On Motherhood: A Shadow of My Former Self

I’m very grateful I have the opportunity to be at home with my children, and usually I feel fairly satisfied with my station in life even if it sometimes feels like my days revolve around my kids’ bowel movements and sleep patterns.  Still, like most moms  – whether they work outside of the home or not – I do occasionally suffer from stabs of insecurity. Our culture gives motherhood plenty of lip service, but we also live in a world where women are encouraged to do it all as well as to be on the lookout for an easy escape route from the ennui and the burden of motherhood.

I’d never suggest that we need to sugarcoat motherhood. It’s not all puppies and finger paint. Well, that’s not exactly true either. Sometimes our toddlers pee on our floor and even chew up things like a puppy (I have a scarred Nerf ball to prove it), and finger paint ends up not as lovely artwork we’d hope to memorialize in an Ikea frame but as stains on our new couch. Later on our little ones become teens. I’m not as terrified as the teen years as some or as perhaps I ought to be (ignorance is bliss), but I also know it will be a challenge to raise older children just as it’s sometimes very, very hard to nurture these young children in my midst.

Yes, motherhood is hard. Yes, there are days when it drains you and zaps all your energy and makes even showering seem like a feat. Yes, we need support as moms from our family, community, church, and even sometimes online.

But what we don’t need is to view children are nothing more than soul-sucking burdens or to think that we women ought to do more with our lives than simply manage a home and nurture children – or that if we choose to simply “just” be a mom, we are less of a person.

Interestingly, the same social scripts that warned us about never allowing a man to turn us into overly domesticated Barbie are furtively turning us into Ken — and ladies, Ken doesn’t wear an apron or change diapers all day. Ken wears power suits and changes the world. The same society that praises motherhood (when it is convenient and the time is “right”) is telling us we don’t have to “just” be moms confined to a life of domestic drudgery. We have the potential to be so much more (who cares if there’s only 24 hours in the day?). If you have a uterus, you can probably be a mom. That doesn’t make you so special. So do something more. Do something bigger with your lives because bringing new souls into the world or nurturing them if you adopt just isn’t enough.  As if raising human beings with eternal value isn’t a big enough or meaningful enough job

shadow1-e1347996770655-768x1024Do I ever mourn my old self? The one who slept eight hours at night, read a book a week, loved her job as an editor, enjoyed weekly date nights with my husband, and exercised pretty much whenever she wasn’t too lazy to lace up her running shoes? No, mourn isn’t the right word (except maybe when it comes to sleep). There’s no regret in living this life, but there are sometimes traces of nostalgia or even a slight drop of wistfulness. But most of my insecurity and feelings of inadequacy or fear I’m leading an inadequate life come from the outside world, which can leave an at-home mom like myself wondering if we should have it all or in the very  least want to have it all — as in a career that provides manifold satisfaction and an identity other than “Mommy.” There have been times when I would have been pretty content with the season of life I’m in if not for the guilt from the fact that I simply did not even have the desire to do more and be more. What’s wrong with me? Am I just lazy? Am I stupid? Where did my ambition run off to?

But something is happening now that I’m settling into this third decade of my life. I’m not so worried about what society or anyone thinks of my primary job title: Mom. nothing is wrong with me for wanting to pour myself into this family of mine right now.  But it’s not easy to arrive at this place of contentment. In this age of girl power and social media that exposes us to so many women who are give us glimpses into their accomplished lives, it’s easy to feel inferior. Ironically, possessing “girl power” is supposed to make us feel free and empowered. American women today have choices. This should be a good thing, but sometimes it’s crippling. It’s like when you go to the grocery store and just want to buy the original Cheerios, but you can’t find that familiar yellow box anywhere because there are 10 other varieties. Do we really need Multi-Grain Cheerios, Banana Cheerios, Chocolate Cheerios, Muli-Grain Peanut Butter Cheerios, Yogurt Burst Cheerios, and Chocolate Cheerios (am I missing anything?). All those choices stress me out and just make grocery store shopping more difficult. The same can be true with motherhood. We’re faced with the tyranny of choice. We used to have no place outside of the home. Now we do, and this is a good thing when it brings fulfillment to a woman  and/or helps her financially support her family and is not simply pursued as a way to escape mothering her children (a break, yes, but not a full-fledged escape). But there’s always the temptation that maybe there’s something better than plain, old Cheerios. Would I really be happier with Chocolate Cheerios? Would I be happier if I became a mom/humanitarian/author/lawyer/uber blogger?

