Traditionally, mothers are depicted as serene, selfless women whose personal needs are minimal at best. These archetypal mothers can be found serving hot meals timed precisely with the arrival of Father home from work, happily joining their children in whatever activity they choose, and never raising their voices in frustration or annoyance. They have never wanted anything more than to be a mother, and hence, they find few things that are objectionable about their daily existence. They are fulfilled, always grateful, and perfectly content.
We can be either traditional or non-traditional with the way we do things, and I think there is a place in the world for both. Motherhood is no exception. If you have ever visited my blog before, I think you know that I fall into the “non-traditional” category.
When I started this blog, it was to give myself an outlet for working through some of my feelings about the parts of motherhood that challenged me, as well as to connect with others who shared these ambivalent feelings. I endeavored to bring to light darker aspects of motherhood, and to tell the truth about the realities of parenthood- all of it.
Last week I had my first article up at The Huffington Post. I’d published it originally on my own blog last year, and the title was 5 Things I’d Like to Tell My Childless Friends, But Won’t. HuffPost changed the title to the somewhat more provocative “5 Things I Really Want People With No Kids to Know.” (I get it- whatever sells.) The upshot of this piece is that I think it’s condescending and pointless to tell people without kids what they should be savoring about their child-free experience. Then I go and do just that- in a somewhat cheeky way, listing the things that I wished I’d cherished more before having kids. You can read the article here, if you want. It went sort of viral, and I got primarily positive comments on the post itself. But The HuffPost Parents Facebook page was another story. Here is a sampling of some of the gems spewed in my general direction:
- I feel sorry for her children.
- Obviously she shouldn’t have had kids.
- I never have those problems with my kids, and I would never say such things about them. My children are the light of my life.
- I get so tired of people complaining about their kids
- This article was condescending to childless people.
- Parents should know it will be hard before they start.
I won’t debate whether the offended readers missed the point- that’s defensive-sounding and obnoxious. But here’s the thing- a rational person would clearly not jump to the conclusion that a mother doesn’t love her kids simply because she doesn’t enjoy bringing them to the grocery store. And more importantly- what kind of person says “obviously she shouldn’t have had kids” about a complete stranger? Simply because I confessed I don’t enjoy dinnertime or errand-running with my children? Does such a remark make one feel better about oneself? Apparently. There were even more negative comments from people without children. (Which begs the question- why exactly are all these people subscribing to HuffPost Parents? Whatever.)
There are always a few people who read my posts about the not-so-fun parts of parenthood and remind me that not everyone is childless by choice. They intimate that I’m not sympathetic enough to those people, and that I’m not considering their feelings. In a way, they’re right- I’m not thinking about the perspective of the woman who desperately wants to have children and can’t when I write about another sleepless night. But if you are questioning whether I am sympathetic to those who are coping with infertility- believe me, I am. I have never experienced it, but after each of my three pregnancy losses, I have known what it means to want something– a baby– so desperately that you think you’ll never be happy until you have it. I understand that longing. I empathize. I respect it.
But I need to make this clear: If you are dealing with infertility or other factors that interfere with your ability to have a family- this blog is not for you. Do I have compassion for those who are trying to have children and cannot? Absolutely. But I am not writing for you.
Here’s an example: Do you ever complain about your job? Maybe your boss is unreasonable, your co-workers are obnoxious, the benefits packages sucks, or you are simply overworked. Don’t you think there’s an unemployed person out there who would give anything to have your crappy job? Don’t watch “The Office” and then whine about how disrespectful the show is to unemployed people. Turn the show off.
Let’s take it a step further- I don’t spend time trolling vacation planning blogs that exist to find the most decadent resorts in the Caribbean, and then complain to them that they are disregarding those of us who can only afford to vacation in South Da-fuckin-kota. Or email Fitness magazine condemning them for not considering mothers who don’t have time to exercise.
One cannot write to please every reader, nor should every blog be generalized enough to appeal to the masses. Even as a parenting blog, I do not write for every single mother in the world. This is who my blog is for:
- The mother who is panicking because she feels selfish and worries that motherhood is not coming naturally.
- The mother who feels guilty about not enjoying all her time with her kids.
- The tired but happy parents who want to commiserate over the absurdity of their daily lives with kids, and find the humor in these moments.
- The woman who wants to know that somebody else spends a ridiculous amount of time talking about poop and obsessing about sleep.
