Monday, April 27, 2009

Wow, this really IS what I wanted...

"If you had do it over again, would you have children?"

This is the question that was posed to readers in a famous Ann Landers article from the 1970's (check out the article here). The results were shocking. 70% of the readers responded NO.

What kind of a mother would ever have doubts about whether or not she should have had children? What kind of mother would think back to her pre-mommy days and miss them? What kind of mother would be jealous of her childless friends?

An honest mother.

Because I have done all of this at one time or another, and I know that most other moms out there have too--even if only for a second. Most of us just feel too guilty to admit it. We think that admitting any of these thoughts means that we don't really love our children...that we are not grateful for their existence. When really, admitting to any of these negative feelings has absolutely nothing to do with who our children are or how we feel about them, but has everything to do with us--who we are--and everything we are required to give up in order to be parents.

It has only been in recent years that women have started to open up more about motherhood and what it's "really like." It is almost as if it has been hidden beneath a veil of half-truths: "Parenting is the best thing that has ever happened to me." "My children are my life." "You don't know joy until you have a child." "It is so wonderful."

These are all true. But there is so much left unsaid.

I have had days when I have wanted to run away. Literally. (Fortunately, I am married to someone I like so damn much that I'd actually have to reveal my final destination to him so we can meet up.) I have cried. A lot. I have wondered why I ever got into this parenting thing, and whether I'm any good at it. I have mourned my old life. I am often so overwhelmed from the general noise, chaos, and chores required when raising two small children that I think I might have a complete and total breakdown.

But here's the thing:
I think if we were all to be more honest about parenting, about motherhood, about what it's really like...all the good AND the bad, then maybe we could all handle it a little bit better. If we knew more about what we were getting into, if we could turn to each other and cry/laugh/vent more honestly about how much it can suck sometimes, we would all be less frustrated, less frightened, less alone. Motherhood is not a competition. With very few exceptions, we are all doing The Best We Can. And if we can all admit that on the very best days, it's still work, then maybe we could start supporting each other a bit more. Then we could stop beating ourselves up for not feeling the way we're "supposed" to feel.

We took Ben to Sea World this weekend, and while we were sitting at the Shamu show, I was looking around and watching the families interact. I loved looking at the big screen replays of the moms, dads, and kids sitting in the front rows, laughing and squealing and being splashed by the killer whale. In that moment, the simplicity and joy of being a family was so evident. And I pictured us...the four of a few years when the boys are older, and we'd all be there, maybe huddling together in the splash zone too, and I felt so grateful to have them, to be a part of this family. I was almost taken aback by the certainty that came rushing at me at that moment that THIS is what I wanted. I am always startled by the moments that bring on this clarity. It always happens at the most unexpected, oddest times. I can never really explain why these slices of life trigger these feelings of parenting bliss and amazement, and to tell you the truth, I don't even care. I am mostly too relieved and ecstatic when these moments do happen to care that they are prompted by something as random as a whale show. Because within the doubts, complaints, frustrations, tears, and exhaustion that come with The Every Day, there is The Big Picture. What I Wanted My Life To Be. So when I can see myself, sitting there, content and happy, sure of my role as "Mama," I know that my answer to Ms. Landers' question would be a definite and certain yes.


  1. Your last paragraph had me in tears...I can relate to those moments when all of a sudden you're "looking in" to your husband, your kids, your family-as if an outsider-and you realize just how lucky you are to be part of it all.
    Thanks for sharing Liz!

  2. I recently read a book where the mother character without warning walked away from her family. The scary part was I could totally relate to that. There are times when all the responsibility, frantic scheduling, and everything else that goes with parenting is so overwhelming it catches you off guard, and you just want to walk away to find yourself or at least your sanity again. Luckily those feelings come few and far between. But you're right if it were somehow safe to admit to having the feelings, we'd be much better for each other.

  3. The first months of motherhood were very hard on me. I did not *like* it at all, even though I instantly bonded with my son and loved him like crazy.

    I think it's normal to have those days where you want to run away, where you hate life, where it all just sucks - and still want it anyway. I look at the crap I've been through, I think back to those days that seemed sooooo hard and excruciating, and wonder about the rough stuff that lies ahead - and yet I want it all. I would go through it all again, I will go through whatever lies ahead, just to know my son and be in his presence.

  4. Yes. Thank you for posting this. It is all so true. A friend of mine recently wrote to me that it DOES take a village. It takes friends and family to love everyone's children, so the mamas don't lose themselves in all of the work of being mothers. And yet, the villages are growing smaller and disappearing. I wonder what today's percentage would be to Ann Landers' question. I wonder if women would be as honest. There is so much pressure on mothers to do everything for their children. And it takes so much strength to get through each day. I agree with you that women should share more information with each other, especially with pre-moms and new moms. But Shamu and Little League sidelines and other, smaller, moments are why I love being a mother. Even though motherhood isn't exactly what I envisioned all the time!

  5. i still fall in the 70% unfortunately

  6. Heck yes, there are days I want to run away. But there is absolutely NO doubt that children have given my life meaning. If not for them, I'd just be another career-driven professional driving around in a BMW.

    No thanks. I love motherhood. And I'd take my grubby minivan with Cheerio-coated carpeting any day of the week and thrice on Sunday.

  7. Unfortunately, Ann Landers' survey is scientifically worthless. It's actually been used in academic textbooks as a way NOT to conduct a survey. A more scientific poll by Gallup found only 10% of parents would not have children if they could do it over again.


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