“I’m going to say something now and you’ll think I’m terrible: I hate being a stay-at-home mom.”
It’s not the first time either of us have heard these, or similar, words spoken. They are always said in a cloud of shame and fear—a quiet desperation. It takes courage to say this out loud to another human being.
There is risk involved after all. The risk? Judgement. A fear, to use her own words, that she’d be judged as a terrible person. A fear that she might be seen as a bad parent, an “abnormal” mother. Because this is how mothers often judge themselves, and each other.
These words often remain in a woman’s head for years, festering along with feelings of guilt, shame, loneliness and fear. Fear that not loving parenting must somehow mean not really loving her children.
Does any of this feel familiar?
Where do these feelings come from?
We’re not really “allowed” to hate parenting are we? Most mothers never hear anyone else saying what therapists are privileged to hear in the safe quiet space of therapy. Even women who have close friends who are mothers too. Even moms who have good moms themselves.
Feeling unfulfilled in the job of full-time (or also part-time) mother seems to be one of our society’s last remaining taboos.
We are not saying that every stay-at-home mother hates being a mother. We are saying that most mothers have times where they hate mothering, and some mothers struggle with it most of the time.
Sometimes being a mother sucks. It just does.
It often seems that women are expected to “take to motherhood,” to have the maternal instinct “kick in,” to hear the biological clock clang, to know instinctively how to rear children. And—here’s the kicker—to enjoy letting go of life as we knew it to rear those children.
Women are socialized from childhood to understand that all of this childbearing and rearing business is at the core of being feminine, being attractive, being worthy. More women than men are depicted as the primary and “responsible” parent in children’s books, stories and advertising. As we age we see it continue in magazines, parenting websites, the list goes on.
As adults, childless (you may prefer child-free) women are often either pitied or frowned upon. So, it’s understandable then that it can destroy a woman’s self-esteem to discover that she doesn’t enjoy being a full-time parent, or even a part-time parent. Because suddenly (maybe gradually) she feels pain instead of the promised/assumed fulfillment. It’s quite a let down. A bitter pill to those expecting sugary loved up bundles of cute fluffiness.
And there’s no going back.
The simple truth is that not every woman enjoys full-time mothering. And it can be experienced as quite traumatic when that realisation hits.
Staying at home to care for children full-time is a significant change of lifestyle for more women now than ever before. For some, it is because they have already started or established a career before deciding to have children. Staying at home full-time is a choice influenced by many factors: what your own mother did (or didn’t do), some popular parenting mentors, employment status and even peer pressure (it’s what your friends have chosen!).
Modern motherhood and womanhood is the focus of much research. Some women feel it’s better for the child or children to be reared by their mother in the home. Some women make that choice because they believe their partner’s career is more important than theirs. Or maybe their partner simply makes more money and has better health benefits. Some women still believe that men are incapable of being primary care-givers. The reasons are endless, some valid, some not.
Whatever the reason behind the choice, it is vital that mothers learn to place a greater value on themselves and on their work as a full-time parent. Because it is work!
This includes acknowledging and valuing feelings of loss or rage or anger or boredom—all normal feelings after making any type of major lifestyle change.
It is crucial to know that loving one’s children does not necessarily mean that you will love parenting them. So while full-time parenting is rewarding and joyful for some women, it feels like loss for others.
What types of loss are commonly associated with full-time mothering?
* Loss of a feeling of being an individual, of one’s identity
* Loss of status in the workplace.
* Loss of earnings
* Loss of contact with adults and the vital stimulation that that offers
* Loss of energy
* Loss of sex drive, intimacy and time to connect with, or even find a partner.
* Loss of support, laughter, feedback, recognition and acknowledgement.
The feelings of loss can be like a slow-burning fire, one that might be only barely noticeable but gradually, over time, some women start feeling depressed or anxious and are not quite sure why… There may be no conscious awareness of what has been lost, the basic needs that are no longer being met.
Many mothers who don’t enjoy mothering, be it periodically or most of the time, have niggling thoughts lurking in the back of their minds. They go something like this:
“Am I a good enough mother?”
“What’s wrong with me? I’m so weird.”
“I must have a hormonal imbalance.”
“I’m not a real woman.”
“Some women can’t have children! I should be grateful.”
“My mother managed fine, my friend manages fine, everyone in the whole entire world is coping except me.”
(Newsflash: they’re not.)
What can you do if you (or someone you know) feels this way?
1. Firstly, avoid the temptation to rush in with the labels “depression” or “post-natal depression.” Despite how miserable she sounds, a woman who speaks like this is not necessarily clinically depressed. In fact, she is reacting normally to what is, for her, an abnormal situation.
A skilled therapist or psychologist will know the difference between these normal struggles and clinical depression. If you remain concerned after reading this, we suggest you source someone nearby for extra support.
2. Share how you feel with someone. This could be a friend or even a stranger online. Discover how other people feel. It’s always a relief to know that you’re not the only one, isn’t it? So read through or add to comment threads on social media. Find a way to get it out of your head. Maybe even find some humor in your darker hours.
3. Figure out what you’ve lost and how best to meet your needs while being a mom. This piece might help. Finding ways to meet your needs is a sign of good mental health, and of good parenting.
4. Remember that nothing is permanent. Kids have this habit of growing up.
5. Stop judging and telling yourself that you need to pretend. We all need support, we all need to know that we are normal. And we can’t have that if we all continue to trot around pretending everything is always fine because that’s just not being human.
And we are all human!
Author: Sally O’Reilly & Tanya Tinney
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/Monicaa Saporta