Motherhood Doesn’t Make You Special {Things You’re Not Supposed to Say}

Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path. ~Anne Lamott

Me and Monkey Boy

Me and Monkey Boy 2007

Years ago, a friend told me after the birth of her first child she had this epiphany. She suddenly understood why she was on this planet. Her life’s plan was clear to her. She was to be a mother. (pause for dramatic bars of music)

There was a definite superiority in her tone. She had the most sacred of titles now: Mother. I secretly suspected then, and still do on some level, she simply did not want to go back to work because she didn’t like her job, and her husband couldn’t argue with Jesus showing her the path to great wisdom through parenting. But maybe she did. Who am I really to say?

Some women enter motherhood very spiritually. The mix of sex and growing another person inside your body is highly mystical and profound for them. For me, motherhood was a failed medical experiment turned business transaction. We wanted a baby. Birthing one didn’t work out. We went an agency and ordered one. Two years later, Monkey Boy joined the scene. He didn’t come with an epiphany. Just a bill, COD.

Maybe because of the adoption or maybe because we had been married almost 10 years before he arrived or maybe because it’s just how I’m wired, but here’s the thing you’re not supposed to say: I legitimately grieved the loss of being a childless couple. A few weeks after we brought Monkey Boy home, I broke down crying because he was totally interfering with the life I used to have with my husband. He never went away. Ever. He was always there. Needing things, wanting things, demanding things. I liked sleeping in on the weekends and going places without pounds of gear. I liked carrying a handbag, not a diaper bag. I liked the life we had before we had this life.

Let me be perfectly clear, I have loved Monkey Boy from the beginning. He was and remains a wanted member of this family. I just never expected to be so conflicted about how much I liked *not* being a mother.

I have never considered myself less of a mother than anyone else. My daily experience is the same as every other parent trying to raise children into decent, productive citizens without requiring more therapy than their health insurance will pay for. But I don’t considered myself more of a person now either.

Women without children are also the best of mothers, often, with the patience, interest, and saving grace that the constant relationship with children cannot always sustain. I come to crave our talk and our daughters gain precious aunts. Women who are not mothering their own children have the clarity and focus to see deeply into the character of children webbed by family. A child is fortunate who feels witnessed as a person, outside relationships with parents by another adult. ~Louise Erdrich

I don’t think I have any insights on life or the universe that are not available to others just because I’ve changed diapers. I don’t think I am more spiritual or more reverent because I occasionally get up in the middle of the night to comfort a sick or scared little boy. I do think the choice to live inside a traditional family unit forces me to be less selfish and more patient. I don’t get my own way every moment of every day. I also think those are traits that can be learned outside this structure.

Look, this is a great gig. I’m so grateful it worked out for me to be a mom. My kid is hilarious and I genuinely enjoy having him in my life. I want to do this well. I want to have a good relationship with my son, both now and when he’s an adult. But it’s also a temp gig. And when he moves out, I suspect I will be conflicted again about how much I love my new freedom and how much I miss having that kid bumping around my house, driving me crazy, demanding to be fed every.ten.minutes.

Motherhood has taught me a lot about myself and others. But it’s doesn’t make me special.

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15 Comments

Filed under Things You're Not Supposed to Say

15 responses to “Motherhood Doesn’t Make You Special {Things You’re Not Supposed to Say}

  1. Kandi

    Mom of two girls, ages 6 and 7. I even just left a “supposedly” great job to stay home. But not b/c of them…of course, everyone thinks so. I just let them think that…it’s easier. You just articulated so well what I have always thought. And I even did IVF to have the first one. Ha. Hope you are enjoying your new job!

  2. As a step-mom with no biological children of her own, there are simply no words to aptly express how much I love this post. HOO-RAH for the Things You’re Not Supposed To Say!!!

  3. Pingback: For the Step-moms with no bio-minions of their own… « La Madrastra

  4. Thanks for this post. We’ve reached the point where we’re pretty sure us becoming parents will be either a medical experiment or a business transaction, as you describe it, if it happens at all. But nothing infuriates me more than having recently be-child-ed friends act as if they’ve crossed over into a higher plane of existence and know a purer love than I can ever know without having kids, or that they are somehow more “woman” than people who do not have children are.

