I was sitting at a church activity the other night, listening to some teenage girls tell each other they would never, ever get married and have children. Once you do that, you see, your life is over.
“Oh yes,” I said. “I don’t do anything. I have no life anymore.” It was a lame joke, and we all moved on. But what I didn’t tell them was that I said those exact words when I was their age. There was no way I was ever going to saddle myself with the burdens and responsibilities of married life and children. Gross!
Obviously, I changed my mind somewhere along the way.
But listening to those girls say the same things I used to believe got me wondering: Why do they feel that way? Why did I feel that way?
I don’t think I know for sure, but I think it’s a mixture of a whole bunch of messages that get put into our brains by society. And then I think we internalize those messages and speak of them as if they’re a reality. This is not an exhaustive list, but take a gander at just a few things we sort of believe about motherhood:
Motherhood turns you into a fat slob
I’m rolling my eyes over here.
But when I was a teenager, the only body messages I heard were that babies give you stretch marks and extra pounds. I heard that children give you gray hair and wrinkles. I heard that there was no room in the family budget for new clothes for Mom. (There may have been positive body message swirling around me, but that’s all I ever picked up.) I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being heavier after a baby or not staying up on the latest trends. I’m just saying that if I were a teenage girl with a tight body and great fashion sense, why on earth would I want to enter motherhood when that’s the biggest motherhood body message out there?
Kids sap your energy
How often do you see a mother frazzled out of her freaking mind? How often have you been that mother? I know it happens to me a lot, and I know I let it show. If I were a teenage girl watching mother after mother look like she’s either going to spontaneously combust or abandon her children on the spot, I’d also be saying no thank you!
Husbands do nothing
Raise your hand if you’ve sat in on a discussion bemoaning this travesty. She can’t stay out too late on her girls’ night out because he won’t put the kids to bed. She can’t take a job because he ain’t gonna touch that childcare biznis. She has to cook and clean up because he doesn’t know his way around the kitchen. And darned if she’s going to “let” him figure that kitchen out because he’ll just do it wrong anyway. If I was a teenage girl hearing my future being one in which I have a husband about as useful as the family goldfish, I think I would also run for the hills!
What I’m trying to say is this:
We’re not really painting pictures of happiness in motherhood. And teenage girls notice. Motherhood is a dirty word for some (not all!) teenage girls. I know it was for me when I was 16.
The interesting thing is, since entering motherhood, I’ve “found” myself more than I ever had before.
I’ve discovered new passions, interests and talents
I thought I hated to write! That’s because I majored in Art History (useless, but interesting), and all my writing assignments were big research papers. Turns out, I just hate to write research papers. Once I became a mother, I started writing about my children and found I absolutely love to write. Not only does it fuel my creativity, I’ve also helped pay the bills with several writing jobs I’ve had over the years. I actually have a career that came about because of my children. I’m not saying I never would have figured this out about myself if I didn’t become a mother, but motherhood certainly brought that interest to the surface.
I’ve learned I love to teach, jog, cook, hike, sit in libraries, find hidden gems in cities, travel, celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and bake treats for the neighbors. I didn’t know I liked any of this until I had kids I wanted to start traditions with, until I started running a household, and until I looked for ways to enrich my children’s lives.
And I’m not done yet! I have plenty more interests and hobbies I can’t wait to try out.
I’m pretty sure my brain has grown
A doctor once told me he would write down his instructions for the feeding of my starving baby because he knows “mommy brain” is hard to deal with. I had the baby in my lap, but if I didn’t, I might have slapped that doctor in the face.
Yes, I regularly call my children by their siblings’ (or the cat’s) name, but don’t let that fool you. If anything, motherhood has made me smarter. I have to stay sharp to run my household, take care of my children, manage my work responsibilities and stay on top of my church responsibilities. I feel more power and strength coming from my brain now than when I was in college.
I’ve learned to be a kinder person
Ok. I once told my 3-year-old to “open the damn door,” and I once got my 7-year-old to behave by threatening to slap her in the street. But for the most part, all the time I spend taming my temper for the sake of my children has made me a nicer person. I’m still a work in progress, but I’m much more patient and willing to overlook faults than I was eight years ago.
Motherhood is just one of many vehicles to greatness
Could I have learned all of this without becoming a mother? Probably. It’s not like motherhood magically transformed me and gave me powers. But motherhood has taught me to be creative. Yes, I have to work with and around my children, but that only brings out other talents and creativity I didn’t know I had. Could I get that without motherhood? You betcha. But I also get it with motherhood. Get it? Motherhood hasn’t ruined me!
There are certainly seasons I would love to trade. The past eight months with a struggling, sick baby have been quite wretched. I gave my everything to that boy, and there was absolutely nothing left for me. And while that can sometimes happen for periods of time in motherhood, it isn’t the definition of motherhood. Plus, it’s not like motherhood is the only thing in life that’s going to give you a stressful season. That’s just life.
Motherhood hasn’t ended my life. It’s kind of where my life really began.
So back to those teenage girls. Why do they feel like motherhood is the end? Why did I feel that way 15 years ago? I wonder if it’s because the media and the women around me supported that picture. Yes, I saw successful mothers everywhere. But I also saw those same mothers complaining about their children and their husbands. I saw them sighing at how they were treated by their family, I saw them bemoaning their lack of free time, I saw them blaming their children for extra pounds and wrinkles. And then I saw the media telling me that’s what motherhood is. So I bought it — hook, line and sinker.
I wonder if we chose to put our best faces forward more often – if we chose to talk about the happy, to expose the success, to reveal our new talents — would we change that attitude? I’m not saying we should hide the hard things. Truth is truth, and motherhood is hard. But what if we switched things to 90% positive and 10% negative? What if we searched for the ways motherhood has enriched us, and then spoke openly about that?
In my own home, I speak openly about my interests and my work — even when my children’s eyes glaze over. I also tell them almost every day that being a mother truly makes me happy. I want them to see I can have happiness as their mom and as myself.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s not going to make a difference. But I’m going to try the 90%/10% rule. Will you try it with me?