Mom At Work

October 29, 2008

You’re never more aware of how much drudgery is involved in the work of mothering than when you’re doing that work while suffering from a bad cold or flu or some such viral misery as makes your head pound and your lungs ache and your throat burn. You lay in a fetal curl, hacking miserably, wishing for sleep, unconsciousness, a coma, anything to take you away from your discomfort, until you hear the baby stir and you must rise to nurse and soothe and nurse and soothe and nurse and soothe, which you do, of course, hoping that he’ll settle enough to lay beside you and amuse himself with rattles and soothers while you rest your tired head but of course he does not do that because his diaper is full to bursting and so you must rise, again, and deal with the shit-soaked diaper and damp pajamas and that’s fine because once you’ve done that you can lay back down unless, of course, the inevitable cry comes from the other room – Mommy I got poo I need to go to the toilet – in which case there’s another cycle of shit and damp to deal with and if you’re really lucky it just means wiping a bum and overseeing some toilet-flushing and hand-washing but if not – and let’s be honest here, at this point your luck is about as reliable as sub-prime mortgage lending – it’s going to mean tossing the three-year old in the bath and disinfecting all visible surfaces because when she says I got poo she very probably means it in the Lopburi monkey sense of I got poo in my hands and that just never ends well and certainly does not end with you tucked cozily in bed with a hot lemon drink and a Nyquil buzz. Not, at least, for some very long hours yet to come, if they ever come at all.

Under these circumstances, the work of motherhood seems like a bad scam, like some multi-level marketing scheme that someone tricked you into by promising wealth and glamor and a pink Lincoln Continental but that just ended up being a whole lot of catalogue-pushing and bad kitchen parties. (This is a bad analogy, really, because, no matter hard motherhood can be it at least offers its rewards up front – you get your Top Performer Bonus, your pink Lincoln Continental, right at the outset in the form of your beautiful children, and that gift, the gift of their loveliness, just keeps expanding regardless of how well you sell the program – Motherhood: Your Key To Bliss!™ – and so what if they crap a lot? Still, on days like these, days when you’re tired/sick/desperately-in-need-of-a-day-off, it’s hard to remember how or why it was that you agreed to do this work.)

I love my children. I love being a mother. I love, even, the condition of motherhood, the state of things whereby I am a mother, down to my bones, the state of things whereby my entire physical being strains to care for and love my children, whereby my very biology demands my commitment to these creatures who run and laugh and hug and kiss and shriek and hurl poo. What I do not love so much is the work. I do not love the diapers, the toilet-training, the cajoling, the cleaning, the washing, the arguing, the bargaining (okay, sometimes I like the bargaining – not even the most sophisticated trial lawyer could keep me to my wits the way my preschooler does when she wants something -”Mommy,” she says, “let’s make a PROBLEM”, meaning a deal, and then proceeds to offer to eat her veggies in exchange for three marshmallows, which upon negotiation becomes a bargain of one carrot for one marshmallow or two broccoli for one marshmallow or maybe three marshmallows for two carrots and a firm commitment to go straight to bed after bath) the screaming, the squirming, the wiping, the endless, endless wiping… and I love them all the less when every fiber of my being is begging to curl up under the blankets with some Vicks VapoRub and retreat into mentholated silence.

I know why this is. On an ordinary day – on a well-rested day, on a day when my spirits are up and my energy is good – the drudgery of motherhood is a minor irritant, a reasonable price to pay for the deep satisfaction of being surrounded by such love, the true pleasure of being witness to such beauty. The giggles of my baby boy, the peals of laughter from my little girl – these are ample recompense for the poopy diapers and the spilled milk and the temper tantrums. But I’ve had, of late, little energy for such pleasures, and so although I smile through the headache and the hacking cough at the giggles and the hugs and the malapropisms, I find that I would much rather have a few hours alone with the Nyquil than wrestle the baby (however snuggly and adorable he is) or hear another disquisition on the superiority of Dora to Fifi The Flowertot.

