Greetings! My apologies, as this post is more like an “update” than a blog post; I promise that if you’ll bear with me, I’ll be back to my regular style of posts in no time! But this past month has been a whirlwind. The #SoGladTheyToldMe social media movement has had a big last few weeks. We’ve seen hundreds of photos of women holding their signs, international websites have featured their own stories, and it’s even been on the news! You can peruse the photo gallery and see all the media updates here.
Then last week, one of my biggest writing goals came to fruition, and I was published on Brain, Child Magazine’s blog as part of the sibling series. To my great astonishment, I am featured there for a second time today as one of two posts in a Perspectives feature. The topic is whether or not motherhood came easily to you. The two viewpoints are “Motherhood Completed Me,” and “Motherhood Complicated Me.” Guess which side I wrote? Go ahead, take a wild guess. I’ll wait.
I’ll be honest with you: Writing this post was extremely difficult for me. As much as I believe it’s normal to be ambivalent about motherhood, I am still seized with an almost painful urge to tack on the following disclaimer whenever I write anything that might be remotely construed as “negative.” Of course I love my kids more than anything.
And I think that this is a big problem. I also think it’s why the #SoGladTheyToldMe campaign has gotten so much momentum. Women are ready to talk about this stuff, and we also want to let ourselves off the hook. Experiencing ambivalence about motherhood is OK. It does not make you a bad mother.
So why does it feel like it does? My friend Sarah at Left Brain Buddha wrote an amazing post about maternal ambivalence. She points out that many people are unclear on the definition of the word—it does not mean indifference. To be ambivalent is to experience two different emotions that appear to be in direct conflict, and nothing brings that out more than motherhood. I love this. I hate this. I want to eat you up I love you so much! Oh my God, please leave me alone!
Some people may interpret maternal ambivalence as experiencing regret that you became a mother, that perhaps you might wonder if you made the wrong choice. I don’t interpret it that way. For me, I experience maternal ambivalence on the regular, but not once have I ever truly wished I had chosen a different path. Not when I’d like to be reading my novel but instead I’m cleaning up vomit. Not when I’m trying to work and my kids are batting a balloon in my freaking face. Not even when my precious, child-free getaway is cut a day short. I am frustrated, resentful, angry, even, all the while loving my children. I do not regret having become a mother.
And yet I’ve already read several responses to the dual perspectives article on Brain, Child, from mothers, confirming that they too feel complicated by motherhood, and yet they wouldn’t have it any other way. They were never sorry they had kids. It seems that I’m not the only one who feels compelled to add that disclaimer to every conversation about motherhood. It’s almost like a nervous tic, a superstitious talisman against misfortune, a benediction of sorts.
I’ve wanted to reply, at the top of my lungs: “Me either! I’m not sorry I had kids either!” I don’t believe that experiencing conflicting emotions or complications—in a word, ambivalence—means that you regret parenthood. And yet I experience a distasteful cocktail of guilt and defensiveness even as I type the words. As Sarah Rudell Beach writes in her post about maternal ambivalence, we need to change the cultural attitude about this unique type of ambivalence. We need to accept it, to normalize it, rather than to stigmatize the experience and turn it into something to be afraid of or ashamed of.
As the co-author of this article and I wrote back and forth, we found that in many ways we were more similar than different. We both felt irritation at our children’s presence or behavior. We both wanted a break and time to focus on ourselves and our careers. Neither of us “loves every minute.” In the end, we realized that one of our primary differences was that I experience a great deal of guilt over these feelings, and she is less conflicted. It came down to guilt and identity, essentially.
After all this yammering on, I’d be downright delighted if you’d read the full post. Here’s an excerpt:
Guilt is a typical bedfellow of maternal ambivalence, and I experience it in spades. Tiptoeing into their rooms at night to watch them sleep, I am flooded with ferocious and desperate affection. I repeat mantras of thanks to my nebulous divine power: I am so grateful for them, I can’t live without them, please just keep them safe. And yet I then collapse on the couch in relief to enjoy what is admittedly my favorite part of the day. My shameful secret is that I prefer to enjoy my children in small doses, on my own terms. Much of the time motherhood just doesn’t come easily to me.
You can read the rest of the article here.
