The Loneliness of Motherhood

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Motherhood can be a lonely, lonely thing. Which is strange, isn’t it, because mothers are almost never alone.

In the age of social media, the irony of lonely while surrounded by people, wanting companionship while feeling touched out, is being shared by parents in droves. Articles, tweets, and a few Instagram pictures are followed by hashtags about being tired or touched out or being the “bad” mom who forgot today was crazy hair day at school. Or it’s the article or post that touches lightly on the subject of postpartum depression, never during, but always after.

Usually, these glimpses provide a place for other mothers to tentatively reach out and give tiny snippets of their own stories. Solidarity, my sisters! Or, how brave to post such honest things! Or it’s just a way to laugh at the reality.

And laugh we must because sometimes this loneliness is more than a portion of motherhood. Sometimes it’s a weight, it’s stifling, it’s smothering.

Let’s laugh to keep from crying.

Motherhood can be lonely. But why?

I wonder if it’s because we’re pack creatures, social animals that really do need a village. Maybe it’s not children that need a village to raise them, but mothers that need a village to support them.

Today, motherhood is endless nights of half-assed sleep because lying down means running down the endless list of things that were done, things that were forgotten, and things that need doing. It’s nights debating whether an earlier bedtime for self should occur, or if the book, the show, the wine, or the game is worth a few less hours of sleep. And this has to be debated because at this point she probably just wants one single freaking hour of time alone, an hour to read or drink wine or peruse Instagram or just not be touched. But, of course, regardless, the next day will start early, too early, because of all the prep that has to happen before the day even begins.

Time to wake up and teeth and wash faces and find matching (sort of) clothes. Yes, maybe pjs that pass for clothes can suffice for daycare, but they definitely can’t be the pjs with smeared peanut butter and you definitely can’t pair it with a Halloween mask. Please eat breakfast, but make sure your teeth are brushed. Where’s your book bag. Did I brush my hair? My own teeth? I forgot to finish my makeup, but at least I drank my coffee. It’s fine, we’re late, let’s go!

Motherhood is giving up every first sip and every last bite. This is such a truth that it’s become a joke. How many memes and posts and videos and cartoons have you seen with moms hiding in broom closets or bathrooms just so they can scarf down a chocolate bar without guilt (or maybe with guilt, but the chocolate helps)?

Motherhood is a love that’s so big and strong and overwhelming, that it gives you strength on the days that the little ones test your patience. It’s a love that overpowers the basic survival instinct. I know without even thinking about it, I would give my life for any one of my children, no hesitation. I’d step in front of a car, a train, whatever.

And yet.

Can I please just finish one piece of pie without a little tiny food gremlin coming over and sticking toddler sized fingers into the crust? Please.

Motherhood is lonely in the weirdest sense because you’re constantly surrounded by people who respect almost no boundaries.

Motherhood has you touched out and craving people, frazzled and craving adult talk, tired and craving alone time.

And no one warns you! No one warns you about the days that feel endless, just about the years that pass quickly. No one warns you that there will be days that you just want to sitforonegoddamnminute without someone using your body as a jungle gym. No one warns you that motherhood is exhausting because there’s no real start time, but there’s definitely no end, no sick days, no PTO, no pause.

And so when all these feelings hit, you just feel lonely and upset that you’re probably the world’s worst mother, because you’re not fawning over your child every second of every day. It feels lonely because most of the emotions you feel throughout the course of the day are hard to pinpoint and hard to explain. It feels lonely because how many times can you vent about the same thing? It feels lonely because the baby you were pining for, dreaming about, love so much, wanted so much, maybe after a loss, maybe after years of trying, maybe after an adoption process, etc, etc, etc….maybe after all that, they’re still just a child and you’re just a mother who is like every other child-mother combination. You’re still just human and you need breaks, but motherhood never seems to break.

But when cries for help sound like complaints and the best people can say is, “Babies don’t keep!” It’s not very surprising that it’s lonely.

Currently, with a raging pandemic, this loneliness can hit even harder, especially for new moms who may not have the normal support that would have been provided otherwise.

Motherhood is lonely. And it’s okay to acknowledge that. And it’s okay to vent. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to say you’re overwhelmed. It’s okay to not have all the answers. It’s okay to reach out for help, personal or professional.

We need to know it’s common to feel this way and that professional help is a viable option.

Vent away. And if you have no one to vent to, feel free to shoot me a line. Sometimes talking, writing, helps.

Zoom Meetings, Not Enough Coffee, and Sexism

It’s about twenty minutes to 8 o’clock. I’ve slept about 6 hours last night, not necessarily in a row, and I’m already craving a second cup of strong coffee. I’m not sure it’ll make a dent in the fatigue I’m carrying, but it’s worth a shot.

Right now I’m working remotely. Right now my children are learning remotely. Help.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Pexels.com

The toddlers have been shuttled off to daycare by their father. (Breakfast, diapers, potty, teeth, clothes, where are her shoes??, wait is this yours, don’t forget the check for our sitter, bye, kiss, kiss, hug, bye.) My oldest two, the teen and almost teen have been forced into the shower (just barely) and are now scrunched up behind their personal school tablets, working some Google docs (I hope) until their first Zoom meeting of the morning. My own work day starts at 9 am and I’m pretty sure my own Zoom meetings cross over school Zoom meetings. Which means I’ll have to disable video and microphone periodically to run out and fix technical glitches on the kids’ computers. I’m sure my job is thrilled. But they probably don’t mind too much as I make up for lost work by starting my day earlier than ever and ending later than ever.

Article after article after article explains how difficult this juggling is and how it impacts the careers of working moms. The literature seems to go on forever about it. Ultimately, it boils down to the sexism that exists within both parenting, relationships, and the workforce.

Complain about having to juggle everything and you’re told that it is what it is. You chose to have children and now you have to deal with having children. It’s a little infuriating.

Also, even if the response of, “Well, you wanted to have children…now you have to parent…” wasn’t soaked in sexism and judgement, I don’t know anyone who imagined this scenario. Raise of hands to show who dreamed of orchestrating a bastardized version of “homeschool” via public school during a mismanaged pandemic, while also handling everything else. Yeah, me neither.

“You’re not the only one struggling.”

“Some people are worse off.”

Also just as insulting a response. Clearly we’re all struggling. Obviously everyone’s situation is different. But other people’s struggles do not diminish the very real physical, mental, and emotional impact the current state of affairs has on parents, and especially mothers. There is no Personal Problems Olympics where people compete and the winner gets to take home the prize of Guilt-free Venting.

Throughout my years as a mother who has mostly worked out of the home, I’ve been told (especially by other mothers), “I don’t know how you do it! You make it seem so easy! You’re always so calm and collected.”

It kind of feels like being complimented on how strong of a swimmer I am while barely treading water or borderline drowning.

The truth is, and I try to explain this every time, that I’m as overwhelmed as any other mother. I don’t do anything more or less than other people in my same situation. And I also don’t know where the requirement of being the perfect picture of calm and control came from. Why is that part of the Mom’s Code of Conduct? Can leadership get together and strike through that part?

Maybe we should also stop judging ourselves so harshly. Most of the time when we see a mom who seems to have it all together, we covet her grace and multi-tasking abilities. At least, that’s what it seems like to me when people compliment my mothering. And, frankly, that’s what it is like when I see women I wish I could model myself after.

And after all that, when I pay them the same compliments, they tend to respond the way I do sometimes. “Girl, I am a mess. But thank you. I’m trying.”

And that’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it? We’re all trying. We all need help. And there’s some weird unspoken rule that we’re supposed to look like we got it.

Mothering is labeled “team lift” but someone taped over it.