Yesterday, I spoke with a new mom who’s having a rough time. She’s at home with her 7 month old, breastfeeding, doing all the childcare, night parenting, and guilt-ridden for not feeling very happy. Naturally, she loves her son, grateful for the opportunity to be with him, but she feels trapped, lonely, and like every other mom is having more fun. Sometimes it’s so bad she gets into the shower at the end of the day and just cries. She’s crippled by sleep-deprivation, her husband works 12 hours a day, and doesn’t get how awful she feels. He gets to go to work, which is by far the easier job.
A few years ago, when my kids were 2 and 4, I ran into an old friend who I hadn’t seen in 10 years. He was divorced with no kids, and was so genuinely excited to hear all about my family. “Wow, you’re a Mom,” he said. “That’s amazing! What’s it like?”
My response was a shock, like a bucket of ice water thrown at my face. “I don’t like it at all,” I said, with far too much honesty.
His face fell. His jaw dropped. And I instantly knew I had made a terrible mistake. Moms aren’t allowed to feel this way, certainly not allowed to say it out loud.
I began dog-paddled backwards,“Of course I love my kids, and I wouldn’t change a thing, but…Diapers? Mopping up vomit? Bleeding nipples and breast pumps? Being awakened repeatedly through the night and at 5-6am daily for four consecutive years?”
No, the truth is that I like nothing about the actual job, yet I love my kids more than anything else in the world. So I do it anyway, even if I hate it sometimes.
If you’ve ever felt this way, I urge you to be honest with other moms. Write about it. Go on camera and tell the truth. Perhaps if we didn’t expect that mothering would be the most joyous time of our lives, we wouldn’t feel so blindsided and guilt-ridden.
If you're a parent, you probably have strong opinions about how babies and/or toddlers should sleep. You may even feel hostile about what other parents do to get their babies to sleep, if you think it's wrong. I wish I had shot this myself because it shows how judgmental and downright nasty some moms can be about sleep.
My strong opinion is that all of this is bulls#it, and there is no "right" or "wrong" way for families to sleep. As long as you and your kids are sleeping, there's no problem. But if your family is chronically sleep-deprived, maybe you can consider this:
Can you give yourself permission to unlearn everything you've heard or read about sleep, and focus on what you really want? Not what you or anyone else thinks you should or shouldn't do, but what YOU truly want for your family.
Can you turn off all the voices in your head, and allow yourself to change something that isn't working, even if you think it might be "wrong"?
Whatever you believe, try to keep your opinions about what other families do to yourself, and focus on what's right for your family. You will have more friends, and can feel smug that you've chosen the higher road!
Dear Mel,I wish someone had told me that motherhood isn't always the most joyous, beautiful, glamorous event that the media portrays. I wish someone had prepared me for the fact that it might be the most humbling, emotional experience of my life, and that I might not actually love my new role as a Mommy.
Instead, I was blindsided by trauma, plagued with incessant fears and anxieties that I was abnormal, that every other new mom was happier than I felt, and that I was therefore, an exceptionally bad, inept mom. In retrospect, I now know that there's a conspiracy to trick billions of smart, independent and progressive women into believing that motherhood is fabulous, the penultimate joy, and that we can successfully juggle our careers, parenthood and mariages, all with a cheery smile.
The truth is, some new moms don't instantly bond with their babies, many of us have extreme difficulty breastfeeding (a learned behavior that we cannot possibly learn when it's not visible for us to learn!), and more women experience crippling postpartum mental health issues than is accurately reported. I believe that this is due to unrealistic expectations, and the lack of awareness about how hard and humbling motherhood really is.
So today, as you recover from a c-section and prepare for going home with Walker, who you and Hudson will love like you've never loved before, I wonder...Should I break it down and tell you the truth, or let you find out on your own how emotional and painful this transition may be? Because I wish someone had told me, I am dedicating this post to you and Hudson, as you embark on this remarkably profound journey. May it be peaceful, uneventful, and easier than my experience.Love,Natalie
Moving into 2012, I'm taking the opportunity to reflect on 2011, celebrate accomplishments and failures, to learn and grow, reconnect with my husband, and move joyfully forward into the new year with renewed passion and commitment to live from my heart, to follow my dreams, to be fully present and mindful, to keep striving for better balance in all aspects of life, and pass that spirit and optimism onto my family.
