Motherhood is many things, but is it easy to enjoy? If I was hooked up to a lie detector test and asked that same question, I am not sure I would pass if I answered yes. And I’m not sure my friends would either.
This isn’t what I envisioned…
Case in point. Last night I had three of my four sons crying in unison. They were highly distressed hearing they needed to eat three bites of their bacon chicken dinner. Because that’s the type of mom I am. The kind 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 to avoid that very situation. And yet, I still had TEARS. Go figure.
And if you were spying on us, you would have thought I was trying to feed them dog poop. Maybe that may have gone over better, given it would have invited potty talk at the dinner table. And you would have thought this because the dinner meltdowns were real last night.
So real I wanted to flee the scene. 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.
Isn’t this fun?
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 would have laughed then promptly said: “No, but if you’re trying to scare me away from motherhood, I know better. If this were 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 believe our pre-kid expectations of what motherhood should and should not look like set us up to be stressed-out parents in the present. More so than the actual stress that comes with those moments.
Are you enjoying motherhood?
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, most women form their view of motherhood and what a good mother is long before they become mothers. It seems we collect our evidence and make observations of mothers we do not want to be like while standing in grocery store lines. 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 watching a cute mom at a restaurant with all her little ducklings sitting perfectly through a meal. And we think, “One day, I want that!”
Your judgments are based on only what you see.
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 with her kids about their rowdy behavior. She 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 expectations.
Sound crazy? Maybe. But true?! I think yes. And it certainly seems ironic that we let our definition of motherhood be formed before we’re even mothers. I wouldn’t feel comfortable 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 a mother? That is just silly. That way of thinking makes us feel like we’re not doing it right, which steals our joy as mothers. And that’s more than just silly. That’s sad.
My secret for enjoying motherhood.
So I want to share my secret for learning to enjoy motherhood with you. It has allowed me to find some 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. 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 is 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 we believe motherhood shouldn’t be messy. 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, we will get it all figured out one day. And by figured out, I mean we will make parenting all perfect. 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.
Learning to embrace the imperfect.
Children are a mix of sweet and sour because they aren’t fully grown. So even the best of parents will have a mix of sweet and sour moments. Sweet, as in, your infant decides to take an extra-long nap and gives 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 to 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 if 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 mean enjoying a toddler throwing a tantrum. Because no one enjoys that. (Don’t tell me if you do.) Enjoying motherhood means having the ability to keep the temper in perspective and move through it with ease. It’s knowing that to go through ages two to three, even supermom can’t escape a tantrum. So letting your day be ruined, or even your next 30 minutes is a waste of your time and energy. It’s the difference between 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.
Finding joy in the chaos.
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. 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. Often, 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 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.