Catherine, a 27-year old Connecticut mother of a toddler and a newborn baby girl, was at her sister’s baby shower one recent lovely summer afternoon. She sat at a table, surrounded by a room full of women, when someone asked her how she was feeling.
“Not so well,” she blurted out. “Actually,” she paused, “I hate being a mother,” she said to the horrified looks of everyone at her table. The judgments began from all corners, women who want to be mothers, women who are mothers, and grandmothers all saying with their eyes, glances and body gestures, “What, you don’t like being a mother? What kind of mother are you?…Ingrate!”
The new and exhausted mom seemed to have broken the cardinal rule of motherhood. Rather than swoon over her adorable babies and good life, she admitted the not-so-pretty underbelly of mothering: that motherhood can suck. It’s tough, messy, exhausting, can get overwhelming, and [spoiler alert!] it’s not so Hollywood cute. Moms, it seems, can’t go there without being judged as “bad mothers.”
“Women feel like they don’t have permission to be honest about how hard it is to be a mother and the pressures that come with parenting,” says New York-based psychologist Rose Garcia. “We feel guilty because it’s innate that we are supposed to take care of our children and sometimes we find ourselves overwhelmed and not being so loving,” explains the Columbia University-trained psychologist, who is, herself, a mother of one child.
According to Garcia, parenting is a journey through different stages filled with many ups and downs. At times there will be moments when it feels overwhelming even to the point of thinking and feeling (or saying out loud) that they hate being a parent. And she says, it’s perfectly okay to feel what you feel—the trick, she says, is to get out of your head and not to judge what you’re feeling.
There is one critical time for mothers where it is especially important not to ignore those feelings however, and it’s during the first six months of a new birth, when women are experiencing post-partum that can lead to depression. It is crucial that new moms have the space to share feelings of “not really digging being a mom” without feeling guilty or being judged, she says.
Garcia notes that many new mothers, especially when they are experiencing the post-partum state, have a difficult time processing these feelings because society expects them to feel great all of the time.
Sometimes, these feelings come up later, or are deeper and long lasting. But Garcia suggests that when a woman wants to disengage from being a mother, when she says to herself, “I don’t want this job anymore,” that is a point where she should pause and examine her feelings more deeply.
“It might be something deeper that she should explore,” Garcia says.
The bottom line, according to Garcia and other experts, is that it is common for some mothers to feel at some points along the parenting journey, that it’s not so great being a mother and that she should feel free to do what the Connecticut mom did: talk about these feelings freely, bravely, and without guilt or shame—to family, friends, or medical professionals. She will often find that she is not alone.
“You need to get it out,” she says. “Women should not stay alone with those feelings.
You have to be able to let these feeling go and not feel judgment,” Garcia explains. “It’s okay to say, ‘I hate being a mother’ for a moment, and then not feel like that the next day.”
There is beautiful side to being a mother and that includes even the not-so-pretty, scary, and overwhelming parts because there are lessons to be learned as a woman. It’s about embracing the lessons that the role of motherhood can give you.
I was at the same shower where Catherine shared her dislike for being a mother. She was happy, almost relieved really, that not all of the women were horrified by her comment. After discussing her feelings in a small group, a couple of us advised her to get help with the kids so she can sleep, rest, go out and spend time on herself. Her spirits were lifted and she seemed grateful.
Sometimes all we need to feel as women or human beings is that we are not alone in our experiences.
Sandra Guzman is the author of The New Latina’s Bible: The Nueva Latina’s Guide to Love, Family, Spirituality and La Vida.” (Seal Press 2011)