On Mother’s Day, one of my closest friends from summer camp left me a voicemail message. This woman has witnessed my ugliest, most vulnerable, childish stages over a 30 year stretch and therefore can share her own hellish moments with me with impunity.
We are roughly the same age, but her two kids are a full decade younger. In short, she’s a new mom, figuring parenthood out as it unfolds.
Here's the message:
For your own sake maybe you shouldn’t listen to this message.
I don’t want to poison you with my poison.
Is part of this hormonal? Probably.
Is part of this that I’m so f***king tired?
My kids have not slept in two weeks. Everyone was sick. Then they had nightmares. Then they started sleepwalking.
It’s been thing after thing after thing. It all adds up. The exhaustion…the whatever.
I am just so sick of myself and everyone else.
Every f***king Mother’s Day weekend is like this, an example of the classic worst parenting ever. My son lied about something and I felt like calling him a lying OCD s**tbag and telling him I’m too tired to help myself let alone you. He got so sad and he wouldn’t talk to me so he wrote me a note that said “Mom, I’m frustrated. I’m sad. And I hate you.”
Happy Mother’s Day!
You may think I’m crazy, but secrets like this are all I want for Mother’s Day. Forget brunch at a restaurant or pink roses. The truth about how motherhood really feels is the finest Mother’s Day gift possible.
Here is what I’d like to say to my friend, and all new moms, struggling through those early years of parenthood, exactly as I did a decade ago:
First, motherhood is about YOU. Not your kids, your mom, or your mother-in-law. Mother’s Day was invented to celebrate and honor moms. In my book, the newest moms need the most support. Even though you love being a mom more than anything on earth, don’t let your husband or kids off the hook. Don’t allow your own mom or MIL upstage you. Letting you come first is good training for all of them. (And honey, it’s just 24 hours out of a whole year.)
Second, motherhood was not meant to balance us or show how patient, kind and wonderful we can be (although those things sometimes come to pass). Raising kids to be civilized humans turns any sane person inside out and upside down. The process is rarely kisses and pink lighting; it’s more often diarrhea, snot-spewing temper tantrums, throats sore from screaming, fists twisted from clenching. Learn to apologize, fix what’s broken, and stumble onward towards another day.
Third, use Mother’s Day to practice asking for what you want. Some ideas in case you are too embarrassed or too tired to voice them yourself: Insist on sleeping until noon with your bedroom door barricaded. Spend an entire weekend by yourself in a nearby hotel. Eat cupcakes for breakfast at 2pm. Have your partner take the kids away for 72 hours so you can enjoy the bliss of your own empty house.
Forget shame. Don’t worry about appearing selfish. Motherhood is a marathon, not a sprint. Mother’s Day is a priceless opportunity to make it clear, to yourself and your beloveds, that you will burnout if you don’t recharge on a regular basis.
Motherhood does offer opportunities for unique, life-changing bliss. However, guidelines for mothering “right” cannot be found in any Hallmark card, book or blog. I’m here to testify, nearly 20 years in, that your decisions are irrelevant when it comes to breastfeeding, diapers, discipline, what kind of childcare you use, when your kid learns to read and whether you allow tv, rap music or French fries in your house.
Follow your gut and love your kids wildly - that’s all that matters. Stay true to yourself, and not only will your kids turn out beautifully, you will find inner strength and wisdom you never dreamed possible. You gotta do motherhood your way.
I will close with another Mother’s Day vignette.
Before I listened to my friend’s voicemail message, I had to crawl out of bed at 6 am after only a few hours sleep. Because, the night before, I hosted a five girl sleepover for my 11-year-old’s volleyball team. My husband was conveniently out of town. The late night spent shushing the girls to sleep was followed by that cursed alarm clock, and then I faced an hour-long drive to be at the volleyball tournament by 7:15 am.
Yes, on Mother’s Day.
I stumbled into my dimly lit bathroom trying to remember where the light switch was.
Laid out next to the sink was a pale blue placemat (my favorite color). A fancy fork and spoon from the real silverware drawer. Hot coffee in a thermos. Cut strawberries and blueberries arranged in a symmetrical flower-like pattern. My favorite oatmeal raisin breakfast cookie, warm to the touch. A chair to sit on!
In my sleepiness I thought I might be hallucinating. Who could have gotten up this early to surprise me? Who in my family could have been so thoughtful, self-sacrificing, and skilled with both cooking and presentation optics? Who was so empathetic?
The answer was simple: only I could have done this. But that seemed impossible.
Then I heard four priceless words.
“Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.”
I whirled around. In the predawn light stood my 16-year-old son. The six-foot basketball star who spends more time with his iPhone and listening to country music on his Beats than with family members. Yes, that boy was the architect of the festivities, coffee and cookie.
In that moment I felt a glow deep in my heart. Surely that ember will burn for the rest of my life.
Only a truly great mother could raise a boy who could make someone else feel that wonderful.