Motherhood Can Be Exhausting--maybe we should give ourselves a breakThis week I wrote a column specifically on Ontario and the teachers’ rotating strikes, and I didn’t think that it applied to all my readers. So I thought I’d reprint one from 2005 that made it into my book, Reality Check. I really liked this one! And if you enjoy my columns, make sure not to miss my favourites from the past decade in Another Reality Check.

When I was a kid I hated swimming lessons, and I made sure everyone knew it, including my two little cousins. Whenever their parents tentatively brought up the topic, they fled in horror, certain that there was nothing so vile as the local pool. Yet though I hated the lessons, I took them and became quite a good swimmer. My cousins, however, never did.

For Danielle, the youngest, this caused some difficulties. She is a marathon runner, a wilderness hiker, a canoer and a kayaker. Her life is outdoors. But her front crawl stinks. So now, at the age of 28, she is taking swimming lessons at the Y to make up for her childhood neglect. I gave her a rotten picture of what learning to swim would be like. It just wasn’t worth it. And for a long time she believed me.

Scanning women’s magazines and books, I can’t help but feel that we’re being given the same story about parenting. Almost every article I read has to do with all the difficulties women face. I have to admit I’ve been the author of several such articles, columns, and even books myself. It is difficult to be a mom. But lately I’ve noticed a subtle shift. Instead of the theme, “sometimes it’s hard to be a mom, but you can do it! And boy is it worth it!”, we’re now stopping the sentence after “it’s hard.” End of story.

Newsweek had a major article a few weeks ago about how impossible it was to be a mom today (though I’m not sure our great-grandmothers, who lived without the benefit of convenience stores, take-out, or even washing machines, would feel sorry for us). And now debuting is the book “Perfect Madness: Motherhood in an Age of Anxiety”, which portrays mothers as stressed out, depressed, and close to the breaking point, as if we’re all potential Andrea Yates waiting to kill our children.

When these writers talk about the desperation of motherhood, they lament about how difficult it is to fulfill all the mothering duties: to pull off a birthday party for toddlers where no one throws up; to give kids the proper “neurological stimulation”, including Mozart CDs, flashcards, and foreign language tapes; to make perfectly well-balanced meals that include vegetables that children eat gratefully and politely. Parenthood has become a giant to-do list.

But though parenthood is a lot of work, I wonder if we are concentrating on the wrong kind of work. Parenthood isn’t just do this and do that in a giant contest to see who can produce the best baby. It is also just BE. Be real. Be loving. And, at its most basic, be there. All of these be’s are probably more important than the do’s anyway.

Over the last week I spent time with a dear friend, as her husband died of cancer. He chose to spend his last days at home, away from the impersonal hospital and surrounded by his wife and children. Human touch, and human connection, is what matters. We understand that when it comes to the end. But at the beginning of life we sometimes forget it, as we judge the quality of our motherhood by how much we can get done, rather than by the quality of our relationships. Sometimes just sitting there, doing nothing but cuddling, is worth more than anything else on your list, even if the vacuuming doesn’t get done, or you have to eat cereal and apples for dinner again.

When we use accomplishments as our yardstick, I fear that we turn more and more people off of parenthood. Today’s moms don’t feel adequate unless they can construct a model 747 out of toilet paper tubes and felt. No wonder people are going mad. We just need to be with each other; we don’t necessarily need to accomplish great things. After all, being a loving mom is great enough in and of itself. Danielle eventually got smart enough to ignore me and learn to swim. I hope that today’s media negativism will likewise be ignored, so that we will again discover that “Mommy” really is the nicest word in the English language.

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