The headlines on popular parenting sites can make moms seem kind of whiny. “I Didn’t Breastfeed, And It Took Years To Get Over My Shame And Guilt”, “Everyone in My Family Is Happier When I Don’t Work—Except for Me”, and “The One Thing All Parents Need But Aren’t Getting” are just three examples from three different top parenting sites. Readers often comment (some more politely than others) that all these moms need to get a grip, calm down, and get to work being moms.
So what’s going on? Are moms just a bunch of whiners? (Cue the commenter glibly posting, “Yup!” Try not to be so predictable.) Well, the thing is, when we talk about how hard it is to be a mom (how isolating it can feel, how sure we are that we’re doing everything wrong, how much we just want a cookie, or whatever), other people tend to assume that we’re saying these things because we feel we deserve special treatment. That we’re “special snowflakes.” That, for some reason, we think that no one else on earth has ever had it as bad as we do, and pity us, please, and give us a cookie. (Actually, do give us a cookie. Thanks.)
And, yes, some moms actually are saying that. But let’s forget about them for a second (or forever, if we can) because they’re really not the majority. Most of us talk about the way we feel as moms not because we think someone needs to do something about it, but because we want all the other moms out there to know they’re not alone, and because we want to know that we’re not alone.
A mom who says, in a public forum, that she sometimes feels lonely, for example, isn’t necessarily saying that, therefore, someone should do something about that. Or even that she thinks she’s the only one who feels lonely, that she’s the loneliest loner that ever loned.
It’s more likely, in fact, that, because we’re all doing our best to act like functional human beings, she’s just trying to let other people know that they’re not the only ones feeling lonely. That, even though everyone looks functional on the outside, we’re all kind of broken and just doing our best on the inside. Which is helpful to know. Because it’s always helpful to know the truth.
Talking about the way you feel isn’t necessarily the same as condoning that feeling. If, for example, a mom tells you that she feels guilty when she needs to put her toddler in time-out for breaking the rules, she isn’t saying that she’s not going to do it anyway. She’s telling you that, even though she’s being strong, and sticking to her discipline plan, and doing what’s best for her kid, she feels bad inside. And she’s telling you that because there’s a chance that you might be a mom who also feels this way, and who might feel relieved and supported to know that you’re not the only one.
Listen, people aren’t special snowflakes for having feelings. People are special snowflakes for acting on their feelings, or wallowing in them. And there’s a difference. If, on the other hand, this same mom tells you that she feels guilty when she puts her toddler in time-out so she’s stopped doing it. And if she wants you to tell her she’s still a good mom and that everything will be fine, and give her a cookie. Then you’re dealing with a special snowflake. See the difference?
People are different on the inside than they are on the outside. But that’s hard to remember. It’s hard to look at the perfectly put-together mom in the playground, who’s beatifically blowing bubbles for her rapt toddler, and remember that she’s just as broken on the inside as you. As we all are. Maybe not the in the same ways, but she’s not perfect. Because no one is perfect.
So yeah, all those headlines do kind of make us sound whiny if you imagine that that’s the kind of thing we sit around saying to each other all the time. That, if you hung out with a bunch of moms on any given day, all they’d want to talk about is their guilt and their resentment, and their anxiety. But most of the time, we’re not talking about that at all.
Most of the time we’re just doing our jobs, getting stuff done, working around (and through, and past) our feelings. And if we choose, in our precious few moments of spare time, to read an article about someone else’s guilt, or fear, or shame, it’s because knowing that someone feels the same way we do helps us do our jobs better.
So, those of us who feel brave enough tell the others of us who feel afraid that we’re not alone. That it’s normal to feel guilty, and lonely, and insecure, and uncertain. Because that knowledge gives us courage. Courage to suck it up. To keep going. To do the things that feel scary and hard. To be strong. To stand firm. To be moms.