Are We Giving Motherhood a Bad Name?

This past Thursday I woke up at 6:30 between four pale pink walls, shivering underneath a paper-thin polka dot sheet, with Wedding Ariel (for beginners, that’s The Little Mermaid after she’s no longer a mermaid–#sellout) wedged between my hip and the mattress.

It had been a long night, but then again, they all sort of are in their own ways. Each night with a 5, 3 and 1 year old–at least in or house–unwinds like some sort of Bed Roulette. Spin the tray and see where the ball–or in this case, the parent–lands! And for the record, my daughter’s mattress is pretty comfy.

But that was just part of the day’s daily circus.

My son–who had left school early the previous day due to a fever and malaise–opened his mouth to reveal a smattering of red spots in his throat–one symptom of what we would later find out was the hand, foot and mouth virus. And due in part to said illness, has also apparently decided that today is the day that he–The 6am Kid–will sleep in until 8:30, which means that now not only is he missing school, but his sister is too.

It’s a scene that reads as mundane to most parents of young children–at least those parents of young children who are being honest when you ask how their nights went–and it falls firmly within our wheelhouse of “What’s Normal” these days. It’s our life. It’s crazy and unpredictable, but it’s mostly kinda fun.

And man, if I’m going to be awoken from REM sleep by a swift kick to the forehead from someone’s tiny foot, it might as well be a tiny foot that belongs to one of the three small people I made and love the most.

It’s our life. It’s crazy and unpredictable, but it’s mostly kinda fun! And man, if I’m going to be awoken from REM sleep by a swift kick to the forehead from someone’s tiny foot, it might as well be a tiny foot that belongs to one of the three small people I made and love the most.

But even as I tell you this story and hope that I’m imbuing it with some sense of humor in addition to the outright agony, I’m keenly aware that there will be some people who say I’m complaining or being negative.

To me, though, a blogger and writer who would rather stick my head in a Diaper Genie than see another perfectly-styled blog post on motherhood, I’d rather the bent toward negativity (as some people receive it) than more online content that whitewashes the myriad daily difficulties of the job. I’d rather, as we like to say these days, “keep it real.”

But after reading this article from the New York Times, I paused, maybe even feeling a touch of censure.

The author, a mom herself, calls for a re-branding of motherhood, saying essentially that we are scaring away women from considering having children with all of our whining about exhaustion and body changes and depression and identity loss and yada yada yada [insert motherhood cliché here].

Wait… Have we well-meaning oversharers been wrong all along?

Can it be? Am I, and all of my good-humored but honest ranting on this favorite topic of mine, part of the problem? I had to ask myself (cue Carrie Bradshaw’s voice), are we giving motherhood a bad name?

I’m hardly alone in my chronicling of the good, the bad and the ugly of motherhood. An entire cottage industry has been built around the voice of The Harried Mom. We like her! We get her! She has kids who melt down and talk back, too! She is tired; her boobs are sore; and she is wrestling with postpartum changes, both mentally and physically, just like us! And certainly, if she is feeling just as bat-crap crazy as the rest of us, then we get that validation we have been viscerally craving since birth, moms or no–the feeling that we aren’t alone.

Can it be? Am I, and all of my good-humored but honest ranting on this favorite topic of mine, part of the problem? I had to ask myself (cue Carrie Bradshaw’s voice), are we giving motherhood a bad name?

To me, at least, this culture of sharing has been tremendously helpful as a new parent.  It’s let me know I’m not alone in my struggles with–among other things–exhaustion and postpartum anxiety; and it’s allowed us women for the first time ever to share on a mass scale the very complicated emotions that parenting entails. And

The author of the article says, “Motherhood, parenthood, is a choice — like getting married, writing a book or choosing one city to call home — and like all those choices, it means forgoing other choices. So it’s unclear why this one choice has become synonymous with sacrifice.”

…Maybe because, it is?

I’m with the author on one thing: You should know what you’re signing up for. No one should go into motherhood without the very real understanding that your life will never be the same again. Your body will change; your brain will change; your sleep patterns will change; hell, your appreciation for eating a hot meal will change. Full stop, I say: You should not have a child if you do not want sacrifice. A lot.

The sacrifices will mediate over time, sure, as your child grows, but it is nothing short of irresponsible to paint motherhood as a job where you can–or should even want to–remain wholly the same.

I’d like to think we Whiners (can we call ourselves that now?) consider all the beauty of motherhood, though, in addition to the sacrifice. Man it’s hard, but God, it’s wonderful. The profile of your child as she falls asleep nursing. The smell of the top of her head. The smooth feel of her back and the way your hand spans that tiny distance between their tiny  shoulder blades. The way your five-year-old sleepily mumbles, “I love you,” as the last thing he says before drifting off to sleep.

I love it all as much as I sometimes loathe the work.

But… to ask for a “rebranding” of motherhood is not only irresponsible, it’s also impossible.

How do you rebrand one of the world’s oldest jobs? How do you make it less of what it is at its core–a giving-up of a certain set of realities–physical, mental, spiritual–to create another person who must possess their own set of those characteristics?

How do you rebrand one of the world’s oldest jobs? How do you make it less of what it is at its core–a giving-up of a certain set of realities–physical, mental, spiritual–to create another person who must possess their own set of those characteristics?

And isn’t there some sort of joy to be found in the bond you can form only when you’re in the trenches with other soldiers? I’m certain I’m not the only one who’s found true friendships that were made on the basis of this one simple fact–that we were in it together.

But in the end, I see the irony even in putting my opinion on this out there. You know: “The mom blogger who shares too much of the ‘bad stuff’ fights back against those who want to rebrand motherhood by… putting more of her crazy stories out there!”

Sure, I’m willing to submit that maybe my tell-all approach is wrong, but I don’t think so. Now let me tell you why…


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