10 Things I Hate About Motherhood (And One That I Love)

April 20, 2010

A writer at Newsweek wrote last week about how her son – and the general state of being that is motherhood – is torturing her. Then a writer at Jezebel responded to the story with something very close to exasperation: “I was left, as I often am by pieces on parenting, at sea. Nowadays, there is such a dichotomy at work: the hazy romanticizing of baby culture wars with the it’s-a-nightmare/I-don’t-love-my-child/I-wanted-another-sex” backlash and while one is surely designed to remedy the other, those of us who haven’t had a baby are left, ironically, with no very clear idea of the reality.” A consequence of this, apparently, is that childless women – unconvinced by the hazy romanticism of some stories and horrified by the ‘it’s-a-nightmare’ confessions of others – become terrified by the Unknowable But Very Probably Sort Of Horrible condition of motherhood and are put off having children. Population control!

The reality is, none of us can paint an entirely clear picture of the reality of motherhood, because the reality of motherhood defies tidy characterization. Which is why, arguably, we see so much cultural discourse about motherhood that skews strongly in one direction or the other: we are constantly trying to get our bearings, and sometimes it’s just easier to do so by telling ourselves that motherhood is just so undeniably all-around awesome or that holy hell this shit is HARD and sticking to those stories. And yes, those stories that skew dark are frightening, but then, so much of motherhood is frightening, notwithstanding the moments – and there are many – of awesome, so.

My stories skew in the latter direction, obviously, although I like to think that my love for my children and my love of being their mother comes through despite – or even because – those stories skew dark. In any case, I wouldn’t know how to tell those stories differently, because, although I have moments of hazy romanticism about motherhood, for the most I find mothering to be an extraordinarily tough gig, one that leaves me, at times, feeling – yes – tortured. But that’s mothering – the work of motherhood – and it’s something of a different beast than is the condition of motherhood, or the experience of being mother to one’s own children. The former can be tortuous. The latter can be sublime.

My own experience, broken down:

1.) Lack of sleep. The work of motherhood requires being on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and some – nay, if you are me, many – of the hours in which you can expect to be called will be between the hours of 12am and 6am. I have not slept a full night through in over four years. FOUR YEARS. I am exhausted. Yes, I have sleep-trained. I have even worked with a sleep doula. There is nothing, nothing, that keeps my children from waking in the night, and as I draw the line at drugging them or gagging them and taping them to their beds, I fully expect to die of sleep deprivation sometime in the next few years.

2.) Pregnancy. I loved my first pregnancy, for about three months in the second trimester. The rest of it, and the entirety of my second pregnancy, was a hell of vomiting and anxiety and back pain and heartburn and amniocentesis terror and belly itching and sleeplessness and vomiting and anxiety ETC. And then, of course, childbirth.

3.) Recovering from pregnancy and childbirth. Torn nethers. Breastfeeding-ravaged boobies. Bigger feet. Bigger ass. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men can probably never put your body back together exactly the way that it was before you had children, especially if you have your kids in your thirties and do not employ a personal trainer and plastic surgeon.

4.) Postpartum depression. It’s depression. It sucks. A lot.

5.) Childrens’ television. This was referenced in the Newsweek article, and rightly so. With a few notable exceptions (Sesame Street; much of what airs on PBS Kids), much of what passes for childrens’ television programming seems designed for the express purpose of driving you to grab fistfuls of well-sharpened pencils and jab yourself relentlessly in the ears. The Wonderpets are the reason that I hide sharp objects when the television comes on.

6.) Child maintenance. Children need to be fed and clothed. It is easier to feed and clothe wild animals than it is to feed and clothe some children – my children, specifically, who live on a diet of carbohydrates, mangos, bananas, pickles and candy and who have more particular and eccentric clothing tastes than Lady Gaga, to the extent that one refuses to wear anything other than three layers of Disney t-shirts under a tutu. To wit:

budge style

7.) Diapers. Also, potty training. The work of motherhood involves a lot of shit work, I’ll just say that. And, if you have a boy, expect to get peed on. A lot. Also: tub shits. TUB SHITS.

8.) Laundry/housekeeping. (This one, like ‘diapers,’ above, could probably be rolled into ‘child maintenance,’ but I loathe it so much that it deserves a category of its own.) Children make messes. Big messes. And they generate mounds of laundry and you spend hours and hours washing and drying and sorting and folding and putting-into-drawers but they will still refuse to wear anything other than that one Cars t-shirt, that other Cars t-shirt and the black sparkled tutu. (See above re: Lady Gaga, tub shits.)

