“Are you just sore all of the time?” I asked my husband last night, poking him on the shoulder. “Like here, when I touch it, does it just hurt?”
“No,” he replied, slowly and carefully, as if he was talking to a clueless child. “No, I am not.”
Call me crazy, but 99.9% of the time, I feel like I have just fallen down the stairs after finishing a marathon. This morning, after folding three loads of clothes, prepping dinner, cleaning diapers, and cooking three different breakfasts and two different lunches for my children who are sick and therefore picky beyond all belief, I had to actually remind myself to sit down for a just a second.
I tried to explain to my husband what it feels like in my brain because really, even I got sick of hearing myself complain about how crazed life can feel sometimes. “It’s like I never feel like I can ever, ever stop thinking about the next thing,” I told him. “I’m constantly thinking, even when there is a moment of peace, ‘OK, what do I have to do next?'”
I have to stay four steps ahead just not to fall ten behind.
But when I stopped to think about the real reason that so many mothers are exhausted to the very marrow of our bones, I realized that the exhaustion goes more than skin-deep. Although the work of raising little ones and later, big ones, can be very physical at times, the exhaustion for me is also overwhelmingly within my mind.
Mothers bear the enormous responsibility of being the center of our children’s worlds — from the big stuff of life (religion, health, existence) to the small (keeper of the socks, the butterer of toast, fetcher of waters) and when I feel the weight of that threatening to crumble my very being, what I am really feeling is the burden of self-doubt when I wonder, am I good enough?
(Disclaimer: I know there are some dads out there who also feel this, so not leaving you out, but for the purposes of this article and the general trend of mothers as the primary parent for the last thousands of years, bear with me.)
It’s almost like for the first time ever, modern-day mothers don’t really have a model on “how to do” mothering. I mean, things used to be pretty set in stone, right? You get married, you have kids, you stay home, you cook, you clean, you kick the kids outside, you keep everything together. The standard by which we were judged and how we judged ourselves were pretty clear. The path to being a “good” mother and wife were exactly the same for everyone and I really don’t know if a lot of mothers spent any time worrying if they were doing things “right” because what was “right” was pretty accepted by everyone.
Of course, all that rigidity was stifling and in many ways, damaging, but what I’m trying to point out is that now, there is no one way to “do” mothering and relationships. In a way, we are pioneers, trying to figure out, once again, what we want for ourselves as women, wives, and mothers. There are so many paths to take — we could go with the professional career path, the DIYer, the crunchy off-the-grid, the city dweller, the work-at-homer, the make-everything-from scratcher, the ditch-it-all-er.
When I looked at myself and my own life — as a mom of four kids six and under who stays home but also works at home, a wife who does the bulk of the childrearing and the housework but also earns as much as my husband — and I wondered why I feel this frustration that I can’t even verbalize, I realized that I really have no clue how to even categorize myself.
Am I a stay-at-home mom? A working mom? A work-at-home mom? The breadwinner? A homemaker? A business owner? An entrepreneur?
My point is, many modern day moms are in the same boat I am in, with changing roles that affect everything about how we have been taught to see ourselves as mothers and it can be hard to know where we fit in. I can’t talk to my mom about how hard it is to do a conference call while keeping the babies quiet or how to shut off work for the weekend when it’s the only time my husband is home to “help” me or how to reconcile the fact that I’m still the one to clean the toilets.
It’s exhausting to figure it out as you go.
And for that fact, may I just say that we all deserve a nap. Or a massage. Or a massage while taking a nap. Who’s with me?