Unfortunately, the solution to finding happiness as a modern mother too often hinges upon the belief that we can do it all and ergo have it all. After all, if we can do it all, then we won’t be left wondering if we made the right choice. We’ve got our hand in everything. We’ve got the original Cheerios and all the other flavors. So why are so many women unhappy and/or perpetually frazzled? Why are more women on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications than ever before? We could argue it’s because the stigma is being removed, which is positive, and also that doctors are better at diagnosing anxiety and depression. I’m sure that’s part of it. But more moms are also taking forms of speed so they can get more done. Eating disorders are becoming more common during motherhood. We’re wheeling for control. We’re multitasking like never before. And we’re feeling the effects of it all.

The problem is the push for women to balance careers, family, volunteer efforts, and a hobby or two or three isn’t t really about being a strong woman or even a strong human. It’s about being superhuman. We’re not created to be Super Moms donning a brightly-colored cape (that was, no doubt, lovingly hand-sewn). We were created to be humans who must rely on supernatural grace.

Pursuing this version of a superwoman who can do it all has left a sobering parade of women in its wake. We are disappointed when we discover that it was a big, fat lie. We are over-worked, over-stressed, and multitasking to the point of critical burnout.

Womankind doesn’t need to be saved or fixed or changed. We don’t need to prove ourselves by juggling a career, motherhood, and a slew of other accomplishments. If this works for some women, so be it. But it’s not easy or even desirable for many of us, and that’s okay. All of our choices should make us feel more free, not start to unravel us. We don’t have to wear power suits to be powerful. Our power is found in our femininity, in the wombs that give women the ability to be sacred chambers for new life or if we’re adoptive mothers, in our arms that draw new life in to us and into our homes. Everything that makes women women is what makes them valuable to society. We don’t have to contribute to the GDP to be productive. Mothers produce, if not physically than via adoption, and nurture souls — souls that have eternal value. A mother’s work is hidden, laborious. It’s also what quietly and surely makes the world move forward. Mothers build futures. That’s something to celebrate.

When we “liberate” women from the “menial” tasks of motherhood, when we suggest a woman loses her life and her identity if she stays home with the kids all day, when we say motherhood reduces women to a shadow of their former selves, what we’re really saying is that being something other than Mom or making sure you’re something else in addition to being “just” a mom is superior to the role of a mother. We’re undercutting ourselves.

I’m not suggesting women don’t have a place in the workforce. Long before terms like “working mom” or “hybrid woman” snaked their way into our parlance, women have been productive workers in the vineyard of the Lord. We’ve produced children. We’ve built domestic churches. Some of us have been called to be doctors, humanitarians, or artists. But none of us has to be everything to everyone. And certainly not at the same time.

I’m finally realizing that I have a lifetime to sleep, write books, run, volunteer, act in community theatre, read poetry and novels, and do all the things I love to do. I can and do swirl some of these pursuits into my life right now. In fact, I’ve started running again, and it’s making me a better mother. However, I can’t always manage everything – at least not well – all at once, and this doesn’t make me weak. It makes me a human who is aware of her limitations and aware of the gifts in her life that need to be nurtured now and not later.

What our culture sometimes seems to miss is that a woman’s liberation must truly be freeing her from things that are holding her hostage — not releasing her from her supernatural calling and something that can be good and sanctifying.

I was perusing through photos from a past family beach trip when I came across a snapshot of my shadow. I loved the photo because it captures exactly where I am now and how I’ve evolved into this bearer of love. My baby boy is barnacled to me, reaching out to his big sister. My shadow hasn’t been reduced; it has been increased. This growth has sometimes been very painful ( the process of pruning usually is), but it’s up to me to savor the sweetness of motherhood instead of letting it turn me bitter.

I love my family very much. I don’t always love every moment of being a mother, but I do always love my children. Sometimes when I feel like I’m failing miserably as a mom, I’m tempted to do outside things I know I’m decent at – to make up for my glaring lack of mothering skills. But I remind myself that any job I’ve ever worked has had its shares of ups and downs. I made mistakes then. I make mistakes now. I’ll never be able to free myself from responsibility or accountability. I’m learning to accept who I am and where I am and to be proud that I am full-time mama to four children.

My beautiful, accomplished, hard-working, sleep-craving mothers, no, being a mother isn’t always easy. But it is enough. More than enough. So don’t be afraid to be who you were created to be: people who possess a special sensitivity and a sublime respect for the dignity of the human person. People who are inclined to follow the way of the cross, to nurture, and to hold the fabric of society together, not with high levels of productivity measured in output but with the generous gift of self.



Kate Wicker is a regular guest on Relevant Radio, speaker, health columnist for Catholic Digest, and the author of Weightless: Making Peace with Your Body. She also has a novel in the works that she cobbles together in between nursing, searching for rogue socks, and reading storybooks to her four young children. Learn more about her speaking, writing, and life at KateWicker.com.

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