To the Mom Who Wishes She Wasn’t a Mom…

To the mom who wishes she wasn't a mom

I don’t know who you are, because you wrote your post anonymously.

But I still think you are brave. In our culture of ideal and perfect motherhood, where “confessions” are things like “I went three days without giving my child a bath,” you wrote that you don’t like being a mother.

Some commenters weren’t very kind, but I think a lot of mothers can relate to what you wrote — you love your children, yet you have a longing for your “old life,” and a suspicious sense that you’re playing a role you were never meant to play.

What shocked most people was that you refused to end your essay with the ubiquitous caveat that concludes most motherhood-is-hard posts: that, despite your misgivings and struggles with motherhood, you “wouldn’t change a damn thing about it” because it’s still “the best experience of [your] life!”

Instead, you told us you wished you’d never had kids.

You told us that for you, motherhood is suffering, and you don’t think you’ll ever be happy again.

And LOTS of other women said THANK YOU! Thank you for saying what we have always felt but never said out loud! They said, “We cry every day, too!” They said, “We are depressed, too.” They thanked you for starting the conversation.

Some people commented that you sounded depressed. That might be the case. It certainly was for me when my children were babies. I hope you can reach out for help if you need it.

Some people wished that you would find joy, and then other people criticized them, wondering, why should we force her find happiness in motherhood? Some people just aren’t cut out for the job, let her approach motherhood in her own way!

Well, I want you to find happiness in your life, regardless of how you feel about motherhood, because you are a human being and deserving of joy. And right now, motherhood is a big part of your life.

So, how DO we find joy, even in the messy realities of motherhood? How do we embrace our roles as mothers without losing our selves?

First, Know That You. Are. Not. Alone!

You wrote that the best part of your day is when you go to sleep and dream of your previously child-free life. Because you liked that life better.

“it is when the baby sleeps that IYou’re not alone. As recent books like Jennifer Senior’s All Joy and No Fun and Jessica Valenti’s Why Have Kids? point out, pretty much every study conducted on happiness finds that parents are less happy than non-parents. Mothers on anonymous sites confess to feeling the same way you do — one mom, according to Valenti, described motherhood as “thankless, monotonous, exhausting, irritating, … oppressive…. [It] feels like a prison sentence.” Especially when the only cultural narrative that is acceptable is that you love every minute of it!

Whether it’s not liking being a mom, or thinking you made a mistake, or missing your old life, you are not alone. It could be postpartum depression. Sometimes it’s the drudgery and mundane ordinariness of motherhood that gets to us. Or maybe it’s a feeling that our lives have been put on hold. It’s perhaps a sense that our identity has been lost. Sometimes it’s all of the above.

Whatever it is, YOU. ARE. NOT. ALONE.

Which means…

We Need to Talk About This!

Remember that scene from Desperate Housewives, when Lynette breaks down crying about the overwhelmingness of motherhood, and her friends tell her they feel that way too? And then she says to them, “We should talk about this!”

“By having more honest conversations.jpg

Since starting my blog, I have heard from many people telling me how much they appreciate that I speak honestly about not always liking motherhood. A few weeks ago at a mindfulness training session, I spoke in front of a group of 90 attendees and stated something to the effect of “motherhood is amazing, but it is also challenging for me.” I was shocked by the number of people who came up to me afterwards and thanked me for saying that, and then told me their stories of the challenges of motherhood that they don’t feel they can talk about. As much as we say we want to hear “mommy confessions,” we generally don’t talk honestly and publicly about the really hard parts, the things that feel subversive to admit.

But we need these stories. Back in the day, we had rites of passage, initiation ceremonies that honored our movement from one stage of life to another. Initiates learned the skills and knowledge necessary for their new social role, and found ritualized support for their new status. These rituals were often deeply connected to the mythologies, the stories, of the culture.

But, as Joseph Campbell argued, we have become a demythologized culture. We no longer have the rituals that connect us to the essence of the human experience, that teach us “how to live a human lifetime under any circumstances.” I think this is why many of us enter motherhood feeling like an actor who is wholly unqualified to play the part. We’ve lost the script.

