Before actually becoming your mom, I gave so much more thought to what you would look like, act like and be like than what the experience of motherhood would actually feel like. Your dad and I both wanted kids. We had similar values, we loved each other and seemed to handle life’s twists and turns with relative ease. I figured the whole parenting thing would be equally hard for both of us, and we’d weather the storms together. Him with fun spiritedness and confidence and me with my background in child development and psychology—we’d make a great team.
What I couldn’t have known then is that the second we stepped into parenthood, the playing field would no longer be even. We call it the “mental load” now, but when you were babies I didn’t have a name for the reason I seemed to be so much more affected by the unpredictability, the sleepless nights, the messy house and the changed plans than your dad did.
I didn’t know how heavy the load of parenting would be, I didn’t know what maternal stress would feel like in my bones, or what it would sound like on my lips.
I had no idea how much I’d have to rely on thinking on my toes when, yet again, I got the call from your dad that he wasn’t going to make it home from work because the fire department was short and he had to stay. I had no idea how hard it would be to find childcare or how much we’d count on grandparents, babysitters and last minute childcare hail marys. I had no idea what it would be like to juggle the needs of kids, marriage and career, alongside my own.
I had no idea what life would feel like when the volume was constantly turned up to ten—the crying, the screeching, the bickering, the whining, the IPads. I didn’t know sensory overload or learning to regulate my emotions (sparked by a global pandemic and a late ADHD diagnosis) would become something I’d have to learn to navigate in my 30’s. I didn’t know that no matter how many deep breaths I took, or how much self-care I engaged in, it could still feel impossible to hold everyone’s feelings and mine at the same time.
Loving you and me at the same time still looks and feels like swimming upstream
I didn’t know I’d be the parent who yelled, or made you feel “small” when managing it all felt too big. Just the other day I yelled and cried, “I want to leave, I can’t do this!” It shames me to remember that moment, because I know it scared you and I didn’t mean I wanted to leave you, or your dad (the people I love the most). But I did want escape—to get out of my body, and feel anything but the overwhelming feeling taking over. When I rocked you to sleep in those early days, tired and mesmerized by the weight of you in my arms—I couldn’t have imagined ever saying such ugly, hurtful words.
I had no idea how quickly feelings of guilt or shame would surface when people on the internet, or worse people in real life, would suggest focusing on the things I had to be grateful for instead of the things that were hard. I didn’t know I’d be the target for endless short videos about motherhood laid to heartbreakingly beautiful music saying things like “we only have 18 summers with our babies,” and as a result I’d feel like a terrible mom. As if, because I wasn’t homesteading or playing with you enough or giving you enough access to me, I was blowing it.
You may have noticed already that your dad is left out of the conversation about guilt. This isn’t his fault, he has been a wonderful partner to me and father to you. It’s the world’s fault for conditioning women to live stifled by doubt and guilt, and to allow men to live freely without it. He tells me all the time that I’m a wonderful partner, and a great mom to you three. He says things like, “put less pressure on yourself,” without acknowledging I didn’t choose it in the first place.
But here is what I do know: while I always wanted to be a mom, in addition to many other things, I never wanted to be a “supermom,” letting that one role define the whole of me. And, I still don’t. I don’t want to live by the words of a script I didn’t write. The truth is, I don’t love every waking moment of parenting and I don’t want to let go of the parts of myself that make me feel human. Pursuing big audacious dreams, finding time for leisure and making room for pleasure are the things that make life worth living—they’re my rights just as much as they are yours.
Sadly, due to patriarchal beliefs about what motherhood “should” look like, loving you and me at the same time still looks and feels like swimming upstream. It’s constantly pushing against the tide of old stories and misguided beliefs that tell us that selflessness is the gold standard of womanhood. It’s fighting the urge to cancel trips that don’t involve taking you with me out of a place of guilt instead of necessity. It’s choosing to believe, against all of my social conditioning, that a few hours with a friend, a solo hike or a new passion pursuit is worth it even when it takes time away from you and your dad or doesn’t make us more money.
I am also coming to know that pursuing this kind of life, one where we’re all equally worthy of the time and space to be whole, looks really messy. There are balls dropped, there are tears shed, appointments missed and dishes in the sink but, my hope is that you’re getting a fuller and more alive version of me and your dad. When there’s more room for me to be human, I have more capacity to love you and see you for the beautiful humans you are—and that’s the kind of life I want for our family.
A version of this story was originally published on Oct. 14, 2023. It has been updated.