Say It Loud, Say It Proud: Motherhood Is Hard!

busy mother with childLife is a series of transitions. Childhood is full of them, and adulthood is marked by many of its own—going from living at home to living on your own, from student to professional, from single to married, from nonparent to parent, and many others. All transitions are challenging and require us to develop new skills, abilities, and emotional capacities. Sometimes they stretch us beyond what we imagine is possible. All cause us to grow.

Parenthood might just be the most challenging transition of all. It is a transition that requires a person to assume total responsibility for a living being who is completely and totally dependent upon others for his or her survival. That’s a lot of pressure, and it requires making significant life changes.

More specifically, the transition to motherhood is fraught with biological challenges, double standards, and no-win situations. Women experience the physical stress of carrying the baby, delivering the baby, and significant hormonal upheaval. If they chose to breastfeed, they have to either be with their baby nearly all of the time or excuse themselves regularly to pump. If they choose not to, or cannot, breastfeed, they are often shamed and called selfish.

Moms who choose to stay home with their babies are often disparaged as “just staying home,” and moms who go back to work are often disparaged for not caring enough about their babies. Moms who work outside of the home often still shoulder the bulk of child care and household responsibilities. It seems that however a woman decides to approach motherhood, there is an overwhelming amount of work and judgment.

Chirlane McCray, New York City’s “first lady,” recently gave an interview in which she was quite candid about how challenging she found her own transition to motherhood. It was heartfelt and authentic, and she was lambasted. Several subsequent pieces came out in support of McCray, but the damage may have already been done. Many women who read her words probably thought, “Yes! This is what I am experiencing. Maybe it’s OK for me to talk about this.” How many of those women still felt like talking about their authentic experiences after seeing the backlash that rewarded McCray’s honesty?

The vicious response seems particularly damaging because McCray’s experience as a new mom 20 years ago (i.e., pre-“first lady” status) is probably closer to the typical new mom’s experience than the other stories of new moms featured in mainstream media. The stories of motherhood that we typically hear about are those of celebrities. Their messages are carefully crafted by public relations professionals and image consultants. They have the resources to hire small armies of support staff, from nannies and personal assistants to personal trainers and chefs. All of this support and message crafting yields a completely unrealistic representation of motherhood. Yet, the implicit message to women goes something like this: you must absolutely love everything about being a mother, you must look thin and fashionable, and you must have an exciting career but not be away from home too much. If you don’t, you are failing.

Women need to be able to be honest about their experiences as mothers and not be judged for it.

Women need to be able to be honest about their experiences as mothers and not be judged for it. The sleeplessness, exhaustion, physical and hormonal changes, and the sheer weight of the responsibility are enough for new moms to deal with. They should not also be tasked with keeping the stress, anxiety, sadness, and sometimes even desperation to themselves, while acknowledging only the joy, pride, and deep love they have for their baby. New moms should not be expected to expend valuable and taxed emotional resources hiding their full, authentic experience.

New moms, speak the truth of your experiences of motherhood and give yourself permission to ask for what you need and want. Loved ones of new moms, listen without judgment and help when and where you can.

© Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC, Person Centered / Rogerian Psychotherapy Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Dara

    June 25th, 2014 at 11:36 AM

    This spoke volumes to me. When I first had my baby I wondered why I was feeling all of the life changing and exhilarating things that other new moms talked about. Where was my perma grin and happiness? I think that I lost all of that somewhere between all of the diaper changings and 4 a.m. feedings. I wanted to think that this would pass but it never did for me until my child became a little more independent. It makes me sad to think of the time that I spent being so down on myself having no idea that the other new moms were probably feeling the same way but none of us are willing to admit it out loud because we think that this isn’t right, this isn’t what we are supposed to be feeling.

  • Joanne

    June 25th, 2014 at 1:18 PM

    I have two sisters and a mom who made no bones about the fact that being a mother is hard work and they made sure to tell me all about it every chance that they got. When they were doing it of course I didn’t want to listen and I wasn’t sure that I believed what they said. But I am so glad that they were honest with me and didn’t try to sugar coat it. Is becoming a mother the best thing that I have ever done? I can definitively say yes to that. But is it also the hardest thing that I have ever done? Another thing that I can definitively say yes to. There are going to be great days and there will be really crappy ones and I think that it is important that we tell all moms that from the very start. This ain’t all sugar and roses- there are lots of tears, lack of sleep, and every gross thing imaginable in between. But it is something to truly cherish too.

  • Molly A.

    June 26th, 2014 at 4:17 AM

    I am not sure that I understamd why there is all of this ambivalence about women being honest about being a mom.

    Why isn’t it alright to admit that there are good days and bad, and that there will be some days that lead you to wonder why you ever chose this. When did it become that we all had to pretend to be super mom when many of us feel like debbie downers on the inside?

    It causes us to believe in this lie that being a mom is not all about. It causse us to feel bad about ourselves and like we will never measure up to those who seem to have it all, and yet they are suffering on the inside and probably in silence just like the rest of us are.

  • josie

    June 26th, 2014 at 10:35 AM

    THe one thing that keeps me from complaining at times is because I actually have a few friends who would love to become moms and they have been unable to conceive.

    How can I complain about something that I have that they want so badly?

  • Dylan

    June 27th, 2014 at 11:27 AM

    Dads are much more apt to commiserate about the kids than I think women feel that they have the liberty to. Generally there is not that pressure on men that there is on women so I think that this si why there is so much hesitation on their part to share what they are feeling.

  • hollister

    June 28th, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    I hope that this point of view won’t be met with disdain, but I am not so sure that many new moms and moms to be haven’t been deluding themselves in the firts place. Who is out there talking about how easy this job is and who among us has really believed all of that nonsense? I saw how hard my own mom had to work when we were growing up, and maybe my dad did the things like yardwork and he did have a tough job outside of the house, everything else fell to my mom and none of us ever made things that eays on her. She got all of us to school, all of our appointments and after school stuff; she cooked and cleaned and shopped, pretty much everything to keep the household running except cut the grass. I am amazed that there are still so many who think that they have been lied to because I think that if you have really been paying attention to other females all along you will see that we have pretty much always worked our tails off and received little thanks for it.

  • Trish

    June 30th, 2014 at 4:26 AM

    I have always tried to be very honest with my girls about how motherhood can be a real life changer, good and bad. I try not to gloss over things and sugar coat it because what do you ever learn when we do that?

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