I’m a millennial. I think. I was born in the early 80’s where we’re kind of part of our own generation but also considered millennials, but we don’t think we’re millennials. It’s a weird spot. We’re the people who went through most of college without Facebook (had I not deployed to Iraq, I would have been introduced to Facebook the summer before my senior year of college); we had AIM and we had Myspace, but we didn’t really have social media. Our parties weren’t digitally catalogued, and our missteps weren’t unknowingly recorded. We were the last generation to grow up without having everything on display forever.
While I am continually grateful that social media wasn’t a thing until I was 20 – I’m talking to you, mean girl from high school – it has not made adulthood any easier. I have three young children, a 9-year-old daughter and two sons, 7 and 3. Social media makes me want to scream a lot and cry a little, especially in terms of motherhood. My main beef with social media is that we can separate ourselves into little groups and then inside those groups only discuss topics we believe in. This is particularly difficult to navigate as a mother for so many reasons. Maybe I buy organic sometimes and maybe I buy Cheetos sometimes. According to my Facebook feed, the former makes me a snob and the latter makes me a lazy mother who doesn’t care about the chemicals I’m pumping into my children. It gets very confusing and it appears to be a social media fueled mommy competition and apparently I’m on the losing end. The battles are unending–there’s natural birth mom vs. medicated birth mom, there’s breastfeeding mom vs. formula mom, working mom vs. stay at home mom and it just goes on and on.
Aside from the competition and the unsolicited advice I am bombarded with daily, the other annoying thing I see on social media is, “motherhood is an absolute joy” or “enjoy every second while they’re little” or “motherhood is the best thing you’ll ever do.” I can ignore advice about food or diapers or education because I know my kids better than Debbie-from-Indiana does, but it is so difficult to ignore when it feels like I should love motherhood more than anything else in the world. Mom groups and timelines make us feel like we aren’t the moms we ought to be if we don’t live and breathe our children day in an day out.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids more than I’ve loved anything else. I always wanted to be a mother and the problem isn’t in me not loving or enjoying my children, the problem is in being told I am supposed to believe motherhood itself is entirely fulfilling and full of joy. I’m sorry, but for me, it’s not. More days are harder than they are joyful. More days are stressful and result in me questioning if I am even doing a good job. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was active duty Army. I was in a position I enjoyed and was slotted to deploy to Afghanistan. Unfortunately, my husband was also slotted for the same deployment, so we decided that I would separate from the Army to stay with our daughter. About three weeks after my soldiers left for Afghanistan – a deployment I had really wanted – I was living with my parents and was back at church with them. A woman at church said to me, “aren’t you so glad you aren’t in the Army, so you can be with her?” I remember being taken aback. I responded, “not really. I wanted to go to Afghanistan but knew in my heart this was the best decision for our family.” You would have thought I had dropped the f-bomb in the chapel by her reaction. I got a civilian job after leaving the Army, but it didn’t feel the same. I felt as though my transition into motherhood had somehow stripped me of my former identity. Is there some unwritten rule that motherhood must be wholly fulfilling or is it a lie that is fueled by social media?
I saw a social media post last week, an open letter or something like that, about how every moment with our little children is a blessing and mothers should always see the days as filled with joy. Even as someone who miscarried before having her first, right now, my days aren’t filled with joy. They’re filled with a 3-year-old in underwear who goes on the potty, but not the big potty, a little plastic potty on the floor that I must manually clean out 20 times a day. I wanted to write the author and ask her how I am supposed to find the joy in cleaning a plastic potty. While my little toddler-man is an absolute joy (when he’s not shrieking at me like threenagers do), not every moment is joyful or needs to be reminisced about in my journal. In fact, he’s at a stage where when I tell him I love him, he informs me he loves his grandma. Thanks, little man.
Many years ago, my husband was stationed in El Paso, Texas. We moved there when my middle child was five weeks old and my husband immediately left for training. I had two children under two, I was 3,000 miles away from family, I was suffering from post-partum depression and most of my time there was fogged by depression. While there, I was laid off from my position and became a permanent stay-at-home-mom. I eventually made friends and connections, but at one point, I was having a particularly rough period and reached out to a friend who was a stay-at-home mother of four. I was upset about something and was really missing my time in the Army and she cut me off and said, “you aren’t happy with being a mom? Oh, being a mother is the most fulfilling thing I have ever done.” I hung up and cried on my kitchen floor. Someone who should have been able to understand me, cut me down and made me feel badly for missing my life outside of the home. At some point, I know that motherhood is fulfilling–that point is not when you’re in the midst of raising toddlers or pre-pubescent daughters who have your same attitude problem.
I didn’t tell anyone how I felt for many years because I felt so guilty for not seeing instant fulfillment in motherhood. Of all my errands, I love doing my grocery shopping at the commissary on post. The main reason is because the retirees are real. I mean, really real. I don’t know about your children, but whenever we go grocery shopping, my kids suddenly forget social rules and behave as though they were raised by wild beasts. When my youngest was still a small baby, one woman stopped me and said, “don’t worry, I had six boys and I made it. You’ll make it.” That was more of a confidence boost than anything about joy or loving every moment. She made it. She raised her sons and made it through the chaos that is raising the next generation. She didn’t look back on her time with rose colored glasses and tell me to squeeze them tighter because I’ll miss them when they’re older, she was truthful. Sometimes, we merely make it through another day. I don’t do Pinterest lunches, but my children are fed. I don’t always put the laundry away on time, but their clothes are clean. I don’t put a frame over their wall drawings, I make them scrub it themselves with a Mr. Clean Eraser because “we don’t draw on the daygone walls!!” I am simply navigating myself through a world with no manuals, no rules, and a social media fueled ideal that cannot be met.
While I was a stay-at-home-mom, I finished both my bachelors and masters degrees. I felt that it was vital for me to continually improve myself as a person. I knew that if I was better on many different levels, that would, in turn, make me a better mom. I was recently hired by an organization I love and am working again while navigating life as a mother. I don’t feel that any one thing is, by itself, entirely fulfilling.
I believe we are complex individuals who need a variety of things in our lives to feel fulfilled. Yet, social media pits moms against each other, creating this war zone that really shouldn’t exist.
I am raising my children to the best of my ability and my children are kind and smart and funny. Just because my daughter wants to go to Harvard and become President of the United States does not mean that I look at her every day with a glow filled smile and an aura of joy. Honestly, some days, I understand why some species eat their young. Some days I cry on the couch after they go to sleep. Some days, though, I kiss their warm cheeks while they’re fast asleep and smile because I may not love every second, but there are moments that are irreplaceable. While I love social media because I have friends scattered throughout the world, I wish people would understand that every mom is doing their life differently, and that’s okay. I say we end the fight and instead empower moms to continue to do the best they can–that’s all we can do any way.