgiveness in his eyes. Kids have an amazing capacity for empathy. Our children sense they are loved even when we make mistakes. I have come to understand that the best you can do as a parent is trying to land sunny side up—even if you end up scrambled sometimes.