That’s why we need to tell our stories. We need to talk about the transition to motherhood and what it means to us. Today our motherhood myths have been reduced to one-dimensional stereotypes: the “good mother” and the “wicked stepmother” and the “soccer mom” and the “perfect mom.” Fuck those myths. Let’s tell our honest stories and do away with the archetypes that haunt us. Let’s create a new mythology. If George Lucas and J.R. Tolkein can do it, so can we.

Suffering and Impermanence

Permit me to go a little Buddhist on you, because we’re talking about suffering along the motherhood journey.

The Buddha taught that we suffer due to our desires. We desire what we lack. We may cling to a specific vision of the future. We cling to the things that make us happy rightnow. We may also cling to the past, to “the way things were.” We crave this, or we desire not-this.

And with that clinging, we suffer, because everything is always changing. Everything is impermanent. No emotion lasts forever, no condition lasts forever, no life lasts forever. Our grasping is our futile attempt to prevent the inevitable from happening. Our grasping prevents us from being in the present moment, because either we’re already fearing its end or planning our escape. But now is the only time we can be happy.

So, to the mom who wishes she wasn’t a mom, I want you to breathe.

You miss the person you were. But she’s gone, and she would still be gone whether you became a mother or not. Not a single cell in your body today was there seven years ago. You are, literally, a completely different person now.

Breathe.

Calm your mind and bring your attention to this very moment.

When that thought “I miss how fun I was before I had kids” arises, simply note it.

Breathe, and let it go.

You can notice the thought, but you don’t have to follow it down the path of wishing for a different life.

Yes, some parts of parenting suck. In meditation, we are instructed to “sit with the emotions that arise.”

Sit with the suck. Observe it, without judgment, without blame. Hold your thoughts, and yourself, with compassion.

After you breathe, after you sit, you can contemplate. Why does it suck? What conditions bring about the suck?

Is it something you can’t change? Then don’t fight it. Suffering generally comes from our struggle to avoid the undesirable, rather than the undesirable thing itself.

Is it something you can change? Then change it. This isn’t resignation. It’s finding relief from our suffering. It’s finding joy.

You wrote that you love your children.

Sit with the love. Observe it with compassion. Contemplate it. Why is there love? What conditions bring joy?

This isn’t positive thinking mumbo-jumbo. This is changing how you relate to the present moment, whatever it may contain.

It’s letting your next move be informed by the present, and not the baggage of the past. Every moment is a chance to begin again.

Your Journey Does Not End When Your Child’s Begins

We often describe motherhood as a selfless task. Fuck that, too. Because being selfless means to have little concern for oneself or one’s own interests. That’s bullcrap. You and your interests matter. Parenting is not a zero-sum game, where the nurturing of a little person means the neglect of the nurturer.

Now I’m going unBuddhist on you, because Buddhism teaches that the self is an illusion. Which is fine if you’re in a monastery or something, but you’re a mom. Yes, you are one with the universe and all, but you are also a real self who is deserving of joy and compassion. Take care of yourself. Find the things that nurture your soul. And then do them, frequently and unapologetically.

Find things that nurture your soul.jpg

Motherhood and the Middle Way

Why does the conclusion to our motherhood story have to be a choice between “I wouldn’t change a damn thing!” and “I wish I didn’t have kids!”? I can swing from one of those extremes and end up at the other, after hitting six places in the middle over the course of eleven minutes of mothering!

The extremes are where we cling. The middle is where we accept. We accept the suck and the love and the terrible and the wonderful.

So to the mom who wishes she wasn’t a mom, I hope I meet you in the middle some day. That’s where we can begin the journey to joyfulness.

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Sarah Rudell Beach

Sarah is a writer, teacher, and mother. At Left Brain Buddha, she writes about her journey to live and parent mindfully, joyfully, and thought-fully in her left-brain analytical life. When not working, she enjoys dancing, reading, and hanging out with her little Buddhas.
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Comments

  1. Wow was my first reaction to your first paragraph! However, Then I thought about it. Motherhood is hard and going from working mom to being a first time mom can be lonely! And never talked about! Hopefully she’ll find so help and support to work through what she is feeling.
    Sarah recently posted…10 Fascinating things I learned at Blogher!My Profile

    • Sarah Rudell Beach says:

      Indeed. We “know” our lives are going to change, but we’re still unprepared. And we can truly love love love being moms and still feel this way…. And I agree, I truly hope she has people she can talk to and get support from.

