I was on the phone with my dad one day talking about the busy goings-on of life with three kids. After I described the chaos of keeping up with everyone’s schedules, emotional health, and behavioral stages — on top of nurturing my marriage, figuring out finances, and keeping up with my professional life in the midst of motherhood — my dad laughed good-naturedly. “Well, sweetheart,” he said, “You knew the job was tough when you took it.”
My dad is quite fond of that statement, and while it’s always said with good intention, it’s not really true. I mean, I did know that motherhood was going to be hard. I just didn’t expect it to be this hard.
I mean, honestly, the sleep deprivation alone would be enough, right? Our youngest is 7, so we’re well past the stage of regular night wakings, but I feel like I’m still catching up on years of interrupted sleep. And now that the kids are older and don’t go to bed as early, I tend to stay up too late in an attempt to have some kid-free wind-down time in the evening.
And there’s that — the trying to find a balance between actively mothering my children and active self-care. I don’t know a single mother who doesn’t struggle with feeling stretched in several directions at once. We’ve all heard the adage that you can’t fill someone else’s cup if yours is empty, but sometimes kids need you before you get a chance to refill. Mothers are amazingly resourceful and somehow find reserves we didn’t even know we had. But we pay a price for it.
Please don’t get me wrong — being a mother is wonderful. I love my kids, I love the family my husband and I have built, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But that doesn’t mean it’s not really freaking hard. When you become a mother, you trade in one life for another. You choose to sacrifice your physical energy, your emotional energy, your time, and even a portion of your identity to raise children. And while you sort of know that going into it, it’s not clear until you are deep in the trenches what it really means.
The thing I think I was least prepared for is how relentless parenting really is. Once you’re a parent, there’s no break. I mean, you can kind of take a break by going away from your kids for a while, but even when you’re away from them, you’re still their parent. You think about them. You worry about them. A little part of you is always thinking, “What if…” You can step out of your house, but there’s no way to step out of that role, even momentarily.
The moment you become a mother, you start plummeting down a roller coaster that doesn’t end. Sometimes it’s thrilling and sometimes it’s fun, but it can also be nauseating and terrifying. Occasionally, you get to coast along for a while, but even then, you feel the effects of the ride. There are times you want to scream, “Somebody get me off this thing!” But that wouldn’t do any good. And you don’t really want off — you just want it to stop for a few minutes so you can get your bearings and catch your breath. But that never happens.
And the real kicker is that it’s not just motherhood that’s hard. It’s the rest of life combined with motherhood. Because I am not just a mother, I am also a wife, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a professional, a community member, and an individual with my own hopes, dreams, wishes, and plans that are independent of my role as Mommy. But you quickly realize when you have kids that nothing is truly independent of motherhood. Motherhood affects everything. There is no aspect of life untouched by it. That’s not a bad thing, but it is a thing. And it’s one that I didn’t fully understand pre-kids.
How do we find the time and energy to give to all of those different parts of ourselves? How do we keep from spreading ourselves so thin that we kind of make everything work but don’t do anything really well? Is this simply a product of modern motherhood/womanhood that we want to do it all and feel like we should be able to? Or is it just me?
I’ve been a mother for 16 years, so you’d think I’d have some answers or I’d have figured this out a little better by now. In some ways, parenting does get easier as your kids get older, but in other ways, it gets harder. I guess I didn’t expect that, either.
I don’t mean for this to sound so like I’m complaining. I love being a mother. I don’t regret having kids. I don’t resent having kids. But I do wish I’d had a better grasp of how challenging motherhood really was going to be before diving into it, all wide-eyed and idealistic. I wish I’d understood earlier that it is imperative to carve out time for self-care and that doing so will feel like you’re sacrificing things you shouldn’t be sacrificing. I wish I’d started giving myself more grace earlier on — grace to be imperfect, grace to let things go without guilt, grace to not be accomplishing everything I want to accomplish.
Motherhood is hard — harder than most people think. We shouldn’t wallow in the difficulties, but we need to not brush them off, either. If it feels crazy hard some days, that’s because it is. Sure, we knew the job was tough when we took it, but no one can prepare for the entirety of what that means.
So be patient with yourselves, mamas. Be good to yourselves. Acknowledge the hard and give yourself grace for handling it.
You’re doing more than you know.