A friend of mine asked me to identify a pivotal moment in my life, a time where something made me shift in huge ways. I told her motherhood. “And If you could define motherhood in one word, what word would it be?” she wanted to know.
“Hard,” I said. Because the motherhood challenges I encounter on a daily basis are real. They prove how hard it is to be a mom.
I could have said exciting or all-encompassing. I could have said beautiful and special. It’s all of these things and more. But the word ‘hard’ came out instead. And it is. Motherhood is hard.
“Tell me more about that. What makes everything about motherhood hard?” she asked, genuinely wanting to know.
So began my long-winded reply that came barrelling out as one long, run-on sentence. I’m sure she had a hard time following everything I was trying to explain as it rapidly entered my brain and then left my mouth.
Since then, I’ve been able to sit back and organize my thoughts. I’ve come up with my top ten motherhood challenges that prove this is one hard job (albeit the most spectacular at the same time).
Where do I even start? That first pregnancy, you toy with whether you should or shouldn’t say anything to anyone about the fact you’re pregnant until the first trimester is over. Let the internal head games begin. The battle of, “Do I or don’t I” starts immediately and it never ends. (See every other section listed here and you’ll know what I mean.)
Everyone tells you to start thinking about daycare immediately and now you have to figure out what you’re looking for, what you want, what you can afford, etc- for this human being you’re now in charge of, and whose preferences are entirely unfamiliar to you. You’ve got to pick a hospital and a provider. You’ve got to start thinking about a maternity leave plan, assuming you’re working at the time you get pregnant and plan to continue.
Who do you invite to your baby shower? Where do you register? Will you breastfeed? Can you get a pump through your insurance? What you’re thinking, feeling, and deciding on varies throughout the long 40 weeks of pregnancy based on what’s happening. But your mind is never at rest.
And while a whole heck of a lot is happening mentally-emotionally, your body is an entirely different force not to be reckoned with. Fatigue. Swelling. Nausea. Water retention. Outgrowing your clothes. A little person kicking down your insides like they’re trying to escape. There are so many things here to list it would take eons. But your body becomes a foreign entity that you no longer control. It starts as soon as the test strip shows PREGNANT. You can feel the hormones bubbling under your skin almost instantly. Did you used to eat chicken? Great! Now it’s repulsive. Enjoyed perfume and scented products? No longer. Cologne now makes you gag. Your adult skin takes a trip back to your teen years, as you enjoy a new adult round of acne. The little alien-looking life form (and that is kind of what they look like on that first ultrasound) completely takes over from day one. They are tiny. But they are mighty.
Oh, yes, I argue that from conception on, there is no end to the motherhood challenges thrust upon your existence.
Every woman’s delivery story is different, but every woman who delivers a baby has had their body rocked by the baby they bring into the world. Vaginal birth or c-section. Drugs or no drugs. 3 hours or 49.5. 6 lbs of love or 10. There is a lot your body is required to do to bring that baby into the world regardless of the number of medical professionals or family in the room with you to help, assist, or witness.
Forget that you ever had any. As soon as you’re naked and pushing in a delivery room, the concept of privacy ceases to exist. Soon you may be breastfeeding in public in the middle of the summer letting your boobs out to the world because it’s too hot to be covered up while an infant sweats onto your person. Then you’ll be pooping with the door wide open with your child’s little hands trying to see where it comes out or attempting to help you wipe. The shower curtain will be pulled open unexpectedly and you’ll have to explain what your body parts are and why they may be different than theirs.
And remember that time you said something funny but slightly inappropriate that they didn’t really understand? Well, they just repeated it at church when the whole congregation got quiet.”Oh my God and Jesus.” (Right, they just figured out that God and the God in the under-your-breath-utterance are the same person, but not enough to separate the two.)
Your entire mind and body are in the spotlight at all times and even while you think it may just be at home where you’ve got to bare it all, your little love shares everything with the world in the form of imitation and loud sharing at the most wonderfully inappropriate and inopportune time.
You will never have privacy again. Are you with me yet? Everything about motherhood is hard.
Pregnancy: You worry about what you eat and drink and about whether or not every symptom is ‘normal.’ Delivery: You worry about how badly it may hurt or how long it may take. Post delivery: You worry about that first trip to the bathroom, and about whether or not you’re breastfeeding right and if they’re supposed to be crying that much. Why does everything hurt? Early development: are they going through all of the appropriate stages, rolling, sitting, crawling, walking, talking. Childhood: school, friends, bullying. Adolescence: technology, dating, high school, driving, college. Adulthood: will they make it on their own?