9.) Mommy brain. Sleep deprivation, over-exposure to the Wonderpets and the near-constant hum of why-why-why-why-Mommy-why fries your brain. It just does. That’s why there are mommy blogs – we need to constantly poke at our mushified brain matter with popsicle sticks and pablum spoons and deflated binkies to remind ourselves that some of our synapses are still firing. Maybe.

10.) Fear. Loving a child means spending countless hours, days, weeks, years fearing for that child. You fear that they will be hurt, that they will become sick, that they will die, you fear that you will die and they will be orphaned, you fear that they will ask you about death and you won’t have an answer; you fear that they will be the one kid in their kindergarten class that isn’t invited to that one girl’s birthday party; you fear that they will never love books as much as you do; you fear that they will worry about their looks; you fear that their heart will someday be broken. You lay awake at night worrying about the fact that their heart will someday be broken. You lay awake at night, worrying. Which is why, on those rare nights when the children sleep right through? You’re still not sleeping.

But, then – and at risk of sounding unbearably, banally romantic – there is this:

1.) My children. Who are amazing, inspiring creatures and who fill my life with such light and love as to nearly, at times, overwhelm me. Who make me laugh and who make me cry and who make me laugh until I cry, every single day. Who make me grateful for my soft belly and squishy boobs and for my messy hair and my undereye circles and my scars, because these are the markers of this work that I do – this tiring, often frustrating work – and of the miracles that I have produced and that I am, every day, producing, through this work; these miracles, my children, without whom I would not know love as completely as I do. My children, for whom I do this work, if not gladly, then without regret. My children, who make it possible for me to bitch tirelessly about motherhood while still feeling, deeply, to the very tips of my toes and possibly even further, that this motherhood thing is the most beautiful – the most hazily, gauzily, barefoot-in-a-field-of-daisies romantic – thing in the world.

And if I’m clutching a bottle of tequila and an Ativan prescription while spinning through that field of daisies… well, as I said: it’s complicated. Wonderfully, terribly, delightfully so.

Quick: what’s the number one thing that you hate about motherhood? And then, what do you love? (Your kids, no doubt, but feel free to say “I get to spend rainy afternoons watching cartoons and eating cookies” or “three-martini playdates.” I won’t judge.)

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    { 156 comments }

    Jennifer Martin April 22, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    Hi Catherine, Loved you post and allow me to comment to my hate and love thing about motherhood. I haven’t read all of the comments so forgive me if someone has already mentioned this:

    Hate: MY NEIGHBOURS KIDS. Three years ago, a Romanian family moved in across the street from us. They have a boy the same age as my son and a girl the same age as my daughter. It has been more of a curse than a blessing. To make a long story short, the parents have very different parenting styles from ours. The mother once explained to me that since she and her husband grew up in a communist country,where they had nothing, she wants to give her kids everything and every opportunity that she didn’t have (she literally invests in her kids)….I won’t go into further detail but I am sure you can imagine what these kids are like -very coddled, disrespectful and self centered children with no sense of value!

    The thing I love about Motherhood is CHILDREN”S BOOKS. I love to spend hours in the kids section of the library or in a bookstore (sometimes without the kids). I think snuggling in their beds every night revisiting my favourite books and discovering new ones is the best perk of being a parent!!! I will be sad the day when my kids outgrow being read to.

    Jennifer Martin April 22, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    RE MY NEIGHBOURS KIDS: I know that their being shouldn’t bother me but it is very hard when they are constantly wanting to play with my kids of that the mother is always over comparing her kids to mine….(If I hear one more time that her kids are “GIFTED” and need a challenge…..I don’t like the competition, feeling inferior, or the parental peer pressure.

    Jennifer Martin April 22, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    BTW Excues me for my mother brain for the typos in that last remark .

    I also wanted to add that I am also not a fan of children’s television (especially shows that are over marketed and merchandised). But I must admit that there has been many a Saturday morning when I think it saved my marriage :-) ….There’s nothing like being in the throws of passion and hearing “You did it, You did it! Hooray!!!” or “Team work! Team work!”

