The irony of motherhood is that it allows you to occupy two seemingly contradictory positions at the same time.
On one hand, you’re the backbone of your entire family. Few things happen without your awareness and the labor that goes into all of the special days come from you. Rarely do your loved ones eat or have appointments scheduled without your effort in scheduling, as well as transport. If you’re like most moms, you do things so efficiently and behind the scenes that the household functions feel almost automatic.
On the other hand, all those things can go unnoticed. You can feel invisible.
I realized this the other day as my three-year-old brought me his backpack. He stretched his arms out and looked at me shocked saying, “Mom! Where’s the lunch?” He knew each day he left for school his meals were prepared. But he didn’t understand that all of his favorite aspects of life, like a backpack full of lunch, come from my efforts.
Similarly, my infant daughter knows that when she cries someone is supposed to bring her food. She’s a baby. Of course, she doesn’t know that making milk for her drains me of energy, nutrients, and time.
That ignorance is a hallmark of childhood. I don’t want my children to have the burden of awareness for several years.
But when the other shoe drops and you’ve given all your love and waking hours to a family who hardly says “thank you,” let alone notices what’s you’ve done, it’s easy to wonder if anyone even sees you.
We’ve fought hard to give our children the worry-free childhoods that we missed out on. But that doesn’t mean all of the work we do behind the scenes doesn’t leave us feeling invisible sometimes.
When I’m not meeting expectations, let’s say the kid’s hair isn’t combed or they don’t seem to know things others expect them to know at this age, I’m hyper-visible. If our son misbehaves at school, I’m the one they expect to see sitting across from them during a parent-teacher conference.
When things are running as expected, my efforts go unnoticed by everyone.
But when they don’t see the efforts, they also miss the struggle. Plenty of folks miss out on the days I’m so tired from nursing through the night that I hardly manage to get my son to school at all, let alone on time.
No one notices the days that I’m even more quiet than usual because in the middle of the day I realize that my son has on the wrong shoes for the day’s activities and I’m panicked about picking him up because I’m afraid everyone is going to judge me for it.
Of course, they don’t see the redness in my eyes or the tear streaks on my cheeks because I’m paralyzed with self-doubt about whether I’m doing my kids a disservice by focusing more on my career than making cute snacks or arts and crafts.
It’s hard to know how you’re doing when you feel like no one sees your efforts. Feeling invisible is a trigger for me. It reminds me of being the one kid who never seemed to matter enough to celebrate in my social groups and my childhood. Nothing I did matters and looking back, it’s responsible for lots of my self-doubt.
I wish that I could say I got the visibility I craved in my relationship. But I’d be lying.
Any conversation that I have about how exhausting it is to work and be with the children — often alone for days at a time — turns into a pissing contest with my spouse. He doesn’t understand that asking him to acknowledge the difficulty of work-from-home motherhood doesn’t mean that I’m saying his job isn’t stressful. I can only imagine how difficult it is for him to be sent out of the state at a moment’s notice sometimes with 12+ hour shifts.
But I can imagine what it’s like to pick up all the slack he has to drop for those emergency calls — because I do it regularly with minimal support.
I can’t help but feel like the world regularly celebrates “hard-working men” and wastes no time giving them participation awards for bare minimum fatherhood. And I’m wondering where my acknowledgment is.
Before I worked, I felt pressure to make sure the home was in tip-top shape so he could get his peace at home. I won’t lie and say I was good at it. Nevertheless, I tried. During those days, he was solely responsible for bringing the money home and making sure the bills were paid. I wanted to make him feel supported and believed that the least I could do was make his time at home bearable.
But when I started working from home with one child, and eventually two, the energy didn’t seem reciprocated. I mean, really. When is the last time you hear someone lecturing men (or whichever parent works outside of the home) on the importance of relieving the at-home parent so they could breathe between childcare hours?
The expectations of my life have increased but the support hasn’t improved.
I want more than anything to be acknowledged and be seen. But I’m waiting for the day that I learn how to see myself when the world around me has rendered me invisible.
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