We’d made it to the lake. The weather was perfect, we had cold watermelon, the kids were playing together well, my daughter had successfully used the potty, I was there with some of my best friends and their kids and it was a Friday.
Life was very good.
We sat there in the glorious sunshine holding our babies and watching the older kids run in and out of the water. Our conversation meandered from cooking to kids to husbands to weekend plans and back again. The watermelon bowl gradually filled with sand from grubby fingers, but no one seemed to mind. Great company can make up for a lot.
I love these ladies. In many ways they are my allies–young mothers and wives fighting the same battles I do and learning the same painfully beautiful lessons I am. I know them well and through these causal conversations at the park, the beach, the mall, the basements of our various houses, I have learned to be a mother, a wife and a friend.
I don’t know where I would be without them.
And then the conversation turned. One young mother in the group lamented that a couple of nights that week her husband hadn’t been home for the madness of supper/bath/bedtime. With a smile she told us how hard it had been, about the long days and toddler tantrums. Then she suddenly caught herself, looked at me quickly and said, “I mean, I know you do this all the time, Nancy, so you probably think I’m ridiculous.”
I wish I could say that in that moment, the split second before she called me out, that I wasn’t already calculating how much harder my life is than her’s, that I wasn’t looking down my very long nose at her, that I wasn’t tallying up all the factors that made my life, my situation infinitely more difficult than hers.
I wish the words, “oh yeah, try doing that 14 nights in a row!” or “oh yeah, try doing that with 3 kids!” or “oh yeah, try doing that while potty training a little terror like Bernadette!” weren’t on the very tip of my tongue.
But they were. And they tasted so bitter it made my stomach turn.
The only thing I can say for myself is that in that moment I didn’t say anything at all. And the moment passed.
The conversation wrapped around again to cooking and then to vacations and we all laughed and chased kids and went home happy and sandy.
But, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about that tiny little moment there on the beach with my friends.
Here we are, mothers blessed with a whole hoard of beautiful little children, all there on a gorgeous day at the beach and instead of soaking in the joy and looking at my friend with compassion and empathy I’m judging her. And ultimately ruling that my life is harder than her’s, and therefore I’m better.
I hate to say it’s as simple as that, but it is.
I also wish that this was the first time this ugliness rose up inside of me. But it isn’t.
We mothers are always comparing notes, comparing kids, comparing experiences. And why do we do this? Are we sharing experiences in community, learning from each other, seeking advice, giving each other an opportunity to vent?
Doesn’t really feel like that. Feels more like some sort of sick competition.
More often than not our storytelling turns into one-uping. “You think he’s a picky eater? Mine will only eat…” “You think your’s is a bad sleeper? Mine gets up 6 times a night…” “You think your labor was rough? I labored for…”
Whose life is harder? Who has more battle scars? Who deserves the most pity?
Even with my friends, women I trust with some of the deepest secrets of my life, I give into these petty rivalries, happy to elbow them out of the way in the race to prove that my life is the hardest. Who cares about their struggles and hardships? Mine are greater. Therefore, their’s don’t matter.
This of course, is not how I feel, not objectively. Not really. I love these girls. I love their kids. I respect their marriages and their parenting and their faith and their work ethics. I don’t agree with them on every point, but I love them completely. And because I really honestly do love them when they voice a struggle I want my only response to be this:
Yes, that is hard.
Because it is! It is hard to do 100% of the parenting for a day when your husband is gone or busy. It’s hard if it’s one day or 14. It’s hard. It’s hard to get up with a baby at night. It’s hard whether you have to get up 1 time or 10. It’s hard. It’s hard to deliver a baby. It’s hard whether you labor of 20 minutes, 20 hours, with a epidural, without, at home, alone or in a tub. It’s hard. It’s hard to be home. It’s hard leave your kids and head to work.
It’s just hard.
And that’s all there is to it.
Motherhood can be hard. In fact, it will be hard. Chances are part of each day will be hard or just plain rough. And in those moments all that I want is someone to say, “yes, this is hard.”
That’s all I want. The acknowledgement that what I’m asked to deal with is hard.
And, at the beach, I’m sure that’s all my friend wanted. She wanted this group of mothers to nod and say, “yes, that is hard. We’ve been there. We know. You are right, it’s hard.”
To stop the judgement and comparing and one-uping (whether I voice these things out loud or not) is to actually love my friend.
To look at her, see her as a strong, wonderful mother and friend, and to see her experiences as hard without diving into my own issues, that is what I want to do. That is what it means to be a friend. That is what I want from my own friends–and that is what I want to give them.
Just let it be hard.
Let that be your only response. Let that be my only response.