Mother’s Day for the Ones who Need It
I was afraid to be a parent at first because I thought it would be hard. That’s what everybody said–we have things like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day because parenting is hard. Particularly for moms, those stalwart warriors who grew the kids in their bellies and fed them from their breasts and, never forget, had to have the whole kid removed from their body one way or another (neither way is pleasant).
Postpartum depression, breastfeeding, and just having a tiny infant in general. That’s hard. Leaving your child’s father…that’s hard, too. But all of the above are finite in their timeline, and before you know it, parenting becomes a whole lot easier.
My job is hard. I write things for clients who all need stories told in specific, particular ways. I work with developers and designers who know a lot of things that I don’t, and it’s not easy to keep up with them.
Working out is hard. Struggling with an illness is hard. Building a house is hard. All sorts of things in life are hard. But parenting a healthy child with resources behind you is not hard, and it’s certainly not a hardship.
Sometimes my child will have slightly bad days, and sometimes he gets sick. But ultimately it’s a simple job: be there for another human being who loves you only slightly less than you love them. By default, you’ll probably enjoy your time together. Besides the extra laundry involved, I just don’t see what the difficulty is in raising a kid when you have help, money, and health on your side.
For several years before I was pregnant and several years after, someone I’m really close to struggled with infertility. The whole shebang — trouble getting pregnant, many miscarriages, losing hope, gaining hope, feeling responsible, battling a pronounced feeling of failure.
Once, in a particularly deep valley of despair, she made the regrettable error of skimming through her Facebook feed, and came across the inevitable “Good-natured complaint about how my children are absolutely and definitely ruining my life.” I can’t remember if this person’s child was too wild at bedtime, wouldn’t eat their food, drew on the wall, or what. It hardly matters. I do remember that my friend called me, crying, and wondered how anyone could be so insensitive as to complain about this amazing thing that, at the time, she thought she could never have.
Here’s my hypothesis:
We think it’s cute.
We think complaining about our children is the opposite of bragging about our children, and no one likes a parent who’s overly proud of their offspring, right? When we were kids, those parents were the ones our moms hated, the braggers. The theatre moms. The crowers of curricular and extracurricular brilliance.
Now, we’ve swung the pendulum in the other direction, and we think that we bring a certain Conan O’Brien self-deprecating charm to parenthood by rolling our eyes and comparing how long it’s been since we’ve seen a movie all the way through (please note: we will talk about Game of Thrones without losing any vigor until we are literally told to shut up by a coworker who hasn’t seen it). We give our kids too much stuff and then complain about how it’s all over our house. We complain about how much energy they have from the couch, using our iPhones, while they play. We seem to do everything we can to set ourselves up for a good complaining session, and the trouble is, it’s all too easy to invite everyone we know to become our audience.
If our moms bragged, they did it at work or church socials or bridge clubs. Maybe the annual Christmas newsletter. When we complain about our kids, it instantly reaches the eyes of hundreds. We post a photo of a bottle of rosé and the assertion that we MUST and WILL drink all this wine in front of us, because we DESERVE IT, as if the only thing that can blot out the tremendous privilege of having a child’s love is to inebriate ourselves into sweet oblivion. We complain about how there’s not enough coffee in the world to wake us up after our kid (sleeps for 12 straight hours and then) wakes us up early.
We put this stuff out there without thinking about the people who are watching. It’s not just your usual squad of commenters who read your words— it’s the people who aren’t commenting who you need to think about. The parents on round three of a $10,000 IVF treatment. The foster parents struggling to come to grips with the two rambunctious siblings they’ve taken into their homes. The parents with autistic children, Downs kids, or kids who didn’t make it to their fifth birthday.
Or, less likely to be on your list of friends, the poor parents. The ones who have to work three jobs, usually without a partner or a high school diploma to help them advance. The moms who just want their little girls to not get pregnant and their boys to stay out of jail, and for the entire family to manage to get through life without an addiction, an eviction, or both. Those moms’ jobs are hard.
If you have a happy, healthy child and you’re financially comfortable, parenting is not hard.
I believe that most people I’d call peers live in excess, and when we talk about this constant yearning to find balance in our lives, this is what we’re talking about without even knowing it. We have extra money where other people don’t have enough, we certainly have a whole lot more time than we think we do, we have support, we have resources, and, most of all, we have health — our own health and the health of our children.
I think we feel out of sorts because we don’t know what to do with it all. Our problems are so tiny, we seek out new problems. We spend too much money on things and tire of those things quickly. We don’t get to know our neighbors. We don’t get to know our communities. And we don’t get to know what we have in abundance that our community needs.
This Mother’s Day, I’m thinking a lot about the women (and men) who don’t have what I have. A colleague and I recently tagged along on a World Pediatric Project mission to St. Vincent, a poor but stunningly beautiful island in the Eastern Caribbean. We met what seemed like an endless stream of moms who were worried about their kids — kids who had birth defects, had been in accidents, had been shot with stray bullets, had cancer, lost legs, lost arms, lost years of their life due to untreated holes in their hearts.
These moms do not take their children for granted. These moms are ready to treasure every minute they have together. They know their little boys and girls are lucky to be alive.
The perception of struggle doesn’t get you more respect, and you don’t become a more interesting person by creating a martyr mantra. What does make life more fascinating, however, is taking an interest in people who don’t have what you have. Whether it’s thinking hard about the young mother who worked 20-hour days in a factory with her baby on the floor so you could have a cheap pair of jeans from a company who manufacturers their clothes where regulations won’t cut their profit margins. Or whether you start getting email newsletters from something like Every Mother Counts, even if you never donate, just to get some awareness of women who battle a disturbing lack of natal resources. Or sending a few dollars a month to World Pediatric Project so that one mother can watch her child grow up to become a healthy citizen of her country.
Or maybe you start in your own community and mentor a kid who doesn’t have the same access to the world that your child does.
If you love your child — and you most likely love them with much intensity — allow that love to seep outside your family circle and touch the lives of other children and, by extension, their mothers.
This Sunday, give yourself a few minutes to dwell on that. Cull your social media feed to remove the toxic complainers (or, better yet, keep them on there and become an influence), pay more attention to the moms of special needs kids, think hard about what how you talk about your own kids, because chances are, they’ll be able to read it all one day. And, most importantly, think about the motherhood victory that’s easiest to achieve — giving your child an example of a life to emulate.
You don’t want them to celebrate their mom on Mother’s Day, you want them to celebrate their hero.