Let me preface this by reminding everyone I love children and I love my kids especially. They are my purpose in life, the reason I get up in the morning, and I would walk through fire to give them anything they need. I have worked tirelessly to teach my children that they are loved no matter what mistakes they make, no matter what they do. I love them because of who they are. They know they can come to me any time of day for comfort and affection and unconditional goopy love.
But my God do I hate having children some days.
Cue the gasps and pearl clutching.
But Jen, they cry, if you love your children, you have to feel that way ALL THE TIME. Unconditional love means you must savour and adore every single infinitesimal second of every day and be GRATEFUL. You’ll miss these days when they’re gone! Enjoy the little moments! Good Moms never begrudge motherhood!
OK. Take a deep breath. Close your eyes with me for a second while I paint you a scene. On second thought, keep your eyes open so you can read—nevermind, you get the idea.
I wake up early (earlier than my usual at least). It’s the third week of January, and I’m tackling one small goal each week and this week’s aim is to inch my way out of bed a scant 15 minutes faster than my usual. I feel a little burst of pride for myself because this has been a challenge for me since I was young.
I am not, and will never be, the person who suggests you get up at 6:00 AM to start your day off with yoga and a cup of green tea. My life is a little messier, and I usually ignore my own alarm clock and only blearily drag myself from bed when my 2 year old runs in and not-so-sneakily tries to unplug and steal my cell phone. Her form of quiet pickpocketing involves knocking almost everything off my night stand and stage-whispering to the cat to be quiet.
So for me to wake up to a still, dark house and purposefully throw back the covers, even 10-15 minutes early, is a massive achievement. I was riding high on self-satisfaction when I was dressed with coffee in hand and got to turn the tables and be the one to wake the household.
I should have known it wouldn’t last. Hubris is a dreadful thing.
Breakfast was served, coffee was poured. I managed to catch up on my video backlogs from a friend, and prepare myself for the day in relative peace. Both kids were in a pleasant mood and no one was arguing about touching each other’s side of the table, or feet tangling on chairs.
In fact, I thought gleefully with pie in the sky enthusiasm, I might actually get to work a little early! I’d been away the day before out of town, and I knew I had a presentation to run in the afternoon, so a little extra prep time would reduce my stress significantly. I was feeling like, for once, I had this working Mom morning routine down pat. Wow! What a difference 15 minutes could make! I felt like my goal was going to be easy the rest of the week, especially with incentive like how this well-oiled machine of a day was starting to turn out.
I sent the kids off to get dressed in their respective rooms, and actually ate a breakfast for once. What a novelty, even just for a bowl of cereal. My stomach queried the new sensation of a weekday morning meal, accustomed only to a shot-gunned coffee and half a Bear Paw my toddler didn’t finish.
Still patting myself on the back and feeling like those Moms on the Cheerios commercials who serve a ‘nutritionally balanced breakfast’ (who eats cereal, a grapefruit, waffles, orange juice AND a glass of milk in the same meal?), I heard a curious sound.
It was a steady whine of ‘Uh oh’ in a small high pitched voice, and the incessant slurping of my very food-motivated dog.
Rounding the corner of my kitchen island, I was greeted by splattered trail of what I prayed was milk, leading me on a wild goose chase through my foyer and back around to the sink where I discovered my delightful, spunky, accessory-conscious daughter had decided that she was not quite finished her cereal, and thought it pertinent to ‘save some for the road’ and she wanted to do it in style.
Her solution, in her never ending quest to be like her big brother, was to pack a lunch just like he did when he went to Kintergarten each day. She had taken both her mostly full cereal bowl, and her brother’s scant remainders of Fruit Loops, placed them carefully into her pink lunch bag, grabbed that thing by the handle (effectively tipping it on its side) and jauntily swung it around while marching towards her room to get dressed.
Evidently she realized her mistake too late. A bowl of cereal does not stay upright or contained when shoved sideways into a kid’s lunch pail, and milk was flowing steadily from the zipper. She was leaving a Hansel and Gretel style dairy-path for our Brittany Spaniel to happily feast upon from one end of the living room to the other. Once she became aware of this situation, she rerouted back to ME in hopes of finding some assistance, muttering ‘Uh oh’ louder and louder and more stridently until she found me. But by that time, I was already chasing her on the other side of the counter and thus a lactose drenched game of Ring Around the Rosie began.
Sensing this was futile, and finally becoming aware of my increasingly more urgent shouts for her to STOP MOVING, she obeyed and held her dripping soggy bag aloft with a deafening whine of ‘MESSY’, which meant the dog could perch under the torrent of cereal-milk and drink straight from the tap, as well as bathe most of his head in it.
Now, I am a loud person to begin with. In my private life, I talk too much, I’m obnoxiously in your face, and with enough drinks, I inherit my mother’s infectious but echoing laugh. At work, I adopt my ‘Social Work Voice’, which is much more subdued and soft. I’ve been asked to record mindfulness meditations and one client described my tone as ‘melodic and hypnotizing’.
I wanted to get that engraved on a plaque.
But my Mom voice?
