The Dark Side of Motherhood - Happy as a Mother

The Dark Side of Motherhood

If motherhood came with a warning label it would read:

“Warning! Motherhood causes the most overwhelming joy, but also comes with a level of responsibility that will stretch you in ways you never thought possible. It is a LIFELONG COMMITMENT that will drastically alter your priorities, your freedom, and your resources– it is not for the faint of heart. Also, note that you may end up driving a minivan. Proceed with caution.”

The list of side effects would include:

Will cause lack of sleep

May cause you to lower your beauty standards

Will change every conversation you ever have

Will strip you of your modesty

May make you question your sanity

May cause your hair to go grey

May challenge your relationship with your spouse

May drain your finances

May cause you to leave the house looking homeless

May change the way you relate to others

May cause you to feel isolated

Will change your body in ways you never thought possible

May cause you to doubt yourself

May cause your heart to melt or explode

May cause shame

May inhibit your ability to shower

May cause guilt

May alter brain function

May cause you just sit and stare

And so much more!

Mama, motherhood is no joke.

Like seriously, no one warned me. There was no, “jarring turn of motherhood ahead” sign to prepare me for the transition I would embark on– and man alive, was I ever naive. I had NO idea.

In some ways the ignorance was bliss. My mother likes to joke that if parents really knew what they were in for, they would have never had kids. At first this made sense. They clearly weren’t warned, or they didn’t know the list of possible — or plausible– side effects. But then, how do you explain the crazy people, like me, who decide to do it again– not just once, but twice! Motherhood is described and portrayed as being the greatest joy of a woman’s life, and it is… most days. But not every aspect of motherhood is unicorns and rainbows. There is a very real dark side of motherhood that every mother feels, but few talk about.

Why is it taboo to discuss the dark side of motherhood? As if talking about the challenges somehow negates the positives. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Motherhood can be equal parts brutal and wonderful. I know it’s a weird concept, to think that we can experience both positive and negative feelings about the same experience at the same time, but we can. It isn’t one or the other– it can be both.

For example, motherhood can bring the most profound sense of joy and satisfaction. You look at the human being YOUR FRICKIN BODY CREATED, and you experience an overwhelming sense of gratitude and joy. Then that little miracle stays up all night, nurses until your nipples are raw, and remains inconsolable. A darkness, dread, irritability, exhaustion or whatever you want to label it rolls in, and you grapple with the fact that this is now your life. A life of constantly putting other humans wants, needs, and desires before your own. A life where you quickly realize you would go to any lengths to protect your child and make sure they are safe– even at the cost of your own sleep, body and  freedom.

I was chatting with a mom for a Her Story Spotlight feature. In the process of writing out her traumatic birth story, she shared that she had a real wake up call when the doctors announced that her baby was in distress. She discovered that she would have allowed them to do anything to her in that moment to deliver him safely. Afterwards, she went through unimaginable pain and a 5 month recovery, and yet she still decided to have another baby! A non-parent outsider would have a hard time understanding that one, heck I have a hard time understanding! How can someone go through such physical and emotional trauma and risk going through it all again? Because the gratification of being a mother far surpasses the darkness. It may not feel like it day to day, because the darkness is very real, but being a mother is fulfilling.

Can we pause and talk about happiness versus meaning/fulfillment for a second? Stick with me, it’s relevant I promise.

For many years our culture has been focused on pursuing happiness. But what does that even mean? Truth be told, if I rated my happiness on a scale of 1-10 while raising three boys ages three and under, day to day I’d likely sit somewhere around 5. Some days I would be a 1-2, and others I would be a 8-9. Listen, I’m just being real with you. Being a mother doesn’t necessarily make me FEEL the most happy and I’m not going to sit here and lie to you. My daily duties include changing poopy diapers, wiping bums, getting up in the middle of the night to breastfeed, making dinner for everyone (which usually gets rejected or thrown on the floor), and power struggling with little humans to eat and sleep– which I would gladly do for them if I could! None of these daily responsibilities make me feel particularly happy. In fact, they can be quite exhausting and frustrating.

If being a mother is hard– why do we do it?

Even after we know the grueling sacrifice, many of us chose to do it again because the life of a mom is about a life of meaning and purpose– not happiness.

A life of meaning is focused on having an impact in the world and leaving a legacy behind. It is focused on being of service to others and brings fulfillment through knowing that you are helping… as opposed to happiness which is internally focused. When studies ask people what makes them happy, they often report superficial things like money, vehicles, houses, being a certain weight, and other self focused things. That isn’t to say that wanting these things is wrong, but when they are made the primary focus in a pursuit for happiness, they actually cause us to feel the opposite. Blatantly put, studies show that the more you pursue happiness, the less happy you feel. The solution– pursue a life of meaning. A life focused on having an impact on the world that goes beyond just yourself.

The life of a mother epitomizes a life of meaning.  

It is the ultimate form of sacrifice, but is for the greater good of your child. As a mom, you know that the contributions you make today lead to a better life for your child in the future. Knowing that you are shaping the future of the next firefighter, teacher, computer engineer, scientist, architect, etc. provides a deep-seeded amount of meaning and satisfaction. Not necessarily in the day to day, but in the grander overall scheme of life.

With that in mind, I want you to remember this– it is okay to feel and talk about the dark side of motherhood. It is okay to not love every single moment of raising these energy zapping human beings. But it is also important to not forget your why, to not lose sight of the bigger picture. These children are your legacy. They are literally your contribution to the world. They will go on to do great things because of the love and time you invested into them. I get goosebumps just writing that. They will thrive in their life because of your sacrifices today.  

There is simply no greater honour in the world, and no more exhausting task than raising the next generation.

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