Some very kind people have complimented my mothering by telling me I’m a natural.
You know, a natural mother. That, it seemed to them, like all things mother came to me in some sort of effortless, magical way.
I’ll be the first to tell you that that is not how it happened.
Most of these compliments have come from strangers. The woman behind us in mass the freak Sunday when everyone is behaving, the checkout person at the grocery store that one day everyone isn’t screaming, the guy at the park who got there before I lost my temper, the sweet blog reader.
But I am not a natural mother. This journey as a mother has been one of the most difficult and transformative of my life. Easily. Every day I work to reel in my temper, stay engaged with my children and discern discipline. Each day I am pretty sure I fail as much as I succeed. And, I really believe this struggle is something universal for all mothers.
Despite this, when I see a mother effortlessly breastfeeding at the park as her other kids play, as I watch a mother lead her tribe of children into daily mass, I can’t help but look on and think, “man, she’s a natural.”
This idea of being a natural mother is one of the highest compliments we can give a mother. But, are any of us “natural mothers”? Does mothering come naturally for any of us?
I doubt it.
And, what is more, I’m pretty sure that this idea of being a ‘natural mother’ is more destructive than inspirational. This ideal doesn’t exist and trying to measure ourselves with this asinine measuring stick is not only stupid, it’s harmful.
When I was a new mother I got really frustrated with myself–I believed that since motherhood was hard for me, there was something WRONG with me. If I really loved my children this should be easier! If motherhood didn’t come naturally for me there was something deeply wrong with me.
After I embraced my own imperfections I believe I became a much better mother. Not a natural mother, but a pretty good one that tried, failed, tried again and loved throughout.
Here are the parts of this Natural Mother Myth that have really tripped me up on my personal journey of motherhood:
#1 I Should Somehow Just KNOW How to Be A Good Mom
The truth of the matter is that I have no idea what I am doing as a mother. For the most part the kids and I are quite happy and I understand what they need, but sometimes I have no clue. I try stuff, I fail. I try again.
During my first days and weeks as a mother I felt totally baffled. Why wasn’t he sleeping? Why is breastfeeding so hard? Is poop supposed to look like that? Am I doing any of this right?
I googled everything and called my sister and my mom and fretted. Why didn’t I know anything? This was my child! He just come out of me. Why was I so clueless?
What I am learning now is there is no guide, and there certainly very few absolutes. Live, trust, make mistakes.
And, when in doubt, blame it on teething.
#2 New Motherhood Should Be the Happiest Time Of My Life
I really wanted to be a certain type of new mom–the mom that bounces right back, breastfeeds without effort, sits calmly and holds her baby all day, unconcerned with the details of life.
But, I was not that mom. Naturally a high-strung person, after Gus was born I went a little nuts. I was caught off guard by the hormones and sleep deprivation and stress. Those first weeks as a new mom were not (certainly not) the happiest of my life. I love my son, I love my husband, I feel so blessed to be part of this family but I think it’s okay to say that those days are rough, especially with the first. It’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to be joyful and miserable at the same time.
#3 I Should Be Able To Do This Alone
I want to be a strong mother. I want to be able to do this (everything) all by myself.
But, that’s just my pride.
The truth is that a mother is impossible without a father–and both are meaningless outside of the context of the family. Motherhood is naturally something that can not (and should not) be done alone. It might run contrary to my pride, but I need to let my husband take charge at points. I need to let my own mother help me. I need to admit that there are more people in the lives of my children then just me.
#4 Admitting Motherhood Is Hard Is Admitting I’m a Failure
Despite the strides I may have made as mother in some ways I still struggle to talk about the challenges of my own journey through motherhood without feeling like either a failure or a complainer.
I don’t want to be a mom that complains about everything–that whines about the good and the bad and holds up her own life as the absolute measure of hardship and strife.
So I hold it in–my frustrations and worries. Other moms don’t seem to be tripped up by these things. Other moms don’t seem to be bothered. What’s the matter with me? What’s wrong with me–why was I such a failure as a mother?
It has only been through close friendships with other moms, where we can openly talk about the hardships of motherhood that I have started to both air out these struggles and forgive myself. Saying that it is hard to be with my child all day does not mean that I don’t love them. Saying that I need to get away from the kids for a while does not mean that I don’t cherish being home with them.
Admitting that motherhood is hard is not saying that I regret being a mother or would, even for a second, choose anything different.
#5 Motherhood Should be 100% Fulfilling
Nothing has–or continues to–challenge me that way that motherhood has. But my life did not end when I gave birth. Since that day I have continued to change, grow, learn, fall, and re-direct. I love my kids, but I would never say something dramatic like, “they are my whole life.”
Because they aren’t.
There are parts of my life that I need to keep just for me. A part that is just for my husband. I have hobbies, friendships, memories–they are mine and I don’t want to share them with my kids (just like the chocolate I hid in the back of the closet). I would give them absolutely anything they needed but that doesn’t mean that I am to be left with nothing. In order to be a good mom I know I need to remain myself–I need to keep living.
All the best and please know that even if things didn’t come naturally, you are still great.
You are enough.