I don't know what it was today... The 416th consecutive night of broken sleep, or the constant whining coming from the baby backpack as I attempted our first ever mother-son hike in the canyon, an abortive effort that failed not during our walk through the grimy city to get there, but only once we'd reached the beautiful canyon itself? The blackish poop in the diaper which had dried all over Sweet Baby James' butt by the time we returned from this non-hike? The two-times wailing when he fell on his face, cutting his lip and drawing blood for the first (and second!) time in his life? The quick frustration with his sippy cup, this cup which had been on my to-do (to-buy) list for several days and which led only to soaked clothes, a furious baby and a dent in the new blue bookshelf? Or maybe it was the demoralizing experience of having bused over an hour across the city with a seriously tired baby last night to attend a La Leche League meeting that wasn't happening... And then busing, with a now hysterically tired baby, all the way back?
Whatever the case: at around 3pm today I had to sit down, take a deep sigh and admit something terrible to myself (and my husband, because apparently I was talking to myself). I really don't feel like being a mom today.
The toughest thing I've experienced in being a new mom isn't any one thing in particular -- I can deal with endless kamikaze poopings, I can deal with sleeplessness, I can deal with sore arms when I carry him and guilt when I don't -- but it's the constancy of it. Like being pregnant, being a mom would be so much easier if you could do it just six days out of seven, or even nine out of ten.
But ya can't. It doesn't work like that.
And I'm not even sure I would want it to. After all, I could take a break if I really needed it. I could go on a quick vacation somewhere, leaving hubby or the grandparents to look after the little one. I could ignore him a little more often. I could buy a TV. I could put him in daycare. But probably as a result of my 'attachment' parenting practices and beliefs, I don't even want to (...yet). I feel good when I get a short (2 hours max) daily break from the baby. But I don't feel good leaving him for any longer than that, or even for a full day with regular check-ins.
Dr. and Martha Sears talk about this 'feeling right' when you're with your baby in their lovely book The Attachment Parenting Book : A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby. It shouldn't surprise any of us that babies feel 'right' when they're with their primary caretaker. But what about when mamas need (though don't always want) to be with their babies? There's a certain snideness in our culture about 'clingy' parents. You hear it from kindergarten teachers who have to "shoo" the parents away on the kids' first day of school; I've heard it from obstetric nurses who laugh at new mamas who are reluctant to give up their newborns to the nursery "just so she can get a few hours of sleep!"
I know we shouldn't have kids to fill a hole within us. Kids are not designed to make their parents happy, and anyway, they never do. They are designed to be themselves -- infuriating, discomfort-producing, entirely lovable little beings. I worry about unconsciously crossing the line from healthy attachment into the territory of (s)mothering enmeshment. Co-dependency is the last thing I want. Connection, compassion and understanding are the first (it's a three-way tie).
In fact, like a true modern woman, I want it all ways. I want deep attachment (but not enmeshment!) and I want a kickass creatively powerful life. The only problem is... How? How do I know when to 'give in' and spend the day eliciting smiles from my baby, and when it would be wiser to spend that time working on my other creative projects?
I don't know. If I'm not working on 'my own stuff' (like, ahem, this blog post), I'm not happy to be a stay at home mom; if I'm not connecting well with my baby, what the f*ck am I doing writing this self-righteous parenting blog? It's a fine balance.
I highly recommend admitting that you're not feeling great about being a Mama on the days that you're not. It felt so good. Like that staple of professor office doors: 'Today is not your day. Tomorrow doesn't look good either.' Today I'm not The Best Mama. Today I'm not picking your spoon up off the floor after you've thrown it there for the fifth time, on purpose. I don't care if you have to eat the rest of your apple sauce with your hands. Today I'm Distracted, Irritable, Grouchy Mama. And I can't wait 'til it's your bedtime.
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