    Belinda April 23, 2010 at 4:07 am

    I think you are my soul mate.
    I feel the same. I feel like I whinge and bitch about how shit so much of this motherhood stuff is (and how under appreciated it is) and yet, my children, the love, the smiles, they are the most amazing children in the world and i get to be with them. And one tiny moment can cause my heart to burst with love. And then I get back to the washing.
    .-= Belinda´s last blog ..Broken Arm, Part 2 =-.

    Belinda April 23, 2010 at 4:10 am

    ooh, i forgot
    favourite thing is hearing them laugh (and spying on them to see what they are up to) call me crazy i also like making their school lunches
    worst thing is no matter what there is never any ‘me’ time. even when i am at the gym or reading a book i feel like i am ‘on call’
    .-= Belinda´s last blog ..Broken Arm, Part 2 =-.

    RidgewoodMom April 23, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Hate:
    Laundry. It is constantly left in the basket, and before the week is up, all if it is dirty again.
    Feeding. Why does she torture me by not eating anything I give her, but she eats everything at day care?

    LOVE:
    Hugs, kisses, just being around her when she is in a good mood. The giggles… Watching her reach her monumental achievements.
    .-= RidgewoodMom´s last blog ..NFL Draft…. What the F…? =-.

    Allyson/@HBMomof2 April 23, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    Great post, you had me nodding…a lot.

    Hate: Losing the fact that I was a whole person before having kids. I am not just someone’s mom, but you would never know it.

    Love/Hate: Seeing my daughter take on the best attributes of both my husband and I and watching our son take on the worst. These dang kids are our mirror and sometimes it pisses me off.

    Love: 1. Watching my kids experience and love something I have experienced and loved. My daughter is great soccer player and it brings her joy, but a healthier joy than I ever experienced playing. 2. The light in their eyes. 3. Snuggles (especially the ones right before bed that aren’t just cozy, but reflective and usually leave me teary) and 4. Spontaneous hugs and kisses.

    Georgette April 24, 2010 at 8:51 am

    I hate being tired–all the time.

    I love when I’m feeling tired and at my wits end and then they give you a look or make you laugh, and then you forget about all the bed parts.
    .-= Georgette´s last blog ..Kid’s Yoga & Art Open House =-.

    abtru April 24, 2010 at 9:36 am

    What I hate most is the noise level with four kids(between the ages of 12 and 4.) They never stop talking or singing or blaring music or tvs.
    What I love about my children is that they talk to me and they always have something to say that will interest me and most likely make me laugh or cry or scream. Hearing whats on their minds is priceless.

    Jan April 24, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    My kids are grown. I remember the days when I felt like I just couldn’t do it anymore. We made it through. The thing I hate and the thing I love is that you NEVER get to stop being a mommy. The problems only get bigger and you have bigger things to worry about BECAUSE you can’t go with them and follow them around and solve all their grownup stuff!!!! But the friendship and adult relationship is worth it all!! Wish there had been mommy blogs when mine were little.

    Elizabeth April 24, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    Loved reading this post, and especially all the comments. I’m at the other end of this journey with 2 kids in college and 1 teenager at home, but this certainly brings back a lot of memories, both wonderful and difficult. I have to say that in my experience most of the “hard” items have softened over time (well, not the laundry, I STILL hate that). I had a child who didn’t sleep for years, too, but somehow the memory of exhaustion faded and I mostly remember feeling that warm, heavy, sweet-smelling head on my shoulder in the middle of the night. It’s like childbirth – if you remembered how bad it was you’d never do it again.
    Worst thing ever? Getting thrown up on – I can’t be the only one!

    Steven April 25, 2010 at 2:56 am

    I think you are my soul mate.
    I feel the same. I feel like I whinge and bitch about how shit so much of this motherhood stuff is (and how under appreciated it is) and yet, my children, the love, the smiles, they are the most amazing children in the world and i get to be with them. And one tiny moment can cause my heart to burst with love. And then I get back to the washing.
    .-= Belinda´s last blog ..Broken Arm, Part 2 =-.

    Steve April 25, 2010 at 6:37 am

    Great post, you had me nodding…a lot.

    Hate: Losing the fact that I was a whole person before having kids. I am not just someone’s mom, but you would never know it.

    Love/Hate: Seeing my daughter take on the best attributes of both my husband and I and watching our son take on the worst. These dang kids are our mirror and sometimes it pisses me off.

