The Secret to Enjoying Motherhood and Not Just Surviving It
Motherhood is many things, but is it easy to enjoy? Well if I was hooked up to a lie detector test and you asked me that same question, I am not sure I would pass if I answered yes. And I’m not sure my friends would either.
Case in point. Last night I had three of my four sons crying in unison over their distress of hearing they needed to eat three bites of their bacon chicken dinner. Because that’s the type of mom I am. The type that tries to feed them bacon. Oh, the horror. Mind you I had intentionally thumbed through a real life recipe book (with pages) that morning in order to avoid that very situation. And yet, I still had TEARS. Go figure.
And if you were spying on us through the baby monitor like I know my neighbors do, you would have thought I was trying to feed them dog poop (although ironically that may have gone over better given it would have invited potty talk at the dinner table), and you would have thought this because last night the dinner meltdowns were real.
So real in fact, I wanted to flee the battle zone and head to cover with my own little plate. But I wasn’t sure I could make it out alive, or at least without tripping with so many of my sons dramatically laid out on the tile floor. Think Forrest Gump carrying Lieutenant Dan out of the battle field just in the nick of time as bombs and debris are exploding all around them.
If the scene from my kitchen had been played to me nine years ago before I got pregnant with my oldest son and someone asked me, “Does this look like some fun?” I think I would have laughed then promptly said: “No, but if you’re trying to scare me away from motherhood, I know better. If this was actually me, I would have everything under control. Because this isn’t the type of mother I am going to be. And when I do it, it will be enjoyable.” (Oh my goodness, I sometimes want to flick my pre-kid self in the face.)
So my guess is you can relate to my pre-kid thoughts about motherhood just as much as you can relate to the scene of World War III in my kitchen last night. But here’s what I think is the most interesting part of it all. I think it’s our pre-kid expectations of what motherhood should and should not look like that set us up to be stressed out parents in the present, more so than the actual stress that comes with those moments.
So let me ask. “Have you been enjoying motherhood lately? And I’m not asking, “Do you love your kids?” Because I know you do. No. I’m asking you to ask yourself, “Am I able to enjoy being a mom?” And if the answer is no, before guilt ensues, I want to suggest that your expectations may be what is getting in the way.
You see, it seems most women form their view of motherhood and what a good mother is long before they actually become mothers. It seems we collect our evidence and make our observations of mothers we do not want to be like while standing in grocery stores lines, as we grab whatever pack of gum we want to buy and judge a mom who cannot get her kid to stop crying over the pack of gum they want to buy. (Even though we unknowingly fell for the store’s same marketing scheme as an adult.)
And then we form our judgments of good mothers based on sweet scenes from movies or from watching a cute mom at a restaurant who has all her little ducklings sitting perfectly through a meal. And we think, “One day, I want that!”
But what we don’t know is that twenty seconds before walking into that restaurant, that same perfect mother had just had an epic meltdown to her kids about their rowdy behavior, and threatened them with taking away their trip to Disney the following day. “If you cannot just sit through one blessed meal in a restaurant without someone having a fit, I’ll cancel our flight before you can say Mickey!” But we of course didn’t see that part back in our pre-kid days. We just saw the sitting still part and formed our expectation.
Sound crazy? Maybe. But true?! I think yes. And it certainly seems ironic that we let our definition of what motherhood should look like be formed before we’re even mothers. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with learning to fly a plane simply by watching a pilot do it from afar. Nor would I want to cut someone’s hair just by watching someone else do it. So why would I assume I know what motherhood should look like before I’m actually a mother? That is just silly because that way of thinking is setting us up to feel like we’re not doing it right, which then steals our joy as mothers. And that’s more than just silly. That’s sad.
So I want to share with you my secret for learning to enjoy motherhood. It’s what has allowed me to be able to find some kind of joy or humor in the bulk of it. And I even mean the crappiest of all moments—literally—like when my son exploded poop on my white shirt while walking into a restaurant. And here it is.
Let go of what you thought successful parenthood was before having kids, and embrace it for what it is now that you actually have children — a mix of beautiful and messy moments all rolled into one.
In my case, this has meant letting go of believing that the bulk of moments in parenthood are made up of what I like to call “shining star” moments where my children are acting angelic, well-behaved, well-rested and more than happy to be compliant with any and all that I ask of them. Because this is an obtainable and realistic goal for good parents 99% of the time. Right? (I am rolling my eyes as I type.)
I think what keeps moms from feeling joy is that even though we know it’s messy for us, we believe it shouldn’t be. We believe we are better than having a tween who talks back to us or kids who fight while driving home from school. We believe that if we keep trying to figure out how to control it, and wrap it up in a sweet little Build-a-Bear box, that one day, we will get it all figured out. And by figured out, I mean we will make parenting all perfect. And seamless. But until we do, we stress in the little moments, thus robbing us of the ability to enjoy the littleness of our babes. Meanwhile, their childhood is passing us by.
Well just like a Build-a-Bear, children aren’t seamless. They’re human. And for every perfect moment they have, they will likely have an imperfect moment. It’s the yin and yang of childhood. It’s the yin and yang of humanity. Children are a mix of the sweet and sour. Because they aren’t fully grown. So even the best of parents will have a mix of sweet and sour moments, too. Sweet as in your infant decides to take an extra-long nap and give you a chance to write an article, mixed with sour like when that baby is still sleeping but your toddler’s preschool calls to tell you your other son just puked on the floor and can you please come pick him up.
And to enjoy it, you have to expect both. And remember one doesn’t go without the other. I wouldn’t have them to show off in an adorable little Christmas outfit, it I wasn’t up three times the night before feeding them. His teacher wouldn’t write a note home saying his manners are wonderful if I hadn’t spent years reminding him to say please and thank you and feeling like it’s getting me nowhere. They wouldn’t be able to make me laugh uncontrollably with their humor as a teenager if that same spirit hadn’t exhausted me when they were toddlers.
Enjoying motherhood doesn’t literally mean enjoying a toddler throwing a tantrum. Because no one really enjoys that. (Don’t tell me if you do.) Enjoying motherhood means having the ability to keep the tantrum in perspective and move through it with ease, knowing that in order to go through ages two to three, even supermom can’t escape a tantrum. So letting your day be ruined or heck, even your next 30 minutes, is a waste of your time and energy. It’s the difference in saying, “If I was a good mom, I could have prevented that. What’s wrong with me?” to saying “Alright, I just survived that. What’s next?” Raising kids is too hard to take it all so seriously. Your kid can learn more from a joyful parent than an angry one.
Don’t worry that your kid is entitled when they ask for five toys as they pass the toy aisle at Target. Think about your childhood and the toy you always wanted (mine was a purple parasol with ruffles at Silver Dollar City). Do you know why they want the toys? Because they’re little, and toys are awesome when you’re little! Instead of being frustrated, ask them about the toys they love and listen to their little voices. For every moment of challenge a child offers us, there is an equal opportunity to enjoy them. So find those moments.
Because those little moments are the big moments. And often times the most important parts of motherhood pass us by because we’re focused on the wrong parts. So don’t miss the sweetness because you’re searching for perfection. After eight years of having littles, I believe the perfection of children is in the imperfection.
The ability to enjoy motherhood—to find joy in chaos—is found when the chaos reminds you that you have THEM. And by them, I’m not speaking of the illusion of what we once thought having kids was. No. I’m speaking of the real enjoyment that comes when you can stop and see the utter sweetness of the inescapable mess you and I now know it is. Was. And always will be.