If you are a mother, you have probably experienced at least one day (if not many) when you wondered if you were cut out for the job of parenting. Mothering is hard work. Even on our best days parenting our kids, there are difficult moments. Many days, it is the occasional joyful moment that makes it all worthwhile. Other times, it may not feel like the good justifies the bad.
You can find some blogs these days that describe parenthood more authentically and accurately than in the past, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. Moms are increasingly owning up to the fact being a mom is tough and sometimes thankless. But almost universally, these stories end with a phrase such as “It’s all worth it,” “I still wouldn’t trade being a mother for anything,” or even, “Being a mother is the best job in the world.”
But what if your experience of motherhood doesn’t include that last sentence? What if your true feeling is that, while you love your child/children, motherhood itself is not what you thought it would be and you just don’t enjoy it much?
For some mothers, these feelings arise out of depression, and once the depression lifts, joy enters into the parenting experience and all regrets about becoming a mom dissipate. But for others, even after recovery from depression, and despite loving their child and enjoying many moments with them, the bottom line is that motherhood is not a job they enjoy overall or would choose again.
If it were any other job, it would be acceptable to acknowledge that it’s hard and maybe you’re not totally suited to it, but when you’re talking about motherhood, admitting you don’t love it is a huge taboo.
A recent study published in the journal Demography found that, on average, happiness decreased more in the two years following becoming a parent than following a job loss, divorce, or even the death of a spouse. Clearly, not every mother is happy with her new life, and yet those feelings are typically buried, not talked about, and the women who feel that way often experience shame and guilt.
So few mothers admit to having these feelings, but that doesn’t make them go away. Parenting is difficult, and of course it makes sense that not everyone is equally suited to it temperamentally. But the stigma of admitting that one doesn’t really enjoy being a parent is enormous, and the necessity of hiding those feelings can be a huge burden—which in itself is a contributor to depression and anxiety.
Acknowledging our ambivalence—the fact not every moment, nor even every stage, of motherhood is fun—allows mothers to accept themselves for who they are and what they feel, and be freer to find ways to make motherhood more authentically enjoyable.
There are those who would point out that enabling women to acknowledge their negative feelings about motherhood might adversely impact our children. How can our children feel loved and wanted if they knew the way Mom really feels about her job? But I would argue the opposite: By stuffing those negative feelings, by shaming mothers for their normal responses, normal emotions are more likely to be acted out in negative ways.
Acknowledging our ambivalence—the fact not every moment, nor even every stage, of motherhood is fun—allows mothers to accept themselves for who they are and what they feel, and be freer to find ways to make motherhood more authentically enjoyable. Being honest within ourselves and accepting all our feelings gives us permission to do motherhood differently—and perhaps allow more acceptance in our children of their own inevitable negative feelings as well.
Don’t look to social media for validation of your motherhood experience. Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides. If you don’t feel heard, understood, and validated by your partner, friends, or family, therapy can be an outlet to explore and accept your complicated and ever-changing emotions regarding parenthood and life.
Myrskyla, M., & Margolis, R. (2014). Happiness: Before and After the Kids. Demography, 1843-1866.
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