Does disliking the work of motherhood make one a bad mother? My impulse is to say, of course not - one can love being a mother, being mother to one’s children, without loving all of the tasks that usually attend that role. I loved being an academic, but I didn’t enjoy everything that went with that territory. But then again, I quit the academy for precisely that reason – I didn’t love everything about it, I didn’t love it enough to take the bad with the good. And I figured that if I didn’t love it enough, I wouldn’t be good enough. So I quit. I quit, in part, because I loved motherhood and writing more, but still – the quitting was in the offing long before motherhood came along, and the quitting stemmed from the fact that I did not love the work enough.

I’ve already said – the diapers are more than amply made up for by the joy my children bring to me. I love my children – I adore my children – and I love mothering my children. But there are some things that I don’t so much love about the work of motherhood. There are quite a few things, actually. And so when I think about, say, the prospect of having more children, I pause. (I pause, actually, and say to myself, HELL NO, but then when someone asks me seriously, really seriously, whether this is it, no more children, I pause again, because I can’t quite wrap my around making that HELL NO official. Which, if that sounds confused: YES, I KNOW.)

Do you have to love it, all of it – or at least like it, all of it – to do it well? Or is just loving your children enough?

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Share!
  • email
  • Facebook
  • StumbleUpon

    { 76 comments }

    Parent Club October 30, 2008 at 11:15 am

    I’m at the Hell-Maybe stage. LOVE my two kids. Awesome being a Mom.

    But I HATED the high-maintenance stages of motherhood; the crappy toilet training, breastfeeding hurt, labour wasn’t an organic experience.

    Do I want to do THAT all again. Hell-maybe.

    How’s that for fence-sitting?!

    LAVANDULA October 30, 2008 at 11:54 am

    oh catherine you are a wonderful kind loving mum.or you wouldn’t be worried about this.and yes love is enough.i love my children but the constant mess and cleaning and fighting etc. can be so exhausting…but there is nothing more wonderful than my 4 year old trying to get her tiny arms around me and hug me tight or my 8 year old laughing and asking me how come i can’t find fairies in our yard mum? or my teenage daughter sharing secrets with me or laughing at something stupid with my teenage adult son….those little things make it all worthwhile so even though i have to clean up and don’t always joyfully do it its so worth it…and catherine when you have enough children you will know it.there will be no question that you are done…hugs to you get better soon

    Steph October 30, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    NO ONE expects you to like or ENJOY crappy diapers and damp PJs. No one. We all stick through if for the love of them. The smiles and the giggles. The hugs and cries for mommie when there’s an ouchie. The discipline they need more and more as they approach the teenage years. All the bittersweet moments. The good and the bad.

    Steph October 30, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    NO ONE expects you to like or ENJOY crappy diapers and damp PJs. No one. We all stick through if for the love of them. The smiles and the giggles. The hugs and cries for mommie when there’s an ouchie. The discipline they need more and more as they approach the teenage years. All the bittersweet moments. The good and the bad.

    Mac and Cheese October 30, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    I dislike all the things about motherhood that you dislike, but I love the job overall. It’s all good. Even when it’s bad.

    erica October 30, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    I’ve just got to delurk to comment on this one. I’m a new mom to an 8 month old. And I DEFINITELY don’t like all the parts all the time, or even some of the parts any of the time. In what other job are you on call 24/7? In what other job can’t you call in sick or have time off? Even if you go away by yourself, you’re pumping or worrying or feeling guilty or only a phone call away. Quite honestly, I wonder more about the people who say they love every facet of motherhood all the time than those who are honest about not loving it all the time.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m so in love with my little boy it’s not funny. I’d do anything for him. But when I’m fighting a cold and he’s practicing crawling in bed next to me at 2 o’clock in the morning…..

    Cat October 30, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    Good questions. I wonder if there truly are any mothers who love all of it, all of the time. I don’t see how that’s possible.

