I was making idle chitchat with another mom the other day. I mentioned my recent switch from working full time to staying at home. Before I knew it, she asked the question that has launched a thousand mommy wars: “Which is harder?”
She tossed it out casually, but it landed with a thud and rattled around in my brain. Which one is harder? Why not just ask me the solution to world peace or why good things happen to bad people? Both of those are less fraught conversations than this one.
Since we were at the park and conversing while keeping one eye on our children darting about, I kept it light – I shrugged and mumbled something about how it depends on the day and then laughed. She nodded and laughed too, and that was that.
But it got me thinking. Not so much about which one is harder, but about why she asked the question in the first place and why I didn’t want to buy into that contest. So, I asked some friends to describe motherhood in one word. I heard from working moms and stay at home moms. I heard from moms of one kid and moms of several.
They gave me words like Paranoia. Exhausting. Marathon. Challenging. Sleepless. Amazing. Blessing. Gift. Love. Busy. Humorous. Humbling.
But you know what word I didn’t hear, from anyone? Easy.
Motherhood is freaking hard, and you feel the weight of it every single day. That’s okay. No one gets into motherhood because it seems easy. It is physically taxing, mentally draining, emotionally destabilizing. It’s sleepless nights and endless days. And poop. Lots of poop.
Is it fulfilling? Without a doubt. Parenting is the most profound, magical, soul-stirring thing I’ve ever been a part of. I love my children more than I ever thought I could love anything, and my drive to protect them is so fierce it almost scares me sometimes. But parenting also absolutely kicks my tail, wears me down and keeps me humble.
I think we maintain this myth of “working moms/stay at home moms have it harder,” because it’s easier than admitting the truth: it’s all hard. Leaving my son at daycare for the first time? One of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Balancing taking care of a baby who eats every two hours (still!) with keeping her big brother engaged and entertained, while also keeping up with the cooking, cleaning and laundry? Also one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
Every mama is struggling and fighting and trying her hardest every day not to be swallowed alive by this monumental privilege we’ve been given. Knowing that, let’s do everything we can to make each other’s lives easier.
What does that look like? Here’s an example from my life. Last weekend Jon went on an overnight trip to Memphis to catch the Grizzlies game. It was the first time I would be on my own with the kids for 24+hours straight, and I was nervous. I said as much to my friend Michal.
Now, Michal’s husband is a pharmacist, so she regularly has 12-, 13-, 14-hour stints wrangling her two boys on her own. She knows hard. But she didn’t play the comparison card; she played the kindness card instead. She didn’t brush me off and tell me it was no big deal/just one night/I’d be fine. She said, “let’s meet for dinner at Chik-fil-a Friday night, and the boys can wear themselves out playing together.” (Her sons are buddies of Nathan’s.) Then, she turned around and invited me to a preschool open house on Saturday morning, complete with bounce houses and giant slides, for more boyish fun. And when Nathan was in full on meltdown mode when it was time to leave and I was trying to wrestle him into his shoes, she took Ellie and got her buckled into the stroller and helped me out the door.
That’s what we need to do for each other, y’all. You don’t get to tell someone else what hard looks like. She tells you what it looks like in her world, that day, that hour. And you find a way to help make it less so. You do this over and over, and you allow your friends to do this for you, too.
And then, when our daughters are grown, they’ll know they can do anything. Not just because they’re awesome and fierce (and they will be). But because they’ll have learned, by our example, that they don’t have to do it alone. They have each other to help make it easier.