I am a bad mom
I am a bad mom.
A few weeks ago, my toddler was having a rough day. He started going to preschool a few days a week, which is actually going well but the transition of dropping him off is still hard. So when he is at home with me, the whole separation anxiety thing is in full effect. This particular morning, neither of us had slept very much and he was being incredibly clingy. I just needed a minute to myself so I pried him off of me, went into the bathroom and shut the door. He instantly lost it. Wailing and banging on the door, screaming for me. I’m not proud of what happened next, but I was exhausted and out of patience. I started yelling and banging on the opposite side of the door, which only made things worse. After about ten seconds of this, I opened the door and pulled him onto my lap, both of us in tears. On top of everything else I was feeling, I now felt ashamed at having lost my temper with him. “I’m so sorry” I said to him over and over again. “I’m not very good at this.” This being motherhood.
Now don’t get me wrong, I adore my son. He is the coolest person I know. He makes me laugh every day. I live for his hugs and kisses. And when I watch him sleeping, it physically hurts how much I love him. But often I feel overwhelmed at how much he needs from me.
I wasn’t one of those girls who dreamed of being a mom. While I always assumed that it would happen at some point in my life, I never gave it much thought until I turned twenty five. All of a sudden my hormones took over and all I saw was babies and pregnant women everywhere. I felt so envious of their little bumps and bundles. I smiled obnoxiously at newborns in their carriers and strollers. My partner and I were not yet married and I was still in grad school at the time. So in an attempt to placate my yearning ovaries, we adopted a puppy. One month later, I found out I was pregnant.
Many things about becoming a new parent caught me off guard – the crushing feelings of love and protection, the grief with each new milestone, the feeling of isolation, the precious new mama friendships, how all of my goals and life plans were turned upside down, how my relationship with my own parents changed, and much more that I’m surely forgetting. The first year was quite an adjustment. Reaching my son’s first birthday felt like a huge accomplishment for all of us. But the one thing that has continued to surprise me even after the first year and a half, is how hard it has been on my marriage.
I assumed that parenthood would come easy to us. My husband and I were both in the education field, loved and were good with kids, and were very much on the same page about how we wanted to raise our own. Before our son was born, we rarely fought and were pretty good at navigating our conflicts kindly when we did. My husband is a feminist and a very involved father. HOWEVER – even given all of the advantages we had going in – raising our son together, staying connected and on the same page every day continues to be the most difficult challenge that we have ever faced together.
For many reasons, I made the decision to be a mostly stay at home mom for the first year. As wonderful as that was in lots of ways, it was also much harder than I ever could have imagined. It also put a lot of pressure on my husband as the sole financial provider. Despite the fact that I am a therapist, who works with couples, and knows the pitfalls of this dynamic (equating money with value, division of labor around the house, feeling unappreciated, etc), we still found ourselves falling into them.
Mother’s Day for example, was a disaster. The boy had been waking up at 5am and all I wanted was to sleep in. In hindsight, I should have just told my husband this rather than expecting him to just know. But this was supposed to be the one day in the year that I got to be selfish, and I really wanted him to just know- to just get it. To understand inherently how hard I work and how much I deserved a break. Big mistake. And honestly, not fair to him. He isn’t a mind reader. So when 5am rolled around and my husband was dead to the world, I resentfully took the boy downstairs so that he could continue sleeping. I know, I know. I’m excellent at playing the martyr. Several hours later, the poor guy woke up to an already rageful wife. He didn’t stand a chance. We got into a fight as soon as he opened his eyes, and we basically didn’t speak to each other all day. Worst brunch ever.
What I realized is that it takes very little to be considered a bad mom, and very little to be considered a great dad. Dads really only have to be present to be considered praiseworthy. Moms on the other hand are expected to put our lives on hold and put our children first, always. It’s a setup from the beginning. Feelings of resentment creep in and build subtly until all of a sudden they aren’t so subtle.
On top of that, the ideals that I (we) had going into motherhood are starting to slip. My ideal: My son would never see a screen until he turned two. The reality: He works my iphone better than I do. My ideal: He wouldn’t even know what processed sugar was until he was two. The reality: He eats what I eat. And I am a sugar junky. Stressed out mama needs her snacks! I do my best to scarf them down in the car when he can’t see me. And I try to get the organic, Whole Foods versions (i.e. Justin’s peanut butter cups instead of Reese’s cups) but even there sometimes I fail. For me, at this point it’s just about getting through the day and keeping everyone alive.
The other night my husband’s school had an evening event. Toward the end of it, the boy was starting to lose his shit and my husband wasn’t quite ready to leave. So I went hunting for some food to try and keep the boy happy. By this time of the night it was slim pickings, but one of the front desk staff had mercy and slipped me a popsicle. Honestly, I ate most of it and only gave the boy a few licks to keep him quiet. But when my husband walked in and saw what we were eating, he was furious. He kept saying things like “I thought we were on the same page on this!” and “That’s the worst thing he has ever eaten!” And the most hurtful of all “If he grows up to be a sugar junky and won’t eat healthy food, I’m going to blame you for it”. This one caught me completely off guard. Even though I actually agreed with my husband about not giving the boy sugar, all I heard was YOU ARE A BAD MOM.
Had I lost my way? Somewhere along the path of least resistance, had I fallen too far down that slippery slope? Was I a bad mom?
This question has plagued me ever since. While I don’t think it’s what my husband was trying to say, I do think it’s time for me to accept the evidence as it’s presented to me. Yes, I am a bad mom. Here’s why:
- I like my freedom and personal space
- I love my work
- I need time to myself
- I am selfish
- I lose my patience and my temper
- I get bored being at home with my son all day
- I will do just about anything to stop the whining/tantrums
- Sometimes my son gets on my very last nerves
To be fair, in place of saying “I’m a bad mom”, I could just as easily say “I’m human” or “I’m not perfect”. As moms, we are held to such a high standard that of course we fail. The idea that once I have a kid, I stop being me and become a selfless saint, is bullshit. And I reject it. If that makes me a bad mom, then so be it. I am doing my best. And maybe sometimes that’s not good enough, but all I can do is try again tomorrow.
PS- If after reading this you are worried about my son, relax, I’m probably not having any more.
Tajah Sahar Schall MA, LPC, R-DMT
I provide somatic (body-based), social justice oriented counseling to individuals, couples and families of all sociocultural backgrounds. I support adolescents and their families through the unique and often difficult time of transition by incorporating movement, nature and rites of passage into the therapeutic process.
Both Zoom and In person sessions available in Green Valley Ranch, Denver, CO 80249.
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