Three years ago I was struggling to adapt to life as a mother of three. I recognize now that I was most likely depressed but at the time, all I recognized was that I was a mess.
An exhausted, unshowered, stressed-out disaster.
After several days indoors, I forced myself to take my children on a short walk around our neighborhood. I coaxed my 6-year-old away from the millionth episode of whichever unsavory Cartoon Network program he was watching.
I found my toddler’s shoes, wiped his nose, and managed to get the stroller from the garage. Even though I was overwhelmed by the effort it took to accomplish these tasks, I strapped my newborn to my chest and we were off.
Pushing my 2-year-old in the stroller, we started across the street to the public path along our little creek. Before we made it to the other side, there were rumblings and grumblings, whines and protests.
The 6-year-old insisted we go back home to retrieve a toy.
The toddler was hot and wanted a drink.
And, as though she were expressing her opinion on the matter, the newborn — predictably — pooped.
I persisted. We were going on a walk whether we wanted to or not. I had something to prove to myself. I was going to get a grip, and a walk was the symbolic first step.
An older woman approached us, temporarily slowing down from a speed walker’s pace. She innocently commented the way older women tend to do when they see a young mom struggling. Enjoy every second. Before you know it they’re grown.
I managed a fake smile but walked away seething. She wants me to enjoy every second of this?
This encounter, and others like them, only served to drive home the message my irrational, sleep-deprived brain was already telling me loud and clear.
I was failing. A failure. An F-Minus Mom.
There is an unspoken tension in the current parenting culture, one that’s reflected in everything from mommy blogs to Hallmark commercials. On one side, we’re told to soak it all in. Motherhood is precious. Time flies by.
On the other, we’re told we’re not doing enough by a culture that doesn’t give us the support systems we need. Twelve weeks of maternity leave- that is, if you’re lucky. A culture that tells women that motherhood isn’t real work.
We saw it last week with a video gone viral: a baby growing up in under 3 minutes. Her sweet cherub cheeks thinning, her baby face elongating into one of a gorgeous preteen girl right before our eyes. It punctuated the rally cries of the “Enjoy every second” camp; here was photographic evidence that time doesn’t stand still.
At the same time there’s the pressure to be the parent who does it all:
Bento box preschool lunches (organic, of course)? Check.
President of the PTA? Check.
Sews homemade costumes for the school play? Check.
Takes a photograph of her child every day until she’s twelve? Let the record show that by these standards I’m still an F Minus Mom.
I have to agree with Salon writer Mary Elizabeth Williams, who reminded us recently that “It isn’t always easy or pretty, or set to nice music. And it does not go by so fast at all.”
As parents we constantly have to weigh the pressure of expectation against the reality of our lives.We have to examine where the onslaught of these expectations are coming from in the first place and determine if they’re worthy of our attention.
In the end, we have to do what is best in our individual circumstances. For me, it’s a balancing act.
It’s a daily shuffling of what’s important.
It’s seeing an earlier version of yourself along the path of motherhood, and whispering a bittersweet word of advice.
Photo Credit: Flickr
Mary Lauren Weimer is a social worker turned mother turned writer. Her blog, My 3 Little Birds, encourages moms to put down the baby books for a moment and tell their own stories. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.