- The isolated mother who feels she shouldn’t talk about her negative feelings; after all, she tried for years to have children and experienced numerous pregnancy losses. Shouldn’t she be more grateful? I’m a voice for those mothers.
In Praise of Complaining
As for the negative comments, allow me to beat you to the punch: Clearly, I should stop complaining and be more grateful. “People are tired of parents complaining about life with kids.” Fair enough. But we all complain about something, whether it is that unreasonable boss or inflexible work hours, or our mother-in-law, or our own physique. Do you ever complain about being a tad overweight? What if while you were griping to a friend about it, she pointed out that there’s a hospitalized woman battling cancer who would be thrilled to be packing ten extra pounds rather than failing to keep any food down. Must we be continually shamed for not keeping things in perspective?
There is certainly a point at which one’s whining becomes obnoxious and overbearing, but venting about our challenges is how people connect with one another. Yes, we are happy to be employed, even if our boss sucks. Yes, we are happy to be healthy, even if our thighs are too fat. Yes, we are grateful for our children. In fact, we love them so much it causes our hearts to ache. We would kill or die for our children. But there should be safe places for people to air their gripes- whether it is a post-work Happy Hour with your co-workers, a parenting blog, an infertility message board, or a family reunion. And if you are one of those rare persons who never, ever has a negative word to say about anything, why on Earth would you reject your holier-than-thou values to sling mud at a stranger on the Internet? Shame on you.
It’s almost as though any light-hearted tale of parenting woe must come with the disclaimer: “Yes, I’m telling you about this terrible day I had at home with my kids, but I want you to know I love them more than anything! I’m grateful for them!” In fact, though I may share parenting horror stories, I begin and end every day with a gratitude meditation. The first thing I say is, “Thank you for my healthy children.”
And for the couple who has been trying unsuccessfully to have children, here is what I have to say to you: Someday, I hope you have a family, whether that happens via fertility treatments, adoption, or a natural miracle. And when you do, someday you may be exhausted. You may feel like you are the worst mother ever. You may resent the constant screaming of your colicky infant, or feel helpless when your toddler is having a public meltdown. You may feel like you have no idea what you’re doing. And should that happen– come find me. I will be here for you. Because that is what I am doing here- I am trying to reach out to other families who may be conflicted, confused, or speechless about all the unexpected aspects of parenthood.
I am trying to bring light to the absurd, humiliating, frustrating, and even dark moments of motherhood. When people feel the need to spew their judgment in the form of chastising blog post comments, they widen the chasm between women– childless women and mothers alike. When people throw stones at mothers who are expressing their truth- whether it be they failed to instantly bond with their baby or simply they hate playing dolls with their kids- they perpetuate the epidemic that causes parents to strive for unattainable perfection. That is hateful.
Roll Your Eyes and Move On
A few years ago I posted on Facebook that I was on my way to hear Barack Obama speak. Several of my Republican friends/family members commented with, “I can’t imagine being excited to hear him,” and other unpleasant remarks about the President. I replied crisply with, “If you don’t like something, don’t “like” it. No need to comment.” When I read a friend’s political post that I disagree with, I roll my eyes and move on. I am uncomfortable with confrontation, not to mention the fact that is seems to be a waste of my time- it’s hardly likely that my reply will cause an acquaintance to overhaul their personal or political beliefs.
It makes me wonder why people don’t employ this strategy when they read articles they don’t care for, particularly ones of which they are not the intended audience. Tired of “5 Things…” parenting lists? Don’t read them. Roll your eyes and move on, or, in the words of Whoa! Susannah, fellow blogger and mean comment recipient, “Don’t Vex- Click the X.” Perhaps STFU, Parents is more up your alley.
Perhaps the people who leave critical, mean comments on your blog post feel that they are helping to elicit real change. Or maybe they’re just assholes with too much time on their hands, looking for a quick fix to inflate their pathetic egos. Either way, there seems to be no point in responding to these aptly named trolls. Just as their ignorant words are not going to cause me to have an epiphany that results in never uttering a negative word about parenthood, nothing I can say will convince them that they are the cruel ones. It’s true that these comments come with the territory. It’s true that I need to work on thickening up my skin. So instead of analyzing any glimmer of truth in these nasty comments, I will simply roll my eyes and move on.
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