You may resolve to recommit to your health, pursue a new passion, reinvent your career, improve your marriage, or whatever you want to achieve in the new year. But when you set your resolutions or goals or whatever you call them, do you ever hear a subconscious whisper of doubt or fear, that you will fail to achieve your goals? It may be so faint you don't hear it, or maybe it's not there at all and you truly believe that you can accomplish ANYTHING you put your mind to. If that's the case, congratulations, you are a rare and exceptional person! Most of us, however, doubt our potential and have a deep-rooted fear of failure.
So I ask myself today, how is this year different? How will I possibly accomplish everything I want to do? Can I really live the life I've always dreamed of? Can I change the things I want to change and lead my family by being an inspirational role model? What fears might prevent me from achieving my goals, and being the mindful mother and woman I want to be?
Life is humbling sometimes, but humility, gratitude and optimism are what propel me forward, to believe that I really can do whatever I set my mind to do.
Thank you 2012 for the opportunity to reach for the stars, and truly believe that I can make all my dreams come true.
Have you ever looked around your new moms group, and worried that all the other moms looked happier? Compared your sugary, store-bought birthday cake with your neighbor’s Martha Stewart-like, pirate-carrot-cake-sculpture? Did your kid ever ask, “Mommy, how come we live in such a small apartment?”, or my favorite kid question – “Are we rich?” Welcome to parenting in NYC, the global capital of the most absurdly insane, competitive parenting culture!
Nearly every day, I second-guess my kids lack of scheduled enrichment activities. Like a schizophrenic whisper, I hear constant echoes of self-doubt playing in my head: Should I have signed my daughter up for swimming? What if our son doesn’t get into NEST+m? When should we start musical instruments? I have to remind myself daily to let go of my fears that I’m not doing it right, that my kids are missing out on important opportunities because I'm too lazy or slow to get them enrolled in the best programs or schools.
So, in this surreal dog-eat-dog parenting world, where it’s often every parent/child/family for themselves, how would it feel if you consciously decided to ignore the Joneses completely? What if you decided to not buy into the race at all? How might you slow down, ignore the competition, and simply focus on playing the game? Not running or winning or losing, but skipping and playing with your kids...
If any of this resonates with you, I invite you to think about your family and what they really need. Not what you or your kids think they should do (because everyone else is doing it), but what they really, more-than-anything-else-in-the-world need.
Do they need more scheduled activities in their hectic kid lives? Do you really want to spend afternoons and weekends shuttling your kids around from soccer to swimming to ballet to piano? Are your choices driven by what your friends and neighbors are doing, or by what truly serves you and your family?
Whether you’re parenting a baby, toddler, or school-age kids, I bet your kids want you to get down on the floor and play with them. I bet more than anything, they would enjoy that more than music or swimming or piano classes. Focused time playing with your kids is more valuable than any enrichment, it doesn't have to be scheduled, and the best BONUS—it’s free!
Maybe you've never felt this, or maybe you simply can't admit it to yourself. But have you ever looked around your home—surrounded by diapers and strollers and sippy cups—and felt like you were trapped in a bad film? Have you ever woken up and thought (while your child is endlessly whining and demanding your undivided attention), My God! What have I done? I have. Many times.
My childless girlfriend casually said one day, "Oh you probably can't even remember what it was like before kids..." Um, no, not exactly, I thought. I honestly DO remember life without kids, and frankly, I miss it sometimes. I miss sleeping in and the Sunday Times and spontaneous adventures and a life without constant interruptions!
Don't get me wrong. I love being a mom and I wouldn't trade my kids or life for anything else. But if I'm honest with myself, being a parent is a lot of undocumented, hard work, with very low ROI (return on investment), and it's not glamorous. Not at all.
My solution? Have a life of your own outside your family (I'm literally writing from a hammock on a Mexican island with aforementioned childless friend). It will give you the opportunity to miss your kids, and be fully present when you return. So go ahead, leave your family every once in a while! I promise it will be worth every moment you are away, and your family CAN survive for a few days without you.
I write and think a lot about work/family balance, and how difficult it is to find you’re groove. Whether you’re the primary caretaker, work at home or in an office, it’s hard to find enough time to get it all done without having a nervous breakdown. (It’s normal, so stop beating yourself up about it!)
The question I’m thinking about today is not about how you should juggle X, Y or Z in order to find balance. The question is, are you HAPPY? Are you doing what you think you SHOULD or MUST do, or are you doing something that really INSPIRES you and brings you JOY? Are you living the life you want to model for your kids? Most of us don’t take the time to ask these questions, or put happiness on our priority list, but we should.
Because at the end of the day, your kids don’t care about the square footage of your home, the size of your stock portfolio, or the brand of your car. They just want unconditional love, and happy parents.
