Before I became a mother, I was a worker. I often worked three or even four jobs at a time, going straight from one to the other. I’m not saying this to brag, or even to single myself out. A lot of us did this, going from class to work back to class again sometimes without sleeping in between, because it was what we needed to do to make ends meet or maybe even to set aside a little beer and late night pizza money. Ain’t no shame in that game. We did what we had to do.

So when I became a mother, I was ready to work, or so I thought. Heck, I was even ready to NOT work, meaning I was excited to have fewer jobs and fewer commitments and be home more in my cozy pants lounging around the house and looking doe-eyed at my babies over the rim of my coffee cup. I would do what I had to do, I figured. I always had.

The truth is I had no idea what work was, not that kind anyway. Because yes, raising children is work. Maybe especially small children, and maybe especially more than one, but really any way you look at it this whole parenting thing is just a whole other level of work. And the stakes are so much higher, like your heart has been turned inside out and now lives outside of you in someone else, and that person’s life literally depends on your decisions and yet you very likely have absolutely no idea what you are doing and even if you do you don’t have any faith in yourself, not yet. And the hours are every single minute of every single day and for a lot of the first years you won’t sleep and you’ll be punch drunk with exhaustion and unable to form coherent sentences, which for me was OK because I didn’t have anyone to talk to anyway, not then.

And even if I did I wouldn’t have dared to speak the real, honest, truth, which even in the midst of the most unbelievable joy I’d ever known I still felt like I was drowning a lot of the time. I couldn’t possibly have said the words, I figured, because no one would have understood. They would have judged me. Shamed me. Deemed me unfit.

It’s silly, really. As if the second someone gives voice to the hard stuff, it means they have forsaken the good stuff. As if it isn’t possible to love our children and our families while being real about sleep deprivation, PPD, and the never-ending Sisyphean mountains of laundry. As if human beings are so evolved that we can walk on two feet and attain higher consciousness and travel in space but we can’t feel more than one emotion at a time?

Not only is it silly, it’s dangerous.

Yet I kept the words inside for as long as I could, until they threatened to bubble up and over and couldn’t be contained anymore and came out in a big rush of confessional honesty that was a lot like that recurring nightmare where you go out in public and realize, too late, that you are naked an everyone is staring.

Except they weren’t staring. Or judging. Sure, some probably were, but mostly they were listening. A lot said “me too.” Some nodded. Some looked me in the face and smiled knowingly and said, “Oh girl, I know. It’s the hardest job you’ll ever love,” and not once, not even for a second, did it make me think that maybe they were unfit. In fact, it made me see them as human.  

Because that’s the thing. We can feel more than one thing at a time, and we do.

We can love the hell out of these babies and thank the heavens every single night for having been kind enough or crazy enough to grace us with the awesome responsibility of raising them, and at the very same time we can also be so exhausted that we can’t see straight. We can be good parents and still be real. We can love this life and still sometimes complain.

We can, and we should. Because I’m pretty sure the doing so might have saved my life.

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Liz Petrone

Liz is a mama, yogi, writer, warrior, wanderer, dreamer, doubter, and hot mess. She lives in a creaky old house in Central New York with her ever-patient husband, their four babies, and an excitable dog named Boss, and shares her stories on lizpetrone.com. She can also be found on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.