    I also suspect and fear that making motherhood all of my identity would be a surefire way for me to end up in some sort of loony bin. The more people admit that being a mother isn’t the be-all and end-all of who they are, the more I think, maybe I can do this after all. Maybe I could come out the other side and still be “me,” a person I happen to like, and who I believe my husband is rather attached to.

    For now, I’ll try to enjoy every last drop of being childless. I do so love the sleeping.

  5. there are days (nay, years) when i’m so lost in the motherhood that i forget i was a person before they came…but you’re right! motherhood didn’t give me a platinum card…

  6. Get out of my head! 🙂 I just said to someone yesterday “We’ve been married for 7 years. We go out to eat when we want. We go away for the weekend when we want. We sleep until we want to get up. It’s not that I don’t want kids, it’s just that I have to consider that my entire lifestyle will change. That’s a lot to wrap my brain around.” If we’d have done the kid thing early in our marriage when our incomes were smaller, our social circle was different, etc., it would have been an easier transition, but now, it’s a game-changer at a different level. And will be a “business transaction”. I appreciate so much your honesty about mourning the childless life. If/when a child joins our family, I know there will be amazing parts… but I’m so grateful to have friends in my life I know will give me permission to not love all of it. Or who will understand if we decide parenthood isn’t for us.

  7. Amy S.

    I think I know your “friend”.

  8. I’m so glad you & I are on the same planet! Thanks for saying this! I’m about to take on Mother’s Day from an even different angle!

  9. Life is figuring things out. Lots of different things make people special, parenting is just one of them. I think the reason people get mystical about parenting is there’s not much that challenges the universal selfishness we all carry like having a child 24-7. We got our daughter the old fashion way and our son through adoption. That’s the shape of life for us, and you can trust we’re not special. Thanks for sharing your bit of truth.

  10. David

    Isn’t this overthinking things just a bit? As human beings we exist with some self-made illusions like the importance of birthdays or anniversaries, which are really just another day on the calendar. But so what? Are we to ban Grandparent’s Day or Secretary’s Day or Sweetest Day in the name of equality for all? I see it as just a bit of spice to carry us through this slog called life. So call your mother on Mother’s Day and participate in the celebration even if your true principle states that neither of you are special simply for being Mums. By all means treat people with love and respect, whether childless couples, unmarried women, and so on. In time they will return it your way, even if you occasionally slip up and say something they don’t like.

  11. Liz

    I identify with this on a lot of levels. It was like hearing a really honest prayer in church. At the end I felt the need to yell, “AMEN.” 🙂

  12. Glenna James

    I think this is by far one of the most insightful blogs you have ever written. You have expressed in words some feeling I have had for years. A little off point, but this brought to my memory a day long ago when my two daughters were have a heated argument and I was called in to resolve it “fairly”. I could see both points of view very clearly. I love each girl with all my heart. But for the life of me I could not determine what was fair. I had never in all my motherhood felt as “unspecial” as I did at that moment. Wasn’t a mother suppose to “know” what was fair and right and just between her two daughters. If I remember correctly I started crying and told them I just didn’t know and they were going to have to figure it out, make a compromise but I could not help them. So now you know where you got your mothering skills. From the original Mother. Of. The. Year.

  13. This is fabulous. Witty yet insightful. It touched a big raw nerve for me.
    I spent much time in the early years of my “motherhood” thinking – I’m NOT SUPPOSED TO BE DOING THIS!!!! – I felt TERRIBLE guilt for mourning my childless life.

    Now – three (and four on the way) children later I still have moments, like just now when I pushed my feverish Monkey away so I could write this comment, when I wish I had some solitude.

    I def. don’t feel special…sadistic, sociopathic, psychotic….but not special:)
    Thanks for putting these raw and real feelings into beautiful words.

  14. Anna

    As a mother, I only feel special when I am able to get through the day without blowing my top and locking myself in my bedroom for a few hours. Seriously, motherhood is not for everybody and unfortunately, people only realize this after they’ve decided to take on this experiment. I hated that people talked me into a second child (can’t imagine my life without her now) but I feel like I would have been a very happy mother of one. If someone ever verbalizes doubts about parenthood, I always suggest they listen to the little voices in their heads. Sometimes it’s not all it’s cracked up to being. And I truly L.O.V.E. my kids.