“What’s it like to be a mom?”
A friend of mine posted the question on her FB wall last week. I’ve been a mom for nine years, and in that time, I’ve read and heard opinions from virtually everyone about what being a mom should be. Folks have told me what they think I’m doing well and what they think I’m do wrong raising my son. But I’m not sure anyone had ever flat out asked me, "what it’s like to be a mom?"
I really wanted to answer. My intent was a witty yet poignant paragraph that perfectly encapsulated my parenting experience. The reality was a torrent of thoughts and feelings that came pouring out in a random jumble and really why did that surprise me? I am not a concise person. I’m a natural-born rambler. I can’t articulate my experience with skim milk in less than 500 words, let alone what my motherhood has been like.
So yeah. I had lots of thoughts and feelings about what it’s like to be a mom. And since Mother’s Day is right around the corner, I thought I’d take a break from my regular sex ed beat and share what being a mother has meant for me.
I realize being a mom is different for every mother because it's a relationship. I didn't appreciate that before I had my son. I didn’t realize that because I have my own specific personality and because he has his own specific personality, our distinct characteristics influence how we relate to one another. I only have one child, so it fascinates me to see how moms with multiple children have distinct relationships with each of them.
The work of parenting itself is relentless. I have to do it whether I’m sick, tired, hungry, tired, busy with other things, tired, tired, tired. It can be glorious. It can be terrifying. I’ve want to burst with pride and weep with disappointment. Sometimes I laugh my ass off. Sometimes I want to laugh but I can’t because the really funny thing my kid did was also really wrong. That’s tougher than it sounds. There are also times when being a mom is surprisingly easy. Like when he has a fever but not a scary fever. I give him medicine and we spend the day snuggling under the covers and watching movies together. Then, there are moments when it’s so hard I want to curl up on the floor and quit everything. But I never have. I never will.
Time plays tricks on me. There’s a saying goes "the days are long but the years are fast,” and man, is that ever an accurate description of my experience! Sometimes my kid and I are hanging out and chatting. I have to pretend to care about the minutia of Pokemon or listen to him freestyle about farts for 16 verses and I’ll glance at the clock and sigh because his bedtime is INFINITY HOURS away! Yet I think back to when he was a infant, and it feels like that was five minutes ago! How did my my round baby grow into this big, lanky boy who's rides bikes around the neighbourhood with his friends, runs track, expresses opinions about the state of the world and can do his own laundry?
He can do his own laundry, but doesn't do his laundry unless I ride his ass about it. I never wanted to be a nagging mom. I promised myself I wouldn’t be a nagging mom. And now I’m a nagging mom. Because I really, really don’t want to be a got suckered into being "doing everyone’s chores for them mom" either.
I'm still me. When I was expecting my son, a lot of people said “being a mother will change you,” but that’s not how I would describe it. My essential nature is still the same, but having my son has stretched and challenged me in ways I didn't expect. I’ve discovered that I have more emotional depth and greater endurance than I thought previously. I think I had that capacity all along, but it my son helped me discover it was there.
There are certain cultural/social expectations specifically connected with being a “mom.” Some of them are cool. I love lions, so I’ve always liked the notion that I can turn into ferocious, efficient beast if someone messes with my child. I also like the “special mom bond” idea, as long as it doesn’t exclude parents of other genders. I like to think my son and I share a unique connection. It’s like being in a super-cool, exclusive club...that let’s in nine-year-olds.
There are other generalizations about moms, that don’t work for me. I’m not keen on the pervasive messaging/marketing that “moms want the very best for their kids”.Sure, sometimes I do. And sometimes I want whatever’s fastest and easiest, because I’m kind of lazy, I want to watch Netflix and giving him the seventh best thing won’t ruin my kid’s life.
I’m also not a fan of “busy mom” trope. You know the one that normalizes the idea of frazzled mothers “juggling” their children’s needs, with their careers and household chores and errands and volunteering? I understand that is the grind for a lot of women with kids. I don’t have any problem shining a light on those realities. What I don’t like is the attitude that being sleep-deprived and overworked and anxiety-ridden is an inevitable consequence of being a mom and all we can do is sit back, laugh and accept it as our lot in life. Maybe instead we could start looking how we, as families and communities can share domestic and emotional labour more efficiently so that being a mom doesn’t have to come at the expense of our physical and mental well-being.
I want to be a good mom. I also want the freedom to be a human being, with flaws and messiness and it doesn’t always feel like I can have both. I’m not sure if it’s social pressure or my own insecurities or both, but when I screw up as a mom, some part of me feels like I’ve failed on some fundamental level. I’ve hurt my kid. I’ve scared my kid. I’ve yelled at him when what he needed was a hug. I’ve invalidated his feelings. I’ve let pain, fear and scars from my own childhood dictate my actions as a parent and now he has his own childhood wounds to deal with. “This wasn’t good parenting. Apologize to him. Make amends. Do better next time. It happens. Move on.” Yet, I can’t...not completely. Even though I know I’ve always done the best I can. And I know that mistakes are inevitable and that I can learn from them. I can’t always reconcile being a good mom with being a flawed human being. Which is I know is bullshit. But knowing that doesn’t erase my guilt and I hate that.
There are a lot of great things about my kid. I feel like that’s just a manifestation of his inherent awesomeness. There are a some things about my kid that annoy and/or worry me big time. I feel like that’s are my fault (see previous paragraph). The actual truth is that my son is also a human being and as such comes complete with his own flaws and messiness. But that doesn't stop me from feeling guilty. Again, bullshit.
Every milestone in my son’s life is a bittersweet moment for me. Watching him develop new skills, form relationships, set and accomplish goals, overcome challenges, even celebrating his birthdays makes me so proud...and so sad. He’s so much a part of me. But he doesn’t belong to me. Every moment he’s growing up and he’s becoming his own person. Totally cliché, but someday he’ll take his place in the world as an adult in his own right and I suspect it will be both the happiest and hardest day of my life.
I love him. The first time I held him in my arms, he looked at me with his round brown eyes and I was saturated with love. That love lives in my pores. It’s part of my bones. It will be part of me until the day I die.
So tell me...what’s it like to be a mom?