    Love: 1. Watching my kids experience and love something I have experienced and loved. My daughter is great soccer player and it brings her joy, but a healthier joy than I ever experienced playing. 2. The light in their eyes. 3. Snuggles (especially the ones right before bed that aren’t just cozy, but reflective and usually leave me teary) and 4. Spontaneous hugs and kisses.

    Dave April 25, 2010 at 11:57 am

    I could almost cry with joy that I am not alone on this one. I love my little guys voice. I think it is so sweet I almost can’t stand it. But when he goes on and on and on and on especially when I have a thousand other things on my mind I feel like my head is going to burst and then to top it off I feel guilty for not wanting to listen to him.

    Thanks so much for the post.

    Simon April 26, 2010 at 12:13 am

    Great post, you had me nodding…a lot.

    Hate: Losing the fact that I was a whole person before having kids. I am not just someone’s mom, but you would never know it.

    Love/Hate: Seeing my daughter take on the best attributes of both my husband and I and watching our son take on the worst. These dang kids are our mirror and sometimes it pisses me off.

    Love: 1. Watching my kids experience and love something I have experienced and loved. My daughter is great soccer player and it brings her joy, but a healthier joy than I ever experienced playing. 2. The light in their eyes. 3. Snuggles (especially the ones right before bed that aren’t just cozy, but reflective and usually leave me teary) and 4. Spontaneous hugs and kisses.

    Tammy April 26, 2010 at 1:33 am

    Things I hate:

    1) They break things and I hate the cost to repair or replace.

    2) Lice. Never had it before I was a mom and in the last year I’ve had it four times. (Getting rid of it costs a lot of money too, and then your kids gets reinfested.) I hate that I can’t even scratch my head legitimately without being all freaked out and suspicious.

    3) I hate that they fight like they hate one another, and I’m powerless to control those feelings.

    4) I hate that they’re growing up so fast. They’re 10 and 8 now, but I swear to all of you who have babies and toddlers, it’s unbelievable that time has passed so quickly.

    I was once sleep deprived like all of you, but one day it goes away and the next thing you know your nine year old independent daughter is asking if she can cruise around Disneyland by herself and meet you back at the front gates after the fireworks show.

    Which just leads to a completely different list of things I hate.

    Theresa April 26, 2010 at 10:03 am

    I hate that in just three short years, it will be college time. And I hate that at 15 there are no more hugs and kisses freely given, unless you mask them in playful stealth.

    I love that I can see all the positives in him and that even when I don’t think he is listening; he shows me in action that he listens all the time, thoroughly.

    I love that at 15 I am still the most influential person in his life when it really counts. And that is saying alot!!

    Perfect Girl April 26, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    I don’t have children, but I read you because of your writing, and I always thought I would have children, but, it turns out, I won’t be.

    All of what you describe about the fear is why I am glad I won’t be having children. I call it not having to have a Mother’s Heart.

    I couldn’t bear it. The strength of mothers astounds me.

    I appreciate your last paragraph, though, because the kids have just Got to live in an environment with a mother like you.

    Makes for a better world.

    motheroad April 28, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    GAH! I’m crying, dammit.

    Louise Esola April 29, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    Well said! Me? I hate that I sometimes don’t have a minute to myself. I have to shower/go to the bathroom with an audience. Number 10 on your list made me cry! I live in San Diego where two young girls were murdered by some creep over the last year. (I wrote this in my weekly newspaper column: http://www.nctimes.com/news/local/columnists/esola/article_2ca418f9-992f-5cff-b727-402e0118a72b.html
    Number 11 is right on, too. I do have moments, everyday, where I feel truly blessed for my role as a mom.
    .-= Louise Esola´s last blog ..Streak over to the bookstore and pick up your copy: "Look Better Naked" goes beyond the normal diet book =-.

    Elaine April 29, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    I LOATHE the tantrums and whining. One person can only take so much whining. I currently have a two-year old, can you tell?

    But I love the night-time snuggles and the hugs and smiles. THE. BEST. EVER.

    phoenix April 30, 2010 at 12:25 am

    yelling. i hate yelling. i hate the knowledge that two little people who together weigh less than 85lbs can drive me from rational, sane, non-violent, mature person to blithering hollering idiot in milliseconds.

    also, guilt.

    but their ability to turn me into a joyous fool, willing to laugh out loud, do silly dances, and dress up in tutus where before i was much too reserved? that i adore.

