How many of you have been in that tug-of-war phase of life where every single one of your Mommy friends are either pregnant again, or they’re trying?
I’m there now. My son is almost two and the chaotic dust has finally begun to settle. Good days outweigh the bad and I’m actually sleeping through the night. Life is generally manageable. The last thing I want to do right now is throw everything into upheaval once again by adding a new family member.
Of course, their are hundreds of reasons for having multiple children. Despite my complaints of how hard that first year was, I occasionally catch myself gazing wistfully at other people’s babies and reminiscing about those sweet first months. Baby Fever is creeping in.
So why am I holding back? Why wait another year or four? Well, for the first year of my son’s life, I was buried in a dark hole of post-partum depression. Luckily, thanks to a group of supportive and unfiltered friends and family, I made it through.
Did my support system tell me I was looking great? That everything was going to be fine?
No. They told me on my son’ 1st birthday that I looked way too tired and haggered – as if I were still the mom of an infant. Rude? Maybe. Necessary? Absolutely.
As my beautiful son approaches his second birthday, I think back on the conversations that were both wake-up calls and saving graces. They were all tough conversations. Taboo conversations that sprang out of the shadows during my weakest, most desperate moments. The following three uncomfortable conversations may have saved my life, my marriage, and my sanity.
1. Those violent urges.
My son was about ten months old, still nursing, still not sleeping through the night. I was at a friend’s house for a “play date” (code word for “Our kids entertain each other while we gossip and drink wine”) complaining about how exhausted I was. “I just don’t know if I can do this another night, let alone several more months!” I cried. “Getting woken up by his screams in the middle of the night, my arms and legs going numb from sitting still in that rocking chair for hours, struggling to keep my eyes open. I don’t know exactly how to say this but sometimes I just get this horrible feeling…”
“That you want to football-toss your child across the room?” My friend finished for me in a matter-of-fact tone.
I looked at her, stunned and momentarily speechless. How could such ugly words come out of her? She was the picture of the perfect mom.
But she was right. She was so incredibly on target, giving me the words that I had been terrified to express myself, fearing the thought made me a monster. I loved my baby. I had Mama Bear instincts and protected him fiercely. Yet a terrifying intruder – my own sleep-deprived self – sometimes crept up in the dead of the night and threatened to hurt my son.
A few months later, a mom friend was opening up to me about how depressed she had been after the birth of her second child. Like me, she never slept. She was exhausted, overwhelmed, and haunted by intrusive thoughts.
“I had to hide all of the knives in my kitchen,” she admitted, shame and embarrassment clouding her face. “Sometimes I’m afraid that…” She couldn’t finish her sentence. But I knew.”
“You’re afraid you won’t be able to stop yourself from hurting someone,” I finished for her.
My friend’s eyes widened, just as mine had, and she broke down in tears. “Oh, my God. Yes. You too? I thought I was alone. I thought I had really lost my mind.”
If you’re not a mom and you’re reading this, you probably think my friends and I are a group of lunatics. But if you’re a mom that doesn’t get much sleep, I think you get it. I think there are more of us who have felt this way than not. And trust me, once you’ve admitted it and realize you’re not alone, that unbearably heavy weight of a dark secret is lifted. We are not crazy. We are not alone. We are parents.
2. Hating our husbands.
Yes, I said it. I know it’s inappropriate to air marital laundry outside of the home, and I’m not suggesting you should constantly complain to anyone who will listen about how lazy/unhelpful/absent/clueless you feel that your husband has become.
Those smiley, cutesy family photos that are plastered all over Facebook? Those are fleeting moments in a new parent’s life. The exception, not the norm. How do I know? Because marriages often suffer with the arrival of a new baby. A marriage counselor once told me that 90% of her clients were exactly my demographic: new parents, usually going through another huge life change such as moving or changing jobs. The more I told her about the grievances I carried against my husband, the more understandingly she nodded. “He works late and doesn’t help with the baby at night.” “He doesn’t ask me how I’m doing or feeling.” “He still expects me to cook and clean because I’m home during the day.” She’s heard it all before, and she’s helped hundreds of couples through this dark period.
I tested out her statistic and confided my marital woes to a trusted circle of mom friends. “My husband and I considered getting divorced a few months ago,” I stated bluntly during a playdate. All three of the moms in my living room looked relieved. “What?!” “You guys too?!” “But you seem so happy!” “It’s so good to know it’s not just me.”
Call it hormones, call it nagging-wife syndrome, but at some point during that first year, you’re going to want to exile your significant other to Siberia. The good news? Time and yes, some relationship counseling, brought our marriage back on track.
3. We neglect our kids
I’m not proud to admit it, but it’s something that I appreciate moms being honest about: sometimes we need a break from our babies. I have walked away during tantrums instead of consoling. I have sat Baby Smoosh in front of Dora the Explorer so I can take a shower, or simply because he’s cranky and I can’t deal with his screaming anymore. I have let him play by himself while I do work – even if he starts to tug on my leg and plead with me to play cars. Again. I’ve even left him with Daddy for a long weekend so that I can have girl time with friends.
Pre-Baby, I vehemently insisted I would never do these things. Only Bad Moms do such neglectful things to their kids. And they should never talk about it.
As women and mothers, we want the public to see us as strong, capable, loving, and attentive to our family. So we put on a front and brag about all of the Mommy and Me classes we’ve enrolled our children in, the amount of books we read to them each day, the merits of attachment parenting. We puff ourselves up in order to prove how devoted we are to our kids.
In reality, most of us fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum – we dote on and spoil or kids with attention some days, and other days just need to get away from them.
We do our best but we all need a break sometimes. The best part of realizing this is that instead of feeling guilty or selfish for ignoring Baby Smoosh for a few minutes, I try to indulge in it, and ultimately am recharged for the rest of my long day with him.
Chances are, you constantly carry around “Mom Guilt.” Maybe you fed your kid Cheerios for dinner for the second time this week or forgot to pick him up from school. Mom Guilt is a heavy and in most cases an unnecessary burden. My advice? Confide in someone about your Mom Guilt Incidents. Most likely, they’ve done the same thing, and you’ll both feel weight lifted from your shoulders when you discover you’re not alone.
If you are a parent, you are never alone. Someone has already traveled the road you’re navigating, no matter how treacherous is may seem. And more importantly, someone is struggling right beside us on that same road. We just need to open our minds to the idea that neither of us is perfect, and that our imperfections actually bring us closer together.