And speaking of, I had an article up at Huffington Post last week, titled New Moms Need Support, Not Advice, to complement the #sogladtheytoldme campaign. Here’s a little taste of that as well:
Advice. I’ll admit it, it’s not my favorite thing to receive as a mom. It generally comes across as smug, self-important, or even malicious, tainted with a twinge of You’re going to suffer, and I’m going to love every minute of it! New and expectant mothers are generally presented with two contrasting schools of thought when given unsolicited advice from strangers, fellow parents, and family members who have been there: “Enjoy every minute,” and its polar opposite, “Just you wait…”
Doesn’t it go by so fast?
You think this is hard? Just wait until potty training!
These days are so precious. Savor every one.
Two girls? Just wait until they’re teenagers! You’re screwed!
I mean, really. This is so magical. Don’t forget to be grateful for each blueberry-speckled bowel movement.
You think this is stressful? Wait until they have kids! You NEVER STOP WORRYING!!!
Thanks, assclowns. These gems suck equally. First off, no pregnant woman appreciates hearing the horror story of a veteran mother. “Oh, you’re six months pregnant? Just wait until you deliver. I was in labor for four whole days and pushed for seventeen hours and then I was rushed into an emergency C-section. And then my baby had colic. And reflux. Oh, and gas. And did I mention he grew up to be a sociopath? Probably because of the birth trauma.”
Fast forward three years, and you’re standing in line at the bank with a sticky, screaming toddler and a new baby who wants your boob STAT. An elderly woman beams at you, sighing with nostalgia. “I had five children. And I have to tell you: I loved every second of it. Every. Single. Second. Don’t forget to enjoy every minute! It goes by so fast.”
Is there no middle ground? Pregnant women and moms of young children don’t need to have the crap scared out of them, nor do they need sunshine blown up their elastic-waisted pants. They need support. They need reality. They need “Me, too!” and “You’re not alone!” They need to hear that if motherhood happens to be sucking royally for them, that it’s not their fault and they’re not bad moms. The kind of advice new moms need is the kind that doesn’t judge, make assumptions, or turn motherhood into a competitive sport. The kind of advice that isn’t really advice.
Read more here.
**So today, Tuesday, February 17th, is a big social media blitz to celebrate the past exciting month of the #SoGladTheyToldMe campaign. If you haven’t made a photo of your own yet, I invite (dare!) you to do so and to share it all over this week on social media, using the hashtag. Change your profile picture on Facebook to make a bigger splash! And if you’re on Twitter, join us for a Twitter party tonight at 9 PM EST! The HerStories Project is unveiling our next anthology topic during the party!
If you can’t make it, don’t worry: Share your photos anytime this week; we’d love to see them! And stop by The HerStories Project later this week to find out about our next call for submissions!
And did I say “thank you” yet for all your support this past month? Thank you. From the bottom of my heart.
Let’s connect! You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!
Keep up with all my latest posts right here!
I think this is true. I can’t write anything ambivalent about motherhood without having the urge to add how much I love my kids or how glad I am that I had them. And I HATE that urge! Because I shouldn’t have to state that for it to be known! OF COURSE I love my children, and OF COURSE they drive me up the frickin wall!
You’re the coolest. I’m so excited to be able to watch all the fun events going on in your life in recent months. The only thing that would make it cooler would be if you were here in Salt Lake to go to the blogging conference this weekend with me and Meredith Ethington! Feel like making the trip?
This was a wonderful read Steph! I loved this part “The kind of advice new moms need is the kind that doesn’t judge, make assumptions, or turn motherhood into a competitive sport. The kind of advice that isn’t really advice.” You are so right about “Me too” and “You’re not alone”. When I gave birth to my first daughter, a friend of mine came for a visit telling me stories about how hard her labor and her friends’ labor were which is totally off and not encouraging. What we’d really appreciate is support and genuine help like an offer to wash dishes and the likes which a mother does when she’s herself again after birth.
Congratulations Stephanie! So many exciting things to celebrate. SO happy for you. Off to read Brian Child….
You’ve done a wonderful thing! I’m sorry I’ve just been so caught up with my personal stuff that this is the first time I’m commenting..I haven’t even read your original article! I’m so glad you started this movement! 🙂