    Liz April 30, 2010 at 9:53 am

    I have a 7 and 9 year old.

    What I hated: The intense feelings of loss of self, loneliness, and the 24/7 /365 drudgery of childcare, housework, fatigue, and chaos for the first few years. It was brutal at times. Neverending. Exhausting. Hard work.

    What I love: Those days are over and I’ve entered into what I consider the “golden years” of motherhood. It’s much easier now and I really enjoy being with my kids. They’re interesting, funny, and good little companions. They help out too. Plus, I’ve gotten “myself” back a bit and am really happy to be right where I am these days.

    Liz April 30, 2010 at 10:06 am

    Oh and more thing I hated: Having to wake up at 6 am with toddlers on a Sat. morning and play with blocks and watch Sesame Street when I desperately wanted to just sleep in. Or being sick (cold, flu etc.) and desperately wanting someone to take care of ME for a day but still having to take care of everyone else. That REALLY sucked!

    Violet April 30, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    Right now, God yes, the incessant noise! Nonstop talking, almost always needing responses from me; and when there isn’t a running monologue going on, there is shrieking and yelling and unholy sounds that no human could possibly be making. But I also hate the discipline worry. Our 4 year old doesn’t want to listen, and timeouts don’t faze her, so what next? How harsh should a punishment be? What behaviors should you just ignore? Are we scarring her for life by being too hard on her? Or making her too spoiled by being too soft?

    Of course, had you asked 6 months ago, it would have been the fact that I was trapped in my house with my 1 year old son, who was too hyper and loud to take out in public. So no one could ever see the adorable boy I saw at home, because he was an insane maniac with a Velocorapter shriek outside. I’m SO glad we’re past that stage!

    But watching them together; watching my daughter teach my son to sign “Old MacDonald”, and her excitement when he gets it; the smiles and giggles; makes it all worth it. Usually. :)

    sandi May 1, 2010 at 1:31 am

    1, 4, 9, and 10 above all equally. It’s the impact on my mental health that I hate the most, I hate the psycho bitch I have become. The physical aspects don’t bother me.

    I loved -mostly- being pregnant all three times, I’d do it again if finances permitted.

    I am lucky enough to have employed both of the professionals you mention above. I am not now, and never was, physically perfect, however, there was no f-ing way in hell I, at 36, was going through the entire rest of my life with sagging breasts, thank you very much. I personally think that breast implants and/or lifts should be covered by health insurance as restorative surgery, but I digress.

    As for kids’ tv, I’m in on pretty much anything on Nickelodeon.

    As far as food and clothes, I determined before having kids to pick my battles in those departments. Hey if they want cereal three meals a day I’ll let them eat it. Number 1, eventually they’ll want and eat something really, really healthy like corn mixed with black beans. Number 2, the majority of humankind has survived on a far more limited diet. Number 3, I don’t get pissed off at the little buggers for wasting both my time and my food.

    7 & 8 (diapers and laundry). The former never bothered me, the latter my husband “does”. Meaning he literally crams as much as he possibly can into the washer, transfers it to the dryer, stuffs it into baskets, empties the baskets on the floor on Saturday and we (including the kids 7, 6, and 4) take the piles and dump them into the drawers. (Now for my stuff, I do that my self). Don’t get me wrong, I HATE the way HE does laundry. But honestly, it gets done and it beats me doing it.

    You hit the nail on the head with everything else, but I’ll add two things: My fear of the children being abducted, molested and/or murdered (I’m a former assistant prosecutor) and that I love the feeling I get when I look into those little faces with their great big eyes and know that I am the most important person in the world to them and they are to me.

    Thanks for your blog Catherine. You have helped restore me to sanity many, many times, and I am especially grateful for your posts on deciding to medicate.

    statia May 2, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    What I love about motherhood: Watching them learn something new. Watching them make a connection. I love feeling needed. I love being able to comfort them when they need it.

    What I hate: Being the ONLY one who is needed/wanted all the damn time. I love being needed, but then the whining and crying starts and the ability to leave the room for five minutes without someone howling for me. I’ve started leaving the house one night a week just I can work or surf the internet in total peace. I also hate three year olds. I think they’re bullshit.
    .-= statia´s last blog ..Ding dong the witch is dead (or life with a destructive baby) =-.

    Cory Medellin May 8, 2010 at 10:56 am

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