    Anonymous October 30, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    I hope just loving my children is enough because I certainly don’t love all of it, and right now I don’t like most of it. May it get better for all of us having these feelings soon……

    Kira October 30, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    You damn well better NOT have to like all of it. You’d have to be on serious drugs to like ALL of it.
    There is no worthwhile task, though, that doesn’t require some measure of sacrifice. Doesn’t even marriage require those moments when you grit your teeth, pull on your big-girl panties, and be a better person? And that’s a relationship with a grown up human who can handle their own toilet issues (one hopes).
    I think love means you’re eventually going to bump up against those moments when you just do your best, despite how you feel.
    Speaking of which, hope you feel better soon.

    litanyofbritt October 30, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    i feel your pain. i’m sick too. and still the kids need their holes filled and wiped respectively.
    i was too miserable to post, so i let you speak for me too. (here’s a nyquil/ativan cocktail to us!)

    Shawna October 30, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    Without having read the other comments yet… I would say NO, you certainly don’t have to like all the work associated with motherhood in order to be a good mother. But I would say that you have to be willing to do it and competent at it. There are some lacks that all the love in the world won’t make up for.

    I’m thinking, for example, of my grandfather, who often spent every dime that came into the household on living it up at the bar with his friends. Did he love my grandmother and their kids? I’m sure he did. Was my mother better off when my grandfather was kicked to the curb by my grandmother? Absolutely. So no, in that case, loving his children was not enough.

    You obviously touched a nerve of mine with your question. Clearly, this is an extreme case and 99% of the time a person’s “best” will, in fact, be good enough. I’m sure you, for instance, are a fantastic mother.

    Tracey October 30, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    Just remember that having 2 LITTLE children isn’t the same as having 2 older children. This stage you are in is so so temporary. Though it feels endless, you can surely remember how quickly Wonderbaby’s babyhood flew by? My kids are 3 and 3 1/2 years apart (3 children in all. Was that clear?) Anyway. There was a bit of a break in the diapering schedules. I never had 2 tiny kids at once and just as one child was entering toddlerhood full-force, another was heading off to school. It made the changes a bit more bearable…

    Anonymous October 30, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    I dunno about HBM but all the comments on here are making me feel better! I had PND after having my son and I HATED being a mother, I wasn't even sure I loved him. I just did all the work, methodically, like a nanny.

    Now, 3 years later> I do love him, but I hate the work, the screeching, the tapping on the keyboard when I'm trying to type up coursework for my degree, the screaming and back chatting. OH GOD I HATE IT! Will I have more. NEVER. Never ever ever. I love my son but God no, I feel like I'm just surviving til he's old enough to spend less than 24/7 stuck to me. Trying to get inside me skin.

    He goes to his dad's once a month and people always say "awww you must miss him!" God no. I savour it. I love it. I adore it. If I didn't have that one weekend? I'd go nuts. I sometimes feel guilty for not missing him, but what's the point of screwing myself up missing him, then complaining that I never get a minute?

    One day, one day they will be old enough to wipe their own butts and I pray for that day!!

    Rebecca. October 30, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    I don’t know if anyone really loves cleaning up shit but the so-called drudgery of motherhood is so much better, so much purer, than dealing with the shit that life gives you… family members dying of cancer, children with fatal diseases…

    That baby shit? This is the good stuff, people.

    Danielle October 30, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    I love being a mother. It really is the core of who I am. So much so that I am also a Kindergarten teacher and most of my day is being a mother to other people’s children.

    I also love my sleep and coffee.

    Motherhood throws so many things at you. You do not have to love them all to be a good mother.

    Today (I totally ditched school today) I was at lunch with my husband the the twins. I was on my third or fourth trip to the bathroom and it was right when my food showed up and I was trying so hard to not be mean.

    I looked down at the very little person on the toilet, taking a very adult size poo and having a horse size smell of it and I just thought how happy I was to be done with diapers.

    It’s the little things. Especially when you are sick.

    Haley-O October 30, 2008 at 11:12 pm

    You know, I don’t know ANYBODY who LOVES it — maybe when they have ONE child they might. It’s HARD WORK. The hardest work of your life. But, it’s the children we love (even though they can drive us crazy). And THAT is all that matters. THAT is what makes you a good mother.