      • I want to thank you for such a thoughtful writing on a universally difficult topic. The ‘story’ of what motherhood should be is a myth that challenges so many women who don’t ‘see’ themselves in that picture perfect ideal. As you said, motherhood is hard, messy, scary and thorouhly unpleasant at times. As a therapist, I work with many people who have to brave the adversity of parenthood with inadequate personal support. And I feel honored to be in the position to hear their woes and frustrations, giving them a safe place to voice heir truths. In that process, they can offload some part of their suffering, which potentially creates some space for them to locate the little victories in their role and pride in their accomplishments. For many people, unburdening their emotional hardships is necessary before there is space for lightness, beauty, or joy.
        I hope that other readers feel inspired to embrace the emotional complexities that can accompany parenthood and find their way through to a meaningful and whole relationship with themselves and their families. Thank you again for your very thoughtful words.
        As an aside, I recommend readers locate postpartum progress or postpartum support international on the web to learn about the emotional processes that can unfold during pregnancy and the postpartum window (not just the first 4 weeks by he way!). These issues often go unidentified and significantly contribute to feelings of sadness, lack of joy or pleasure in the day to day, a negative experience of one’s role, and sometimes negative feelings toward one’s children. These challenges occur for 1 in 7 women and many suffer alone and needlessly. If this sounds familiar, I encourage your readers to seek sound professional help from a provider who is specifically trained in treating perinatal mood or anxiety symptoms.

        • Sarah Rudell Beach says:

          Thank you so much for your words and insight. For so long I kept a lot of these shameful thoughts inside me (I felt so guilty for not always loving my time with my kids). I agree that talking about our feelings makes them a lot less scary. It took me almost a year and a half after the birth of my second child to reach out and get professional help, and I am so glad I did. I am in such a better place right now, so I certainly echo your advice that women who are feeling this way reach out and get help!

  2. A really good post. I’m not a parent myself, but everywhere I look are people judging – particularly mothers. If they don’t breastfeed, or work, or don’t work, or don’t have a routine, or don’t dress their kids in the ‘right’ clothes, if they let them eat sweets, or don’t let them eat sweets, or whatever – everything is constant judgement, from the major, to the minor mundane things.

    It’s pretty intense, and I can see why that’s not fun for many, including all the reasons you give above too.
    Jade recently posted…It’s All About MeMy Profile

    • Sarah Rudell Beach says:

      Thanks, Jade. Yes, it seems mothers are judged for being too rigid, too lax, too helicopter, too hands-off…. And sometimes we’re our own worst judges….

  3. I loved reading this. Found it on Pinterest. Thank you so much. I appreciate the Buddhist perspective on change, even if I have trouble making it my reality. I’m working on it, though! My experience of motherhood has been one of trying to enjoy the good (and frequently amazing) stuff while also trying to realize that my life won’t ALWAYS be like this, i.e., one day he’ll grow up and not need so much of me, and I’ll have more time for myself again. So thanks for writing this. We definitely need to have more conversations like this.

    • Sarah Rudell Beach says:

      Indeed, we need more conversations like this one, Laila. I am realizing as I enter the “golden years” between baby/toddler/preschooler and tween/teen, that many things get easier as they get older… And the Buddhist perspective has been profoundly life-changing for me.

  4. I hope that woman reads this. I hope EVERY woman reads this, especially the ones who ooze the joy of motherhood from their pores. Because even if you’ve given birth, you don’t automatically get to join the mommy club. And when you’re excluded, it makes the whole experience of being a mom that much harder. Mothers need empathy for each other because we’re not all coming at it from the same place.

    We tell our daughter that she should give new experiences a try for a reasonable period of time; then if she finds out it’s not for her, she can set it aside and move onto something else.

    That exit clause is not available for parents, and some of us really need it.
    Kelly Roberts recently posted…The Girl Who Almost Wasn’tMy Profile

    • Sarah Rudell Beach says:

      Oh, Kelly, I hear you…. It’s so hard too when we expect that we will turn into gushy gooey mothers right from the start, and then we think something is wrong with us if the amazing mother-love isn’t there immediately…. We need to understand that we all become mothers, and relate to motherhood, in such very different ways. We seem to accept that when it comes to marriage and jobs, and I think we have some work to do in accepting that about motherhood.