The worrying never ends, am I right? My brain is constantly reeling through worry on the day-to-day, moment-by-moment. Why? Because motherhood challenges are abundant. They are the only thing you don’t have a shortage of.
Even when things are ‘normal’ there is always the fear that something may be worse than it appears or will worsen dramatically. That cold. That fever. That weird rash. The fact he hit his playmate twice at daycare. She is suddenly obsessed with her body parts in the tub. He completely doesn’t hear me when he’s watching TV. We fear physical, emotional, mental, and social disorder in their lives as soon as something seems slightly out of their normal. Fear. Worry. They walk hand-in-hand. Those jerks.
Decisions. Decisions. Decisions. Always. All the time. How will I convince her to eat dinner? How much screen time do I allow? How much extra time before bed will I allow him to swindle out of me? What will I do the next time she tantrums? When should I start potty training? Should I argue with him about brushing his teeth? Each moment is a battle to figure which battles to pick. And sometimes it’s not about choosing which battles to pick with them, but which battles to pick with yourself. Trying to determine when to let stuff go and give yourself a break is hard. You never want to feel like you’ve become careless.
Family judgment. Stranger’s judgment. It would be nice to think that everyone is understanding and has your back. But the truth is, there will always be people who think they know more, do it better, and think you’ve got it all wrong. It sucks, but it’s true. It’s hard to drown those alternative opinions out all of the time. Hear something enough and you start to believe it. Even if they don’t say it to your face. Even if it’s based off something you read or something someone said to someone else. We internalize those thoughts and beliefs from others or those looks if we feel insecure about ourselves even while trying our hardest.
The worst judgment, of course, is our own self-criticism.
These are the hardest thoughts to ignore because we carry them always. But being a mom means every moment of the day there is a quick decision that needs to be made and you act and then you reflect. You judge how you responded. A lot of the time you may find that you aren’t particularly fond of how you did respond. Not because there was anything wrong with how you responded to said incident but because in hindsight, you feel you could have done better. Moms want to be perfect for their kids. Even in knowing perfect isn’t possible. We strive for it anyway. And make ourselves crazy. Crazy is what you become because being a mom is ridiculously hard.
You don’t want to be the mom with the unruly kid at the grocery store, park, daycare, etc. You don’t want to appear to be the one with the least amount of control over your child in a group of people. All of this comes down to how you go about exacting consequences, discipline, healthy choices, redirection, etc. You don’t want to be the parent that gets walked all over. But. Remember what I said about choosing battles and making decisions. Oh yeah, and about being exhausted? I did mention that, right? You’re tired all the time.
Not to mention that you are trying to figure out each moment while also thinking about how each moment adds up to tomorrow and the next day and so you’re like, “Better get it right now because if I fail every time at the same thing, what chance do they have later at knowing how to do that one thing right?” Every opportunity seems like a learning opportunity and so you never want to miss it. You’re responsible for raising your child into a responsible (among other things) adult. You can’t let them get away with everything now. But you also have to decide when to discipline and how, and how often, and do you have others who are assisting so you’re not always the bad guy? Being the bad guy sucks, but it has to be done.
I’m constantly doubting everything I do. Maybe I shouldn’t have worried so much. Maybe I judged myself too harshly there. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so scared. Maybe I made the wrong decision. Perhaps I should have taken a different approach. The second-guessing is crazy-making. Remember, that’s because you got a case of the motherhood challenges.
And while all of that is going on, you’re supposed to also be taking care of yourself. Right? You’re supposed to be making sure that you’re eating well and sleeping, finding time for you so that you can continue to lead this four-ring circus. Where does one find that kind of time? But it’s necessary. You’ll run out of gas if you keep on that merry-go-round. And you can’t afford that because your kids need you. So you have to find the time for you — somehow. Like, where is a fairy godmother when you need one, right?
It probably sounds like I did an awful lot of complaining just now, but I’m not complaining. I’m not even venting. These are just my observations. These are my realities. I’ve said it before. I’m a mom who thinks a lot. Maybe that’s why parenting feels so difficult.
Despite that, I love every downright exhausting, all-encompassing, and entirely challenging moment.
Everything about motherhood is hard, but I wouldn’t change a thing.