Does motherhood sound like the most exhausting job in the world?
We’re gearing up for Rebecca to deliver really soon, so we’ve been thinking a lot as a family about modern motherhood lately. And at the same time, the news is constantly filled with the dropping birth rate–the CDC announced in May that the fertility rate was now at the lowest rate in 32 years. America is under the replacement rate of 2.2. In fact, the vast majority of Western countries are. Canada’s birth rate, at 1.6, is even lower than the United States’ birth rate, at 1.8. As a culture, we are choosing not to reproduce.
Columnist Mark Steyn has long argued that fertility and religion are linked. When people lose their faith in something greater than themselves, then it’s hard to look towards the future. And without a future-orientation, the present, and having fun, become all that matters. If you don’t have a sense that you have a purpose in life, why reproduce?
I agree, but I don’t think that’s the only reason. I also think our consumer culture has made motherhood almost impossible. Our culture sells us on dissatisfaction so that we will try harder. It sells us on bigger is better, and boy is that apparent when it comes to motherhood.
We’ve been talking about how life can get in the way of marital happiness this month, and I thought a good way to cap off September is just to bring up this question: Have we made motherhood too big?
Think about how standards have changed.
Fifty years ago, most women married knowing how to make seven main meals, one for each week, with company on Sundays. Bridal magazines were filled with this (have you chosen your meals yet?). And if each of the weekday meals were simple casseroles, so much the better, because they were cheaper. People had Shepherd’s Pie Tuesdays and Roast on Sundays.
Today we’re supposed to cook gourmet meals. We’re supposed to cook interesting things for kids’ lunches (no more bologna sandwiches). Have you ever actually flipped through a woman’s magazine or a parenting magazine and imagined, “if I actually added up everything that it tells me to do between these pages, how much time would it take?” You’ve got reading to your kids and exercising with your kids and doing homework with your kids and taking kids to lessons and cooking healthy meals and having a cleaning system and doing all the laundry and spending time on yourself and with friends and reading good books and investing in your marriage, all while having kids at school full time and working full-time. I’m sure it would take longer than the 24 hours the good Lord chose to give us.
Birthday parties, when I was young, mostly consisted of playing out in the backyard, perhaps with some skipping ropes or bubbles, and then eating hot dogs and a homemade cake. There were no ice cream cakes that cost easily $30. There was no renting out the rec center so everyone could go swimming. Occasionally some kid’s parents would take you to a McDonald’s birthday, and that was Extra. Special. But that was about it. Here’s my 9th birthday party. Looks like we played Sorry and blew bubbles!
Today we go bowling, or swimming, or something big. I know one mom who took ten girls to a glamour photo shoot! I can’t even imagine how much that cost, because they all had their hair and makeup done, too. And I do this, too. Here we were eating at the bowling alley the year that Becca turned 9.
Then there are all the kids’ activities. We just weren’t in that many when we were young, but I know some families with multiple kids all in rep hockey (meaning that they travel every weekend for tournaments). Their whole lives are wrapped up in taking their 8-year-olds to out of town hockey games! And then in the summer there’s hockey camp, or ballet camp, or karate camp. Add up all that money, and it’s a small fortune.
In fact, one recent study from the USDA found the cost of raising an average kid, from birth to 18, to be $233,610. I wouldn’t be surprised if many twenty and thirty-somethings looked at their friends with kids, who were run off their feet taking their kids to all these lessons and activities, shelling out money left, right, and center, and these people said, “I’d rather spend my money on cruises,” and forgot about child-rearing altogether.
We have overburdened motherhood.
We have said you need to pay all this money, you need to be chairperson of the PTA, you need to make gourmet meals, decorate your children’s rooms, buy a bigger house, and give up all your own goals and dreams for the foreseeable future. We think moms should work harder now than they did fifty years ago, when women had more time to devote to motherhood. I think we’ve gone insane.
It’s okay as a mom if you still have your own time. It’s okay if you still have a marriage. It’s okay if you live in a smaller home, and don’t have all the kids’ stuff, but instead just learn how to make your own fun.
Yes, being a mom is time-consuming.
But it doesn’t have to be as hectic as everyone makes it out to be. You don’t have to have your child in every activity. You don’t have to be on every committee. It’s okay if you only know how to make a few meals, if your children share a room, if you leave the kids with grandparents occasionally so you can get adult time, if you don’t throw a birthday party every year, if you don’t take your kids to tons of cultural events, and if you don’t put up a swing set in your backyard.
It’s okay if you still have your own time. It’s okay if you still have a marriage. It’s okay if you live in a smaller home, and don’t have all the kids’ stuff, but instead just learn how to make your own fun.
Maybe if we stopped demanding that motherhood be bigger and better, and simply concentrated on it being part of our lives, instead of the whole thing, we’d be a lot better off!
If families just got back to what we did well–hanging out without any plans, taking walks, playing football in the park, playing Sorry!, lying on the bed reading bedtime stories, enforcing bedtime so parents still had parent time, ensuring siblings could play so you still had a life–all of these things would make parenting so much easier. But we throw that aside so that we can live up to some ideal, and that ideal takes a LOT of work that probably isn’t necessary.
So as we end this month, I just want to say: If you’re tired, if you feel like there is too much on your plate, if you feel like you can never get everything done–maybe that’s normal. Maybe we need to give ourselves permission to ask, “what kind of life do I actually want? Do I need all of this in my life? What’s actually the most important when it comes to building relationships in our families?” And maybe we need to give ourselves permission to be weird, and not to do everything that we’re told you absolutely must do.
What do you find is the most overhyped part of motherhood–the part that our society demands we devote so much time and money to, that really isn’t that important in the end? Let me know, and let’s talk in the comments!