  5. Gosh, there’s such a lot in here. I do hope that woman finds happiness too – as you say she deserves it, and so do her kids.

    I did find parenting difficult at times in the early days, and still occasionally do, but it’s hard to even imagine how hard it must be for a mother who wishes she’d never had her kids.

    I love that you suggest to both allow the crappy feelings and to allow the love. I totally agree with that. And with “Suffering generally comes from our struggle to avoid the undesirable, rather than the undesirable thing itself.”
    Yvonne recently posted…A Celebrity Dies of an Overdose – Why We Should CareMy Profile

    • Sarah Rudell Beach says:

      Indeed, it must be so hard to live your life each day wishing you had a different life. Which I think is why we need to be more honest about our feelings and what motherhood is like. I love Jessica Valenti’s book because she questions why we think children are supposed to make us happy in the first place…. Seems we still have some of the “cult of domesticity” around today…

  6. That article on Scary Mommy was difficult to read because I could feel her angst in her words. I don’t feel that way all the time, but admit I have certainly had moments like that. I think there is a lot of pressure to be a happy mom all the time and I appreciate the courage it took for her to say it “out loud.” I hope she read your post and I hope she is able to find joy in motherhood, despite her feelings that she is not meant to be a mother.
    Lisa @ The Golden Spoons recently posted…Building CathedralsMy Profile

    • Sarah Rudell Beach says:

      I think we’ve all had moments like that, and my heart goes out to people who are suffering in a life they feel trapped in, whatever it is that’s causing it. And as you said, there’s so much pressure to be happy and especially with Facebook and stuff everyone else seems to be a whole heck of a lot happier than we are….

  7. I do actually love being a mom, but sometimes, I like the idea of it better than doing it – especially when I’m at playground #2 of the day without another mom and friend for my son, because then I have to climb through the too-small tunnels and play endless games of chase. Being a mom is hard, but, like you said, or alluded to, being a person is hard. I love your reminder to this mom that even though she misses her previous life, that it would still be gone regardless of whether she’d ever become a mother. Pinned and Stumbled and LOVE.
    Kristi Campbell recently posted…Putting Our Kids to Bed as it Relates to Past Lives. Also, Flying and Thankful for the Special Needs Community.My Profile

    • Sarah Rudell Beach says:

      Thanks, Kristi. I love the way you put it — sometimes we like the idea of it better than “it” itself… And yes, the exhaustion of it all. I remind myself too, when I start longing for “the good old days,” that things would be different now for a gazillion reasons anyway, and that people have longed for the good old days since the beginning of time (or a few years after that, anyway), so clearly we’re all a bit nostalgic for the past in unskillful ways.

  8. Sarah,
    Your post almost brings me to tears, not only for the plight of the mother you address and all others in similar pain, but for the compassion with which you write. So often the world of motherhood can seem like an unsupportive place, full of judgement and yet in your words and in so many online communities, we are able to find solace through shared truths. I hope that this is just the beginning of the conversation. Thank you.

    Sharon
    Sharon recently posted…Conscious Parenting Inspirations – July 2014My Profile

    • Sarah Rudell Beach says:

      Me, too… I strongly believe we all need to tell our stories, and if we all could hold ourselves and others with compassion — think how wonderful our world would be! I will definitely continue the conversation…

  9. Thank you for this. Motherhood is a hard thing, and we are always quick to judge each other. I appreciate your love and compassion toward this mother.

    • Sarah Rudell Beach says:

      Thank you Shelly. I’m not sure what surprised me more, how some people criticized this mom, or how many women said they feel the exact same way. Both are sad, and both need to be addressed. Thanks for sharing your words!

  10. Oh how I admire this woman’s bravery at not adding the caveat. You know she must have wanted to. Just so people wouldn’t try to publicly shame her. But sometimes this mother life sucks. And not in the good way, like with a lollipop. But in the bad way that you feel if you hear the word MOM one more time you might scratch your ears out. When you wonder why you taught your child to talk let alone think for themselves.

