The Mother Smother

I don’t enjoy every moment of motherhood. In fact, some days it threatens to swallow me whole, wringing every last bit of my patience, my gentleness and my creativity from my bones. It can destroy my confidence, my self-esteem, my very sense of self, with a well-timed tantrum or day of all-consuming neediness.

Don’t think I don’t appreciate the irony. My whole life, all I wanted was to be a mother. And yet, here I sit with everything I ever wanted, and some days I can’t catch my breath because the tears of feeling overwhelmed and ill-equipped are falling so fast and so hard. Other mothers are better at this than me, I think.

Maybe it’s because the introduction to motherhood is so harsh, like being dropped into the deep end of an icy cold pool and commanded to tread water indefinitely. The second time around, it’s the same thing all over again, except with a toddler strapped to your back. It’s suffocating and exhausting and your whole body aches from the effort you’re extending. And despite giving it everything you’ve got, you don’t appear to be going anywhere. You’re working harder than you ever have in your whole life, and all you have to show for it is a head that’s barely above water.

And, in my experience at least, it’s right at that moment when you feel like you’re about to slip under completely that some well-meaning soul strolls by and tells you, “Ohhhh, what a blessing. This time just flies by; I hope you are enjoying every single minute with these precious little ones.”

Telling someone who is raising small children to enjoy every moment is a lot like telling someone who’s drowning to enjoy their vacation at the beach because it will be over soon. The sentiment is of little help when you feel like you can’t breathe.

It was so easy to lose myself; I see that now. I expected to love every part of being a mother. Everyone else seemed to expect me to love every part of being a mother. I’d quit my job to immerse myself more fully in this role as mother. I was all in. And so, dammit, I was going to figure out how to love it all, every last minute of it.

It sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? I know that now. That no one can possibly love all the moments. That, if you’re lucky, some days you find a moment or two to hold onto in your mama heart forever, and then you let the rest go – slipping through your fingers like fine grains of sand.

But it’s hard to see that, when you’re lost. When the mantle called “mother” threatens to smother you, once and for all.

For all the mamas who feel a little lost right now, who’ve gotten so wrapped up in tending to the needs of tiny people who depend on you for everything that they’ve become your identity, hang in there. Forget the admonishment to “enjoy every moment.” Instead, hold tightly to the good moments and let the bad ones go. Memorize the weight of her head on your shoulder. Forget forever the burn of your cheeks as you carried a perfectly-planking, fully-melted-down two-year-old out of Target … or at least know you’ll laugh someday. Fight the pull to let all that is “mother” swallow you alive.

And for all the mamas who’ve found themselves again but remember that lost feeling all too well, give freely of your helping hands, your understanding smile and your grace. For the longer I do this mothering thing, the more I’m convinced that we’re all the same inside. The same insecurities, the same doubts. Whether we’re lost or found is just a matter of timing.

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2 thoughts on “The Mother Smother

  1. Hang in there honey. I apologize for being one of those well meaning souls who told you to enjoy every minute. Motherhood is like pain, once it’s gone you remember the experience but not the pain itself. I’ve carried a planking toddler (Jon) out of 100 Oaks screaming “I just want to see Santa” and can laugh about it now. I’ve sat in the floor & cried because the baby (also Jon) was screaming and nothing I did seemed to comfort him (he had night terrors) & our day care provider told my mother that she had never seen anyone so close to a nervous breakdown. (My mother told me later that she had nearly had a nervous breakdown after I was born.) I know it’s hard for you to see it from the trenches but those of us who see it from the outside can see what a wonderful job you’re doing. No, you will not do it perfectly. No one can. On the days when you’re sinking, call for help. That is not weakness. It’s the lifeline that will get you through it. So hang in there honey & please smack me if I tell you to enjoy every minute of it again.

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  2. Thank you for being so honest about the experience of motherhood! I am certainly in the smother period of motherhood right now with my 20 month old. She is a terrific child, and my husband is a terrific partner to raise her with, and I love our life together, but it still feels overwhelming and all-consuming a lot of the time.

    This weekend my own mother told me she thought I was working too hard at being a mom, and not taking care of myself enough. I know she meant well, and made the comment out of concern, but it stung because it’s true that I’m not putting myself first right now, and I don’t really want to be criticized about that. It’s easy for someone on the outside to say, “oh relax, don’t worry so much,” but that’s not always easy when you’re living it, and are trying to make the right decisions moment by moment.

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