I am a little less Carol Brady or June Cleaver and a lot more Lois Wilkerson and Rosanne Barr. I can stop a kid dead in their tracks with their first and middle name. And you better believe I used it today on the heretofore named ‘Milk Bandit’.
In the end, the mess was cleaned, the concept of gravity and liquid viscosity in an open container explained, and the children were sent off to school and daycare. I spent a portion of my morning on hands and knees, wiping and disinfecting a sugary trail of dog slobber and milk, and then cleaned the same dog’s ears and head. I lost a good amount of my morning buffer to these activities and I grumbled about the disadvantages of having children all the while said children, suitably cowed and repentant, watched from the doorway to prevent further spread with tiny socked feet.
I didn’t savour the moment. I wasn’t grateful.
I was mad.
I was inconvenienced, and pissed off, and wishing I didn’t have to deal with this at 8 AM before a day of work.
But I am still a good mother, despite hating it this morning.
I repeat: You can be a good mother, but not love every single moment of motherhood.
You can love your children and still find them inconvenient at times, or annoying, or frustrating.
You can enjoy being silly and playful and making messes with your kids and finding teachable moments, but still hate those messes on a weekday morning when you’re running late and feeling frazzled.
You are NOT a bad Mom because you get mad sometimes, or raise your voice, or because you don’t like a certain stage of parenting.
This concept of practicing non-stop, unconditional gratitude at every second of the day can be harmful to many of us because life is not all about the good. There is bad. It’s the reality. We need to be realistic that there are parts of our days that do actually just suck, and we must be present for those moments too and validate them. Being consistently told we need to be happy, or enjoying an experience which is genuinely uncomfortable or upsetting to us can make us feel a thousand times worse. It tells you that something is wrong with you if you don’t like it. It makes you feel like you’re just complaining, too hard to please, a negative person – when in actual fact, it’s impossible and actually unhealthy to be positive 100% of the time, especially if you are genuinely feeling stressed or upset!
It’s like being in an absolute panic, or deep in grief and you open up to a friend. Despite hearing your heartfelt emotion, they simply smile and run right over your words, telling you how good your life is. It may be somewhat true, but in that moment, it’s the quickest way to shut you down. You can feel yourself pulling away, guarding yourself. You feel rejected. It no longer feels safe to talk to this person, so you nod and smile as politely as you can.
That’s because the appropriate response to negativity is NOT positivity. It’s warmth and compassion and empathy. It’s listening and validating. It’s not trying to convince the person to be happy again. It’s being with them in their sadness, even just for a moment, because that sadness is real.
And we ourselves can be the biggest perpetrators of invalidating our own emotions.
I recently spoke to a group of young Moms and the most universal phrase in that group was ‘I’m a terrible Mom’ because of some fairly normal and natural responses to stressful situation. So if everyone in the room is saying that, then what’s a good Mom look like? And why are we all so convinced we are the only one having those bad days?
The myth that we must be happy and content with everything in our life is perpetuated constantly in social media, on TV and in magazines. Toxic Positivity is starting to become a new danger we must be mindful of. It invalidates our experience, makes us feel isolated and crazy and wrong when we don’t feel happiness all the time. It causes guilt and shame when we don’t treasure every second of our sweet child’s existence. When we get mad. When we cry. When we lose our patience.
But I don’t enjoy or treasure cleaning up my child’s mess. I didn’t like that at all, and it made my morning harder. Am I ungrateful? Does acknowledging that this moment in my day was hard counter-act any positive events I might experience moving forward?
Of course not. It was a bad 10 minutes of my morning. And then I got over it.
The mess was cleaned, I kissed my children goodbye and told them I loved them and it will be an amusing story to giggle over later on.
The key is to acknowledge, but not dwell.
Name that feeling. Normalize it. Remind yourself, this moment of irritation does not define me as a mother.
I can love my child but still wish I didn’t have to deal with this moment. Am I wishing away my child? Am I wishing they were never born, or that I wasn’t a mother?
I’m wishing I didn’t have a stream of milk curdling on my linoleum! I’m wishing I wasn’t on my hands and knees trying to tackle my soaking wet dog so I can try and scrub his ears off before it hardens and I’m smelling cheese for the next week.
So I’ll grumble and curse and glare at the mess, maybe raise my voice and sigh gustily with the passive aggressive beleaguered tone handed down from generation to generation of mothers. And then I’ll move on. Because this moment will pass. My irritation will pass. I might not even think about this in a week, a month, definitely not in a year. But for now, I am allowed to feel that anger because it is justified and valid, and I will give myself that right to have a feeling, here, right now, without judgment. Then I will move on.
Embrace the dialectical thinking: that something can be two things at once and both can be true.
You do not have to love every single second of parenting to still love being a Mom. You don’t have to love every action your child does in order to still love them.
But you DO have to be kind to yourself and not judge every emotion and thought you have.
What you feel is real Mamas. And it’s OK. Feel it. Name it. Live it. Don’t judge it. And then let it go when it no longer serves you.
You can cry over spilled milk. Trust me. I’ve been there.