I walked through my first pregnancy with a fair amount of anxiety. I was worried that I would mess up my kid beyond repair. Who was I to take a blank slate of a human and teach or inspire or discipline it?
And honestly, I was also a little worried that my kid would mess up my life. How do you go from having total freedom and agency to very little? Those fears weren’t unfounded. I now spend money on diapers instead of at restaurants with cloth napkins. I orient my day around nap time. My operating speed is tired.
And at the beginning of February we’ll have another little girl, which I guess is the reason for the introspection. Because I’m realizing now that what I didn’t see coming has altered my life far more than what I did see coming. My mom told me over and over again before I was a parent, “You just can’t understand until you have a kid of your own.” My response was basically always: I get it, you love me a lot, you worry about me, etc.
But, I didn’t get it and in reality, I didn’t get what it meant to be a mom. Here are three major things I’m just beginning to understand about my mom and all moms.
Moms Are Beasts
Pregnancy is a weird season. Perhaps the closest thing to miracle-making mere mortals participate in. But it also requires a great deal of sacrifice. Everything gets thrown out of whack. Beyond the super obvious, pregnant women are subject to a vast array of hormonal changes, and those cause everything from their own form of gingivitis to weird hair.
And then the granddaddy of it all: child birth. Everyone knows that childbirth hurts. But, I thought it would hurt the way I think a marathon would hurt. Not because I’ve actually ever run anything close to 26.2 miles, but because I have to work really, really hard to run several miles.
I had no worthwhile reference point to prepare for the all-eclipsing pain, and I now have no way to effectively communicate how physically trying it was. Beyond the physical was the fact that there was also this huge emotional component that was equally powerful. There was the fear that something would go wrong during labor, and that something would happen to me or the baby.
And after I recovered, after weeks of walking like I had… just had a baby; after seeing more of my own blood than I ever thought I could see and live to tell about, I was completely and utterly blown away.
I could not believe that moms all over the earth endure the pain of labor, and then move forward and let the rest of society make fun of them for their jeans and lack of tech know-how. One thing that mom’s have in common — whether their labors are quick or brief, or their babies come via c-section or naturally — is that labor happens only with a physical and mental stamina that is out of this world.
And then after, there comes the unmatched exhaustion of parenthood. We know that good sleep benefits basically everything, from how clear our skin is to how well we’re able to think. Recent research says that new parents lose an average of 44 days of sleep during the first year of a child’s life.
This means that virtually all moms have an insane story far more intense than the exterior may suggest.
Moms Don’t Get Popular Culture Because They’re Too Busy Shaping Society
Things I have made fun of my mom or moms collectively for:
- Not knowing how to use a feature of technology
- Before mom jeans were cool: not knowing mom jeans are uncool
- Not knowing who a band or reality TV star is
Because I so clearly was smart and enlightened and understood important things about the proper waistband for denim.
Moms are doing some of the most important work.
We love mom stereotypes. Turn on any sitcom or family movie and watch them fly by: the mom who pries into your personal life, the mom who doesn’t get social cues, the mom who wants you to dress in ugly sweaters that she doesn’t realize are ugly; the list goes on and on.
We’re not operating within a society that is especially good at esteeming dear old mom.
In general, parents who care raise kids to be adults who are healthy and productive members of society. Moms are on the ground level of that. It can be easy to go to any given Target and assume that moms hanging out with their kids are a dime-a-dozen.
But they are making crucial investments that will impact the society that you find yourself in decades down the road.
Even now, my mom alters my behavior. My mom still gives good counsel — advice that impacts how I treat others, and how they in turn relate to those in their world. My mom still offers around the clock support for me. I have gone out my way to keep in contact with her during the most stressful days of my life, because I knew it would alter the outcome.
So yeah, I’ve called my mom from restaurant bathrooms and I’ve figured out ways to keep in touch on planes, and I Facetimed her from the delivery room, hours before my daughter made her appearance.
Even SAHMs are doing something of economic value.
As Erin Almond, a current SAHM (stay at home mom), writes for WBUR Boston, “The truth is, the job isn’t without stigma. As a society, we idealized housewives in the 1950s. Within a couple of decades, stay-at-home moms were demonized as lazy ‘welfare queens’ if they were poor, and submissive, zombified ‘Stepford Wives’ if they were wealthy.”
Five years ago, it was estimated that the economic value of what a SAHM does is $113,586 a year. The idea that a SAHM doesn’t make a monetary contribution is not just insulting, it’s also untrue.
If a woman were to have the same demand for her skills that a SAHM mom has, she would be hailed as an industrious success; her business model would be the envy of all in her field.
But for some reason the fact that she invests in society at the very base level is not really that significant since there’s no paycheck. Sometimes, I wonder if there would be less societal garbage (2017 has plenty of examples to pick from) if we gave more respect to those who are shaping its foundation, day in and day out.
Moms Aren’t Limited, Moms Are Empowered
NPR recently overviewed a report that shows the age of first-time moms is climbing steadily, across all races and in all states. We can talk all day about the pros and cons of the cultural shift and the implications of moms having their first babies earlier, but that’s not really what I’m getting at.
I know that all of my fear that I carried with me during my first pregnancy was partly because I felt like the message was that I couldn’t do both. I couldn’t actually have a baby and still have any type of life worth living. It’s a theme that I’ve heard in different forms from a lot of my peers: they can’t imagine doing both.
Moms do do both, though. Again, I’m not trying to make a case for what is best for mom and baby. I’m simply saying that moms do do both, every day. Whether its managing a house with kids for the majority of the day alone, or working outside the home and parenting, or cultivating her interests while parenting, moms make stuff happen.
They look at a situation where a lot of the world, maybe even the mom herself sometimes, looks and sees impossibilities, and they make that impossible situation work.
How do they do it?
This is really the core of what my mom was getting at, namely that the innate, profound love of a mother for her child makes impossible things possible.
There’s a moment in the Netflix original film The Fundamentals of Caring where Paul Rudd’s character says, “Every corny thing you’ve heard about having a kid is completely and utterly true.”
Which brings me back to where I began this piece: my little life-ruiner. What she really ruined was my completely whack ideas about the things that truly mattered. She has slayed some of the worst parts of me. The materialism and the self-orientation and the vanity all still lurk, but they have to work harder to keep up.
And somehow, the love is so heavy and deep and just everywhere that it’s not even hard to choose between it and them. I don’t know how to be a perfect parent, or how to do it all, but I do know that I love her.