The Lenses Of Motherhood

by Ali Hormann
Originally Published: 
Ali Hormann

I’m a photographer; that’s my attempt at a money-making job. In that job, I change the lenses on my camera all the time. I have lenses that give me a greater perspective on my surroundings. I have lenses that hone in tight to the faces and expressions of other people. I have my favorite lenses, my everyday lenses, and lenses that even distort what is really there all in the name of art.

This is what life is like every single day in our lives, we change lenses. We have lenses that we use in certain situations — we have joy lenses and cynical lenses and even lenses that distort any sense of reality.

An amazing friend of mine just posted about her frustrations with the fact that none of her three boys have ever been good sleepers. Which means that for the last five years she hasn’t gotten good sleep either. Her youngest is not yet a year old and has a really sweet disposition. But like his brothers, he stays awake long past his bedtime.

Her next post was a photo of little Sam, asleep on his mom’s lap as she rubbed his back and the caption, “Mom fail – 33,425,000.”

But she isn’t a failure, not in the slightest. And it’s not like they haven’t tried. She and I have been friends for more than two decades, and there are few people I know who put more effort into things that matter to her. They have tried sleep training, Ferberizing, and sleep counseling, as well as every oil, prayer, and trick in the book. Still, she is not a failure.

She feels like a failure in motherhood, only because sleeplessness is a lens in and of itself.

It is easy to see ourselves as failures when our ability to judge things clearly is obscured by the blinding light of exhaustion. A perpetual lack of sleep shines like a torch you want to shield your eyes from. It’s sharp and aching, and despite closing your eyes, there is still no rest there, because eyes closed or open, you are still needed to perform.

That harsh light masks all nuance, all slight shadows, and all subtleties. When the lens you view life through is a pinpointed spotlight, then all you will see is whatever is in complete contrast to you in that moment — and quite often, those are small flecks or tiny idiosyncrasies that aren’t “supposed” to be there, and so all we see is failure. But, if the lens was changed, if the light was corrected — if our ability to see things as they really are isn’t distorted — then those small spots fade away into the bigger picture that surrounds us.

Weight is a lens. Diet is a lens. Money is a lens. Marriage, divorce, motherhood, children, miscarriage, hope, despair, and more are all lenses that shape our view of what surrounds us. But not all lenses are good for seeing beauty; some focus too closely on the flaws.

So friends, if you’re tired — really really tired — I hope you have a community to support you, and those who come around you so you can rest. If you are hurting, I hope they are there to help you heal. If you are joyful, I hope those around you can rejoice with you, instead of distorting your joy with their own lens.

But if you can’t get the rest or healing or support you need, remember your lens might be stuck right now. That doesn’t mean your snapshots are really how you see them.

To my dear lifelong friend, you are an amazing mom. I love you. Your husband loves you. Your boys adore you. And my lens can see you perfectly and you are not a failure.

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