There is a general consensus among mothers, researchers, feminists, and nonfeminists that women and literature have dwelled on the fuzzy side of motherhood, keeping the negatives under cover. The problem is, the other stuff is what women need to know. In fact, a national study reported that only one out of four women had a realistic idea of what motherhood would entail.
Consequently, a new genre of books is coming to the surface that recounts the trials, tribulations, and tensions of motherhood. The purpose is to let women of childbearing age in on the secrets before going through the initiation rites, and to alleviate the guilt one might incur reconciling the image of motherhood with the reality of it.
Susan Jeffers, Ph.D., in her book, "I'm Okay, You're a Brat!" (Renaissance Books, 1999) touts the idea that women deliberately have been kept in the dark about how hard it is to be a mother. When one confronts her own misery or ambivalence towards the task, she becomes confused and silent, ashamed of her own feelings.
Now it is out in the open! You're okay. It's okay to feel frustrated, confused, and angry. Motherhood isn't always a sunny picnic; but in most cases, the just dessert eventually makes up for the stormy days and rainedout celebrations.
In Anticipation of Motherhood
The problem may start as far back as what women say they anticipate about motherhood:
- Nurturing a living being
- Creating the ideal family unit
- Intensifying a love relationship with a partner
- Gaining pleasure and satisfaction in being needed
- Cuddling that cute bundle and smelling that wonderful baby smell
- Producing a biological being that will love you forever
"It is impossible to describe how big the whole thing is—it is all-consuming," says Sara Jane Harris, a 30-year-old mother of an 18-month-old child living in Bethesda, Maryland. "It is the most enigmatic sequence of events. It has brought me to tears of both genuine elation and panicked horror. It is an almost tortuous job because my focus in life is to make this new person the happiest, strongest person alive—even if it drains my own soul to the core."
"But knowing that I am the mother, the MOMMY, and that I am the only one that baby wants when truly in need, is the most satisfying, fulfilling, overwhelming gift that God could give anyone. As many times as I have nearly pulled entire sections of hair from my head or cried until there were no more tears, I wouldn't trade my life with my baby for anything-not even for all of the answers to the questions that make this journey so convoluted. I want to be where I am. The nighttime hugs and squeals of sheer delight at rushing down the slide into my arms move the earth for me."
The Shock of Motherhood
We've all heard and probably said it: "Why didn't someone tell me being a mother was like this?" The shock of what we got was amplified by the discrepancy between what we had expected. Here's what most moms say surprised them about motherhood:
- The extent of nurturing required
- The overwhelming sense of responsibility
- The deprivation of sleep and personal time
- A disorganized household frenzy
- The feelings of alienation from the outside world
- The guilt over not being able to perform up to the standards of a supermom
- The physical exhaustion
- The disruption in marital interest and harmony
- How much they love and focus on this tiny new being in their lives
A Reality Checklist
Jeffers is deeply concerned over the myths and realities of motherhood. She admits, "There are some of us who adore our children but don't adore the process of raising them." Jeffers lists some of the reasons mothers find this to be true:
- Life changes after you become a mother and it is never the same again.
- You regret the loss of career opportunities and may become depressed over loss of sleep, mobility, privacy, and freedom.
- You love your children so much that you will worry about them all the rest of your life.
- You bear the blame for everything that goes right or wrong in your children's lives.
- It is common for you to have some negative feelings about childrearing.