Why do so many of us take a thing like motherhood, which is hard enough, and make it into something impossible?
Truth is, motherhood isn’t a sport you can train for. It’s not a game you can win.
There’s no medal waiting for you at the end of motherhood.
You work your ass off. You give up cheese and wine and deli meat for nine months. You stop dying your hair. Most of us give up a a body part or two (Me? My teeth). You give up sleep and sex and alone time. You give up hobbies, reading the Sunday paper in peace, Saturday afternoon naps. You give up crappy takeout for dinner five nights out of seven, impromptu happy hours, spontaneous, last-minute vacations, holidays out of school term. A lot of us give up our identity, a career, money, high-heel shoes, dreams.
But guess what? There’s still no freaking medal at the end.
Once you are a mother, you’ll be a mother until you shuffle off this mortal coil. It gets easier and then harder again, then presumably easier. It’s like head lice — you think you’re good, but it keeps coming back. But it doesn’t end.
Do you know what’s at the end of motherhood? Death. Death is at the end of motherhood. And even then you’ll probably be dragged out in therapy sessions.
Motherhood is not the Olympics. You’re not going to come in first just because your Rice Krispie treats are made with homemade marshmallow. You’re not going to win the gold because your kid does three activities or because you made a conscious decision for them to do no activities and play around in the mud all day instead. You’re not going to get to stand on the podium in your mom podium pants because you schlepped your kid around to play on three different teams or learn Latin. You’re not going to smash a mother record because you get by on the least amount of sleep or breastfed your kid the longest. No matter what you squeeze into your day or what you don’t, what kind of cakes you bake or buy, you’re never going to get a medal.
There’s no silver for you because you purée kale in your mini food processor and freeze it in little cubes. There’s no bronze for me because I try to write honestly about motherhood.
Motherhood isn’t a race. It’s not an endurance sport that requires training and multiple hydration stops (unless you’re talking wine). Sure, we all want to find our personal best, but that personal best shouldn’t be about how much we can fit in (or conversely, how little we can do), but finding a balance between raising children to be healthy, functioning adults and being healthy, functioning adults ourselves.
Trying to do too much, to be all things, to be the best at all things — maybe it might make you feel like you’re doing it all, but at the end?
Still no medal.
If you’re lucky, you might get some flowers and brunch on the first Sunday in May.
You can bake the best cakes and throw the best parties and sew the best Halloween costumes. You can create Van Gogh-inspired lunches or be the one who volunteers for every field trip, who sits in the front row for every assembly and concert. Or you can brag loudly about doing none of those things.
There’s still no medal.
Women are smart and talented and intelligent and creative and capable. Then we have kids and all of that multifaceted-ness I love about women gets squeezed into the narrow channel of motherhood where it bulges like a hernia. Eventually it explodes into something resembling what we have now: Mothers going for the gold.
Being a good mom — or even a bad mom — doesn’t have to be the sole defining factor of your existence. It can be an important one, even the most important one if that’s what you choose, but don’t let anyone else make that choice for you. Because even though motherhood may feel like a competition at times, it’s not.
There are no podium pants. There are no podiums. No one’s going to raise a flag or sing an anthem or ask you for an interview or put you on a box of diapers as the face of Motherhood. No ticker tape parades or entries into Wikipedia. There are no trophies or consolation prizes.
There is no medal at the end of motherhood. The reward is kids who grow up to lead respectful lives, who contribute in some way to the betterment of society — even if that betterment is being a kind soul. That’s your reward. And it’s worth more than any medal.
Just don’t kill yourself trying to get there, or you’ll never get to enjoy the result.