    Motherhood would be easy and FUN if we just didn’t care…. We hate it because WE CARE and we want to be the best we can be. Which takes so much out of us….

    Renee October 30, 2008 at 11:21 pm

    Catherine – Delurking here for a quick comment. I don’t want to start up a whole debate on working at home vs. working outside the home, but have you ever considered getting an outside job, at least when Jasper is a bit older? Honestly, I was having some similar feelings to you, but now that I’m back at work, I am 100 times happier. I have a nanny who takes care of a lot of the motherhood drudgery (though, to be fair, she gets some of the motherhood joy as well) while I get to come home to two kids who leap with joy when they see me walk in the door. I find that I have a lot more patience for the trying times because I’m not always with them.

    Her Bad Mother October 30, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    Renee – I think the thing would be for us to consider some in-home help so that I can pursue my at-home work (writing) with less distraction. Even just a few more hours a week – beyond the time that I steal during naps and after they’re in bed – would probably be an immense help.

    Her Bad Mother October 30, 2008 at 11:45 pm

    Rebecca – I know a little bit about the harder stuff, having a nephew with a terminal illness, and I do know that it’s all relative… but it’s also all context, you know? In the moment, when my head is pounding and I’m feeling nauseated from sleep deprivation and my child is smearing poo on the bathroom floor, it feels, in that moment, like the worst of all possible worlds. Obviously, I know that it’s not, and obviously, I cherish every minute that I have with my children, but also? Sometimes? Those minutes, especially the shitty ones, can suck a little bit, in a manner that does not detract in any way from the weight of SERIOUS suckage.

    But yeah, it’s helpful to keep that in perspective.

    Mom101 October 30, 2008 at 11:59 pm

    It’s so funny I’ve heard the very same question you pose at the end here asked of “regular” jobs too. I think we all grapple with degrees of passion and even like for our day to day responsibilities, even as we love the greater picture. Give yourself a break.

    Amanda October 31, 2008 at 9:22 am

    I said on another blog in reference to something the author had done and was now questioning, it isn’t always the act, I choose to place far more weight in the spirit or sentiment behind the act.

    Of course we have bad days, or prefer one thing over another, we don’t have to love all of it, but I think the asking of the question points to a very deep affinity for the role, no?

    And, I do not think it is ever easy to lock the door on the more children piece.

    wyliekat October 31, 2008 at 9:32 am

    You cannot possibly love it all. Or most of us can’t. Me, I don’t love all of it – the endless rounds of simple play, the never-having-a-moment-to-myself.

    But I love them. With all my heart and soul. So it works out, in the end.

    Anonymous October 31, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    Love your blog. The constant bottle washing gets on my nerves since I had to quit breastfeeding. It’s the main constant. I get up– bottles to wash— every meal– bottles to wash— before bed— bottles to wash. Yeah and the poo is getting a little out of hand here too. Love the boy but it is hard. Have also been quite sick recently and as a single mom, it can be pretty rough.

    Hang in there!
    Sarah

    R October 31, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    as I'm not quite a mom yet, I can't actually answer the question… but in my head I'm thinking that just loving your children is enough… because other than food & shelter – what else do they NEED other than love?

    That's just what I think though…

    courtney November 3, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    I think that love and the basics are enough. Make sure they’re clean and fed and loved and you’re good. It sounds like you’re doing it just fine, sick and all. Hang in there. I hope you feel better soon!

    Anonymous November 6, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    I do hope that loving them and trying to do best by them is good enough. Because hot damn, there are days I am tempted, OK, more than tempted to stick a sign on them that says, “Free to a good home” and leave them on the porch. Days when the morning starts with whining, bickering, defiance, that leads to failed meals, naps, errands to run. Then there are days when someone, babysitter/husband/friend/neighbor/nap occupies one child and you have the other and you read books and you chat and you don’t need to break up a million fights over crap by 10 am and you realize that these little talking people belong to you, and your heart fills your chest cavity and you tuck away your “free to a good home ” sign.

    Comments on this entry are closed.

    Previous post:

    Next post: