Six years into parenting and I have come to a conclusion: motherhood is harder than I thought.
When I was about 10, I remember my parents calling my sister and me in for a “family meeting.”
We had these, occasionally. They meant we needed a little course correction as a group.
We’d gather in the formal living room – not the tv room. We sat in the fancy chairs with the high backs. This indicated that business was about to take place.
These meetings, despite the fact that they were designed for seriousness, weren’t particularly stressful for me. In fact, I think I was annoyed by them.
They would go something like this:
“You kids need to do more to help out around the house. You have to take more responsibility for your own things, it shouldn’t be mom who is always cleaning up.”
I would feel persecuted in these accusations.
Why did I need to do more around the house?? Wasn’t that mom’s job to keep everything clean and running?
I was in school, after all, and I excelled in school. As a child I legitimately thought of that as my job.
The only problem was, I thought of that as my only job, and I thought of everything else as my mom’s job.
My sister and I had some chores, and we weren’t slobs. But still. It didn’t really register for me that the house was truly anyone’s responsibility other than my mother’s.
My dad worked outside the home, and even as a child I had a clear sense of that being purposeful and legitimate work.
My mom had left her job as a teacher shortly after my sister was born to be a stay-at-home mother.
What she did all day was less clear to me.
I knew that my mother did the shopping, cooking, ironing (yes, ironing – as a mother now myself I don’t think I’ve ever used an iron).
She paid all of the bills and volunteered at our school and made and sold crafts at local fairs.
She did all of the drop-offs and pickups and she often had our friends over after school. She went to our practices. She scheduled all of the doctor’s appointments and dentist appointments and she took us for our haircuts.
She was home with us when we were sick. She sent out the RSVPs and she put together the family photo albums.
It was an old-fashioned family dynamic by today’s standards.
And I took it entirely for granted.
None of this struck me as work for my mom.
It turns out that motherhood is harder than I thought.
Much harder, in fact.
Because my own mother made it look so effortless (at least to my childish eyes) I assumed that it was, well, effortless for her.
My father did a lot around our house too (he always did the dishes by hand, every night, and he did all of the outdoor yard work in addition to coaching our soccer teams, working full time, etc.)
I wasn’t a jerky kid. I was a clueless one, in the way that a lot of kids are.
Clueless in the way my own young kids are.
I simply did not see what was in plain site, which were parents who were working very very hard to run a smooth ship at home.
As a mother to 3 young children of my own, of course now I get it.
Parenting is much more grinding in the day to day of it than I ever perceived.
The direct child care tasks are hard, of course. I had no clue how irritating small children can be, or how grating it can be on a parent’s nerves when their child JUST. WON’T. COOPERATE.
I didn’t know that bedtime routines, which were cozy to me as a kid, could feel like an exertion for a mother at the end of a long day.
I didn’t think of baths as a chore that needed to be done (of course I didn’t! I was the one splashing around while my mom was the one cleaning up the water!)
I thought my mom liked to cook, so I didn’t see that as a chore, either.
But it’s more than that.
It’s the worry about how your kid is going to turn out. It’s the anxiety wondering if they’re making friends at school, and if they’re hitting all of their milestones.
I don’t have teens yet, but I can only imagine the difficulty of navigating that terrain.
And beyond the worry it’s the hundreds of details that go into running a home.
Strangely, I’ve discovered that kids don’t, in fact, feed themselves.
The dinner menu for the week doesn’t materialize out of thin air. The ingredients aren’t magically on hand.
As a kid I also remember asking my mom every morning “what for dinner??”
(I loved dinner. At least I was an enthusiastic eater. I would pay good money to have an enthusiastic eater on my hands right now).
Anyway I recall some days my mom looking annoyed at my question. “I don’t know yet, Liz. It’s only 7:30.”
She looked kind of tired of the whole thing, even though she was a great cook.
I mistook her aptitude for the task with a passion for the task. Of course there is a difference.
When I pictured myself having 3 kids – I always wanted a bigger family – I pictured it in some sort of hazy dream sequence.
Kids piled into the back of a car!
Kids cozied up on the couch in their jammies!
Kids Kids Kids! The more the merrier!
My family grew up next door to a family with 3 kids. We were basically co-raised, the 5 of us kids. They had two boys and a girl and I thought it looked like a blast. An easy blast!
Just this past year I had a discussion with the parents of those now grown kids.
“Why didn’t you tell me this was hard! You made 3 kids look easy.”
They both laughed.
“Oh, it was really hard.”
And there you have it. It was really hard! Who knew.
The thing is, in a well run home it’s easy for kids to take for granted the effort that goes into things.
If the laundry gets done and the dishes get cleaned and the food is always in the refrigerator, it appears to a child as a backdrop to their life – a backdrop that is just sort of there. Like it materialized from thin air.
I think it comes down to this: we don’t know until we know.
We dive into our parenting journey with a heart full of love for our children and the hope of creating a happy home.
It often seems like there is no way that we can possibly get it all done, yet somehow we manage.
Many of us will get this happy home, and the love we have for our children will surprise us again and again with the depth and texture of it.
But it is hard. This is the part we don’t really know, except in the vaguest of ways.
Except in the peripheral way that we understand things we haven’t experienced.
That’s probably for the best. If we knew how exhausting the whole enterprise of raising a family could be – well, we might scare ourselves off.
And even now that I know how hard motherhood is, I would still choose it again.
Not every minute of it, let’s not be crazy.
But the whole of it.
If you find parenthood more exhausting than you thought – you’re not alone.
Someday our own children will recognize the efforts we’re making. Not today, probably.
I wish I had recognized the exertion it takes to be a parent. I wish I could have had this discussion with my mom before she passed away.
I would want her to know that I see, now, the work that she put into our family. I know that it was real work – that the life we had didn’t build itself.
And I want all of us parents to remember that whether we work in or out of our homes, the efforts we are making are enormous.
Sure, it takes a village.
But make no mistake – it also takes a parent who is working really, really hard.
Even if their kids haven’t noticed.
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