I never imagined being a mother. I never thought about my wedding day as a little girl, or dreamt up a home I would one day share with my adoring husband and brood of children.
The only time I ever remember talking about my wedding day was when I was going through a particularly anti-dress phase and I declared I would NEVER wear a dress again. My mother, sly as she was, mentioned that I’d probably wear one on my wedding day. To which I replied, “Nope. I’m gonna wear jeans.” She rolled her eyes and said, “Well, we’ll see.” (I wore a huge poofy princess dress.)
When I was a child I didn’t think about adulthood much, except that I was going to be a famous actress and live with my two best friends, Chris (who would be a doctor) and Jessica (who would be our housewife -this was her choice). It all made perfect sense to us, including the detail about owning a white tiger, like Jasmine in the movie Aladdin.
But having children never came up. And as I had my first child at the age of 16, I never really got to decide on the matter in a thoughtful way. I came into adulthood as a mother, and a mother I stayed.
Because so few people had faith in my ability to be a good mother, I was determined to prove them wrong. I did everything within my power to be the perfect mom. I homeschooled, made everything from scratch, read aloud, sang aloud, established holiday traditions, was consistent with my discipline, and read every parenting book I could get my hands on.
Then one day, at the age of 22 (and with 3 children), I was hanging up my son’s clothes in his closet, and I thought to myself, “Who am I?”
It was suddenly clear that I was not alive, but walking around dead inside.
3 years later, I would discover during a deep meditation, that I hated being a mom. I hated it to the core.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my children. In fact, loving my children was what made being a mother so hard. I couldn’t just ignore them, or pass them off onto others. My love for them made me want their lives to be perfect, and I felt like I was the only one who could provide that for them.
What I really hated was the position of mom. The job title of it. I didn’t want to be a nameless slave to my children and husband. One that American society assumed was less intelligent, and less attractive, than non-mothers. In fact, there were a lot of things I wanted to do that having children so young and marrying myself to stay-at-home motherhood had stolen from me. Things I didn’t even know I’d want because I hadn’t known myself well enough at a young age to dream them up yet.
I didn’t have a degree or specialty, so the idea of me working never made financial sense. Dan never realized that I wanted to work because I didn’t want to be a mom. He just looked at the numbers and told me no. That’s right, Dan used to be able to tell me no.
My whole life stretched out before me, and according to societal standards, all I was going to do was nurture, teach, support, discipline, cook for, and clean up after my children until they were out of the house. And then when I was an empty nester, my husband and I would have time to go on dates, and I could take up painting. Then I’d wait until my grandchildren were born and throw myself into them, just happy to have the opportunity to love them. There was never going to be a me. Tara would never exist. Mom, Dan’s wife, and Grammy would be the whole of my identity for the rest of my life.
But I wanted to be Tara.Mothers are people too. Click To Tweet
The more I thought about Tara, the more I came alive. I did some major soul searching. In fact, that soul searching lasted 6 years. Yep, it took 6 years to get from wanting something, to feeling like it was okay to have it. It took 6 years to feel worthy of having a life to call my own.
I knew that when I “came out” of the mother closet and declared I wanted to be a hip, fashionable, independent woman who made her own decisions and didn’t need anyone else, but rather chose to be with people because she loved them, there would be hell to pay. And you know what? There was.
But miraculously I survived, my marriage survived, and I’m even friends with my parents again. I have a high paying career, a start up business, a great body, hip style, two books, daughters who value their independence, and sons who value women.
And Dan and I? We’re now a 50/50 household. He no longer thinks I’m less intelligent than him. In fact, he constantly marvels at what I can do in business. My children have a nanny AND are partially homeschooled. They’re getting great things from people that aren’t me, and they’re okay.
I had to decide that my happiness was important too. That it wasn’t just important for me, it was important for the people around me. Because I can’t love them if I don’t love me. Not really. And they care enough about me to want my happiness too.
So is motherhood how I imagined it? Here’s what’s different:
Things that are worse than I thought they’d be:
Teenagers: I knew they’d be hormonal and think they knew it all and I knew nothing, but I wasn’t prepared for how much these personal attacks would hurt me.
Servanthood: I knew that moms cooked, cleaned, bathed the kids, disciplined, etc… But I never saw how much mothers were thankless servants. How you could work yourself to exhaustion, preventing any number of disasters, going the extra mile to make sure things were healthy and beautiful, and no one would notice unless it wasn’t done. In other words, toilets only get noticed if they’re dirty.
Identity theft: I didn’t know mothers lost their identity and became a relationship instead. Dan’s wife or K’s mom.
Social respect: I also wasn’t prepared to be thought of as less intelligent and attractive. Or how I would play into it because I’d start to believe all these things about me too.
Fear: Being more afraid for their health, emotional state, and life success than I could have ever imagined. Having a pit in my stomach every time they were sad, ashamed, or in the hospital. Bad dreams about terrible things happening to them, and real life troubles I can’t control.
Personal failure: I didn’t think I’d fail so much as a parent, because I never realized that parents are just people. As kids we get angry at our parents for every little thing they do wrong, including them getting upset at us for doing something wrong. We don’t realize they’re just older versions of kids who did things wrong and that there’s no magical point in time where one becomes a perfect parent.
Things that are better than I thought they would be:
Love: When I gave birth to my first child I felt like the Grinch when his heart grew 3 sizes that day. I was in awe of how much I could love something so tiny, and how everything they did for the first 5 years of their life would be so entertaining to me. And even now, my favorite time of day is when little G snuggles up to me in the morning before I’m out of bed.
Maturity: Motherhood has grown and deepened the understanding I have of myself and other people like I could have never predicted. And it’s helped me to understand and love my own parents better as well.
Motherhood has been hard on me, but a lot of that has been because of my culture and ideals about what a mother should be. The more I’ve made the decision to follow my own heart, come into acceptance about my imperfections, and released my grip on the safety, well being, and insured happiness of my children, the more at peace I’ve become. It’s still not perfect, but it’s a lot better.
Knowing what I know now, would I do it all over again? If I’m honest, I don’t know that I would. But, I don’t know that I wouldn’t either.