Seven years ago today, I became a mom. It was as humbling then as it is today. While I strive for a Utopian work-family balance, sometimes I feel like a miserable failure.
Reflecting back on those first days and weeks and months of motherhood, I can't say I enjoyed it much. I felt awful. I had extreme difficulty with breastfeeding; I felt overwhelmed and overly-anxious, lonely, crippled with sleep deprivation, and torn between staying home with my baby or going back to the job I previously loved. I felt plagued with guilt and fear, and suffered from severe postpartum depression. I slept about 8 hours a week for roughly 6 months. I thought I was losing my mind.
How I managed to get myself out of this is a long story, but somehow my husband and I were able to reinvent our lives from two parents with full-time jobs and a (wonderful) nanny, to two parents running home-based businesses and ample time for ourselves and our family.
Though often I feel like my family is totally out of balance (and always feel like it's my "fault" if we are), I endeavor to keep us all on track, and have ample time/space for everything, everyone, and be fully present in every moment.
It's extremely challenging to cultivate balance, and feel happy in all aspects of our lives, but I truly believe it's possible. I have a long, detailed strategy of how I balance family and work, but even with all my lists and systems and strategies, it doesn't always work.
In those moments, when everything comes unraveled, I try to not judge myself, because that's just the way it is with kids sometimes. It's a mess, and it's magic, all at the same time.
So all this is to say, keep striving for balance, people. I believe we CAN enjoy our work and family and ourselves, if we make it our top priority.
Dads don’t often understand mommy-guilt or why we feel it. They have no problem taking care of themselves, reading the Times, or leaving first thing in the morning to play soccer or go for a run. I talk with my girlfriends regularly about why our husbands are better about taking care of themselves, and don’t even feel a tiny bit guilty when they leave. Our husbands encourage us to take care of ourselves, to go to yoga or for a run, but we often feel too guilty to leave, and can’t tear ourselves away from the Saturday morning pancakes routine.
At least in my circle of moms, the strength of guilt doesn’t equally relate to the amount of time we have with our kids or how much we work outside the house. Yes, it’s absolutely worse if you work long hours outside the home and only have weekends with your kids, but I would argue that even full-time primary caregiver moms are plagued with guilt, even if they leave the kids with their partner, and know they’re going to have fun with or without us.
I’ve juggled all the possible work-family scenarios: from full-time primary caregiver to full-time job with nanny, to a 50/50 primary caregiver job-share with my husband. In all of these scenarios, even though I know that I MUST take care of myself in order to be good mom and balanced woman, I have problems tearing myself away from my kids. I always feel torn between giving equal time/love to each of my kids, my husband, and business, and I always feel guilty when I leave to do something just for me. Sound familiar?
So moms, I’m asking you, why is this? Is it the parenting culture in which we live? I want to know what YOU think and why us moms are so guilt-ridden?
It’s a fact: new moms judge other moms about their parenting choices. I’ve been there, I know. I’m ashamed to admit, I even lost friends over it. Nearly 7 years later, I can finally understand it more objectively, but it still perplexes and angers me that educated, intelligent women are fighting over how they “should” care for their babies.
Why should you care if your friend co-sleeps and quit her day job to be a full-time, baby-wearing mom? And why should she judge you for sleep-training your baby, and going back to your full-time day job? Is it simply because we’re so insecure about our own choices? Are we so afraid of doing something "wrong" that we judge others because they believe a different method or theory or author? Can we blame baby theory “experts” for pitting moms against mom in these theoretical wars, or do we blame ourselves for falling prey to this bourgeois pettiness?
In Attachment Parenting or The Alternative, I write about how opposing parenting theories are confusing new parents more than ever. I would further argue that this trend is divisive amongst women. Megan Francis, author of The Happiest Mom, writes a humbling account about her struggle to find her own parenting style in a piece, On Labels and Limits: Why I No Longer Call Myself an Attachment Parent.
There’s a lot of buzz in the Mommy-sphere about how moms are divided and feuding over parenting choices. Leslie Morgan Steiner’s book, Mommy Wars: Stay at Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families is a perfect example. It's all shockingly true, and it fries my feminist feathers! Why on earth do women compete about how their kids sleep, or for how long they breastfeed? Sorry Ladies, but I grew up knee-deep in 70’s feminist ideals, and I just don’t get it. What happened to Sisterhood?
I’d love to hear from you about this. Have you lost any friends, or are you at risk of losing any friends over your parenting choices? Please share your experiences! And most importantly, WHAT CAN WE DO RIGHT NOW to make this a better, more supportive world for all moms?