Discussion topics in the divorce world often include”dating, starting over and finding our new selves. But the topic that seems to always get glossed over is motherhood – not the motherhood that helps us help our children navigate this new world, not the motherhood where we feel sad and broken for our children and the pain they’ve had to experience so young. I’m talking about real mothering – the kind that makes you cry out of frustration, the kind that makes you hate yourself for not being enough, the kind that makes you not want to see your kids, the kind that society expects mothers will never experience, let alone discuss. Like an Instagram filter, motherhood is whitewashed with positivity, polished with the occasional expression of comedic frustration for a realistic balance between the ‘good -kale feeding- screen time -limiting’ and the ‘I want to drop my kids at the fire station’ mom.
But motherhood is so much more than that and the expectations are so much higher. The other day I had a meeting with my daughter’s teacher during which she praised my daughter’s father for mentioning to her that “my ex-wife takes care of everything- she’s amazing.” I’m not sure if he said I was amazing or I inserted it myself but it has a nice ring to it, so we’ll keep it. The teacher was so impressed at an ex-husband’s ability to recognize the efforts and work of his ex-wife. Not to take anything away from the father of my children (because it was a very nice thing to say), but as the teacher was speaking all I could think was, “Why is he getting praised for recognizing my efforts? Who praises me for actually doing it all in the first place?” It’s just expected that a mother will do it all; drop a school course because her son needs her home, sacrifice her social life because she won’t go out when the kids are home, restrict her dating life based on the needs of her children. Because after all, sacrifice is what being a mother is all about, right? Nobody said motherhood would be easy but you asked for it, right?
The paradigm of motherhood we have ascribed to today’s mothers is downright stifling. Our children are extensions of us and define our status and value in and to society. If they are doing poorly in school, it’s because we aren’t doing homework with them as opposed to them bingeing ‘The Office’. If they’re misbehaving it’s because we didn’t cuddle them enough as infants as opposed to them being cesspools of preteen hormones. If they’re getting sick all the time it’s because we didn’t breastfeed them or maybe it’s because our houses are too clean and our kids aren’t exposed to germs but of course it has nothing to do with the fact they wear shoes without socks in the dead of winter. The finger always points back at the mother and in the shoes of the single mom, it’s the whole damn hand.
Last week I lost it on my kids. My kids had been with me for nearly a month straight and I was going crazy. I came down in the morning to see my kitchen ransacked by my four-year-old. A milk and grape juice concoction floating on the counters, cereal lightly sprinkled but somehow also stuck in the grout of the floor tiles. Unbeknownst to me, there was a squishy cupcake and a quarter of orange in the oven that I would only discover a few days later when I turned on the oven and my house smelled like a Mattel factory drowning in Mimosas. All the while, my older kids were watching TV, the Switzerland’s of this home invasion, they waved their white flags claiming ignorance as their defense. I saw all this and lost it. It’s the kind of losing it we convince ourselves will put our kids in therapy for life; the kind that makes us feel miserable to our core; the kind that puts the fear of God in our children’s eyes; but mostly the kind that has us feeling isolated and alone because we aren’t supposed to talk about it. We pretend it’s the Spanx of motherhood – something we all know is there but no one wants to see or admit to because people will think we are bad mothers, kids won’t want to come for playdates and men will run even further than they already do.
Lately society has enveloped a self-care philosophy and has extended it to motherhood. But even self-care is cloaked in the guilt of motherhood. Take care of yourself so long as your manicure doesn’t cut into time with your kids. Treat yourself to something new so long as you’re still able to buy your child the 30-dollar Swell water bottle their life just isn’t complete without. Take care of yourself but not at the expense of anyone else is the message. But how about at the expense of everyone else, take care of yourself?
That fateful morning I messaged my children’s father and said take them, I need a break and can’t do this. The message may have been more emphatic and verbally colourful to properly express the extent of my frustrations and doneness. I know there are mothers reading this now saying to themselves “oh it must be nice to have someone to call. I had to do it all alone always.” To this I have two things to say:
I will not feel guilty that my children have their father as an active part of their life simply because others don’t. I feel for the women and children who don’t but that doesn’t make me any less entitled to it. It’s the same idea as someone who is happily married feeling guilty for their happy marriage because I am divorced. We can express empathy for others misfortunes without condemning our blessings.
To the women whose initial retort was the statement above, this is exactly the problem. We see a mother in need, a mother asking for help and all we can say is, “well you think that’s bad, you should see my life.” It’s like a child who says their stomach hurts and is told, “You want stomach pain? Try being pregnant”. This not so imaginary scenario can often result in a child who refuses to talk about their pain, even though it’s excruciating, and finally after a 3am trip to the ER has their appendix removed.
We let mother’s get to the 3am stage. We shut them down and we don’t listen. We don’t listen until it’s too late and the screams of pain are too loud to ignore.
I don’t have the answer. Not a clue what it is really. I started yoga to calm myself, have an online shopping cart full of self-help books waiting to be purchased and have taken my before pictures for a month long cleanse program (consider this a public warning). I may not know what the solution is, but I do know this.- We need to start listening to one another. We need to listen to mothers when they say they’re at their end. We need to listen to women when they say they need help without saying those words but mostly, we need to listen to ourselves. We need to hear our inner compass and listen to it when it tells us we are breaking, we can’t take it. We need to safeguard ourselves to avoid getting to that point. We need to protect ourselves and our well beings with the same tenacity we do our children.
That week my children were with their father, I wanted to reach out and talk to my kids. Let them understand what was going on, I texted my son…
The greatest gift we can give our children is the best version of us. Even as I type this I’m wondering how the hell do I do that? I’m not a thousand percent sure but I know that forsaking my needs and emotional and mental well being is definitely not the way. Basically, when mama bear is fed and doing well, so are the cubs.