I’ve always approached motherhood with a can-do attitude. Raising tiny humans is challenging, sure, but it’s a challenge we willingly signed up for, right? No one ever says, “I’m so excited to be a parent because it’s gonna be a cake walk!” At least no one you’d ever speak to again. I wanted to be able to take the tough stuff in stride. I didn’t want to let myself be constantly frazzled by it all. I felt that the people who whined about the banalities of motherhood were a little, well, whiny. So, I railed against the culture of complaining. I can handle this! It’s not that hard! And if it is, I’m not gonna dwell on it!
For years after having my first two kids, I projected only positivity about the parenting experience — in my writing, in my real life, and, most importantly, in my head. I generally and genuinely saw the sippy cup as half full. Sure, there were sleepless nights and crying jags and temper tantrums at too many grocery store checkout lines to count — and no I did not cherish every moment (still don’t) — but none of it was out of left field. It was pretty much what I expected when I was expecting.
I’m also just programmed to suck it up, particularly when “it” refers to my healthy, happy kids. I know so many people struggling to have children or whose children have serious medical issues, how could I possibly complain? Plus, I’m a cancer survivor and I know I’m lucky to have these kids at all. I was diagnosed with a chronic form of leukemia when I was 23 and didn’t know if I’d live to see 30, let alone have a family. But here I am: 39 years old and, though I still take my life-saving cancer meds every day, I remain in a deep remission and am otherwise super healthy. So, yeah, I’m acutely aware that there are a lot of people having way worse days than me.
I’m a cancer survivor — I know I’m damn lucky to have these kids at all.
But then I had my third child. To say her arrival put me over the edge is an understatement. From middle-of-the-night meltdowns (hers and mine), to trying to eat the dishwasher pellets, to near-constant whimpering and whining, she was definitely our hardest. Meanwhile, I still had two other kids who needed to be fed and clothed and driven to soccer practice (with both cleats!)—and who weren’t exactly quiet about wanting my attention. There weren’t enough deep breaths in the world to get me through the day without raising my voice, which I hate doing. I did not always handle it well. My husband, who was also going through a major career change at the time, didn’t always handle it well. It was during that time when the voice in my head stopped saying “Eh, tomorrow will be better,” or “Hey, it’ll make for a funny blog post!” and started saying a lot of F words.
When my third was around 10 months old I took the kids away for the weekend with my sisters and my mother—the three women whose opinion of my mothering matters most. I wanted so badly to show them that I could keep it all together. Check me out! I can handle three kids and make watermelon margaritas for us! Instead I got the best gift they could have given me. After experiencing my third in action each of them had a revelation on my behalf that boiled down to this: “Holy s**t, Erin, she is tough… Now we know why you take so long to respond to our texts!” Their validation was just the push I needed to turn the lightbulb all the way up. I was finally able to admit to myself, and to anyone who would listen, that parenting IS HARD. (Duh! I know!) And that it’s OK to say it. Sometimes now, when no is around, I’ll even say it out loud: “Whoa, this is f***ing intense.” It’s freeing, actually — and helpful.
“I always tell clients, grieve it and it shall pass,” says Suzi Lula, a parenting educator and author of “The Motherhood Evolution: How Thriving Mothers Raise Thriving Children.” “If you feel overwhelmed, don’t push it away — telling yourself you shouldn’t feel that way just creates a big elephant in the room.” In other words, the feelings will fester and you’ll wind up taking it out on your partner or your coworker or that f***g Lego you just stepped on.
Have I become a complainer? No way. There’s a difference between wallowing in something negative and simply acknowledging it. When friends are having a bad day or dealing with a particularly tricky issue, I’m the first one to say, “Yeah, some of this parenting stuff sucks.” Because sometimes just admitting that the wheels are coming off the bus helps to get them back on.
Sometimes just admitting that the wheels are coming off the bus helps to get them back on.
It’s true some kids are easier than others. Some days are easier than others. Some circumstances make things harder for a period of time, or for a particular kid or parent. What’s challenging for me may not be for another mom and vice versa, because every kid is different. But the bottom line is, no matter how many kids you have, feeling overwhelmed by parenting is OK. It doesn’t make you less of a mom. It doesn’t mean you can’t hack it. It doesn’t make the sweet moments any less so and it certainly doesn’t mean you aren’t incredibly grateful for your family (and, by the way, you don’t have to preface your vent with “I love my kids, but…”). It just makes you normal and more relatable to other parents — a win-win if you ask me. As moms we have to be more compassionate towards each other and ourselves.
Have things gotten easier now that my third is nearly four years old and no longer wanting to sit on my lap when I pee? Yes. We are completely back from the edge she put us over and she’s now my most easy-going kid (funny how that can happen). But I’ll never again feel the need to suck up something that’s getting me down because I think I should be able to handle it. I still see the sippy cup as half full, because it is. But if I’m being completely honest, most days that sippy cup is rolling around the backseat of my car, half full of old milk that’s probably turning into cottage cheese as we speak.