    But then you stop. You breathe. I love your advice (both the Buddah and the totally un-Buddah) to her. More I adore you for starting the conversation, as always with a sense of calm. And peace. And a willingness to say we might not agree but we acknowledge one another.
    Kerri recently posted…Sorry I don’t have a process.My Profile

    • Sarah Rudell Beach says:

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Kerri. Yes, we need to accept all mothers — those who “gush joy” about it, as a previous commenter mentioned, and those who find it more challenging. And OMG do I hear you about not wanting to hear the word MOM one more time!

  11. What a thoughtful post, Sarah. I hadn’t read the article you refer to, but I hope the author reads yours. The extremes are where we cling, the middle is where we accept. I love that, and I can think of many examples in my own life (besides motherhood) where that is so true.
    Dana recently posted…The August Love ListMy Profile

    • Sarah Rudell Beach says:

      Thanks, Dana. Understanding how quickly everything changes and passes is very comforting. Odd that impermanence brings comfort, but it often does…

  12. I read this yesterday and I keep thinking about it. –In our culture of ideal and perfect motherhood, where “confessions” are things like “I went three days without giving my child a bath,”– this ran through my head the most. I feel parts of mom culture are so close to being open, truly open. This post was a wonderful example of it. Thanks, Sarah!

    • Sarah Rudell Beach says:

      Thanks Jean! I read that “confession” in a magazine once and thought, that’s like every week for my kids!!! How is that a “sin” of motherhood?? Take care, friend!

  13. Sarah,
    What a great and kind post. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to admit to struggling with parenthood, and motherhood in particular. Sadly our culture is becoming less and less welcoming or understanding about weakness in any form, as we see more and more articles decrying the value of vulnerability.
    We need more people like you to be vocal, and make the world safer for those who struggle, for without speaking up their suffering only deepens and threatens to swallow them.

    • Sarah Rudell Beach says:

      Indeed, parenting is the one area where we, especially women, are expected to “just know” how to act and how to feel, and it is hard when it doesn’t come naturally. I agree, we need to honor vulnerability and admit our difficulties.

  14. I sure hope that mom reads this. I feel her pain. Although I don’t feel like that everyday, I do feel like that some days.
    I also long for the empty nest days, but with people (me) having children later, that life is further off.
    You make some wonderful points, and this will help lots of people!
    JenKehl – My Skewed View recently posted…Mommy Fail Number 235 – Model Car KitMy Profile

    • Sarah Rudell Beach says:

      I feel like that’s such an important distinction Jen — we feel like that some days, not all days. I certainly don’t know this woman’s experience, but I hope that she does have those days when it isn’t so terrible. Our minds are wired to remember the terrible more than the wonderful, so we sometimes really need to work to overcome the negativity bias in our brains.

  15. A friend of mine and I have had talks about this exact topic at least on a few occasions and it’s a relief to here others experience similar feelings. Thanks for a great an honest post!
    Susen @ Dabbling Momma recently posted…Matching Uppercase and Lowercase LettersMy Profile

  16. This might be the best thing you’ve ever written. I know it’s one of the most important. I didn’t read the post that inspired it (yet, that that is. I will now.) but I appreciate the lack of “disclaimer” at the end. That disclaimer always pisses me off. :) Kudos on this, my friend.
    Stephanie @ Mommy, for Real. recently posted…I Can’t Decide If I Want To Have Another BabyMy Profile

  17. I love your balanced, sensible approach and advice. I adhere to it as well. And I especially love, “Your journey does not end when your child’s begins.”
    Nina recently posted…Topics I Avoid In My WritingMy Profile

  18. I know this comes from a Buddhist point of view, but there is room to fell this from the Taoist mind.
    There’s sort of this “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” feeling in that statement of wishing she weren’t a mom. The smoke is just an indication of other layers of stuff that hasn’t been uncovered yet. It’s an invitation to explore deeper.
    I’m new to the Tao way, but one thing that got me was the concept of how us humans have fought to build these thoughts on top of existence. We say we have superior brains, but we ignore it and work against nature almost to a person.
    So what’s the most basic natural action we can do for our child? Or for us? I think the universal answer that we’re here for is to love.
    It comes back to “sit with love”. Somehow find that path of least resistance to love. Try to look through our own stuff, acknowledge that it’s there and go past it.
    The smoke is what’s covering our path to love. Maybe since it’s smoking so much that it’s a small fire that needs stoking? Follow the smoke down and find the love. It’s there in all of us.

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