Am I Really Made for Motherhood?
By Whitney Swance Starczewski
I’ve never loved being a mom to my son Noah as much as I do right now. Loving motherhood, however, as I suspect is the case for many more mothers than we are otherwise led to believe, did not come naturally to me.
In fact, over the past 12 months, there have been several, dare I say many, moments when I wondered if I had any business being a mom at all.
Like many little girls (and boys), when I was young, I played with dolls. My favorite was Tiana, a name I chose in honor of the “most beautiful girl” in my kindergarten class. She was a big, life-sized doll and strangers would often mistake her for an actual baby. Side note: My dad got a talking to one evening after I forgot to put on Tiana’s coat for our local Christmas parade and a fellow attendee thought she was real...and freezing. Most times though, Tiana wore baby clothes. She also “posed” for portraits on my bed, went for rides in the car and ate with our family at the table. To me, Barbies were too make-believe, too pretend. I wanted to feel what it felt like to be a real mom.
As a teenager though, and as a young professional, motherhood mostly lost its luster. Not because I didn’t eventually want children, or because I wanted to focus on my career necessarily, but because I didn’t think that I personally was the “right fit”. Wouldn’t it be unfair, after all, to bring a child into this world and subject him/her to a mother who’s so ill-suited for the position?
And then there’s the requisite “motherly instinct.” Ahhh…The Motherly Instinct. That intrinsic, intangible essence from which supposedly blossoms all the indispensable qualities inherent in “good” moms: humility, forgiveness, patience, kindness, understanding, perseverance, generosity, sacrifice, et cetera, et cetera….
One time, during my snotty, know-it-all teenage years, and in the aftermath of a particularly heated argument, my mom, fuming, warned me about motherhood. “I hope you never have kids,” she admonished me. “Because you have NO motherly instinct.”
In retrospect, I know her comment was borne of anger and frustration. And I really hate to throw my mom under the bus like this. Still, I don’t remember anything about the argument besides that final remark. It stung; she had certainly made her point. Not to mention, I’m sure I had it coming.
On top of it though, part of me agreed with her observation. And over the years, I continued to agree with it when I pondered eventually starting a family of my own. Considering my personality, my relationships with others, my past choices, and current priorities, how could anyone in their right mind say with any confidence that I possessed The Motherly Instinct?
To this day, I still sometimes wonder if I’m lacking in “good mom” bonafides. I don’t believe myself to be a naturally empathetic person; I have to work at it sometimes. I also lack in the patience department and can be pretty darn selfish. Plus, when I’m upset, I can be straight up hit-below-the-belt mean. I also give up on things sometimes, and hold the occasional grudge. Oh yeah, and I have a filthy mouth.
Furthermore, I don’t find much joy in routine parenting things. I don’t care for changing poopy diapers, waking up at all hours of the night to baby screams, wiping up endless amounts of spit up, or cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning. “How am I supposed to look at the ‘bright side’ of these seemingly thankless tasks?” I have often wondered. To me, they’re just work. Plain and simple.
I’m also very different from my own mom. And she is wonderful. My mom is loving and compassionate. Growing up, she managed our family, ensured our house was always pristine, worked full-time and still dressed to the nines. Every.single.damn.day. And she didn’t complain much either. I, on the other hand, have given up doing my hair almost entirely, my house barely passes for kind-of/ish clean most days and I bitch and moan about it all. A lot.
When all is said and done then, doesn’t this all disqualify me from a “good mom” title?
Until recently, I would have said yes. But, for some unknown reason, maybe thanks to the passage of time or maybe just because I’m so damn sick of being hard on myself, I’ve started to think that I’m coming around to this whole parenthood thing after all.
Becoming a mother may happen from one minute to the next, but for me, coming into myself as a mom and really accepting motherhood as new facet of my larger identity was a much slower, more gradual process.
“Accepting myself - the good, the bad, all of it,” I hypothesized. “Maybe that’s the first step toward becoming “successful” as a mom? By acknowledging my faults, celebrating my strengths, recognizing that I wasn’t born to be a mom, but that I can become one not only physically, but psychologically, spiritually, maybe that’s the key here?”
Sure, I can be impatient, and maybe even downright unpleasant at times, but I’ve also changed a lot. I am much more thoughtful about my words and how my actions affect others. I’ve come a long way.
And, yes, I may sometimes be selfish, but aren’t we all? Is it really that wrong to want a night sans Noah to go out alone with my husband? Or to want to steal a few hours away to read my book? Or to covet an afternoon, hell even a day, to myself?
I am also goofy, light-hearted, loving and thoughtful. And I have a lot of self-control; I may want to throw tantrums and fight all the battles sometimes, but I don’t (usually) follow through. I’m also pretty resilient. Despite our small family having already overcome a lot, I’ve more or less managed to maintain my positive outlook and balanced perspective. “This is just a phase,” I’ve often told myself during especially trying moments. “Life will not always be as challenging as this very second. We will move on.” And we always do. I’m also completely, 110% devoted – to doing what is best for Noah and for our family as a whole.
No, the work part of mom-ing hasn’t gone away. I may not have to deal with spit up anymore, or waking up multiple times a night, but now I’m in constant surveillance mode, monitoring my one year old to make sure he doesn’t put cat food in his mouth, tear apart my husband’s books or put five bites of toast in his mouth at one time without chewing. The poopy diapers are still a struggle as well.
In other words, I’m trying. And I’m changing because of it. The more I shed the negative past conceptions of myself as somehow innately unfit for motherhood, the more I feel at peace and find happiness in my new role as Noah’s mom. In doing so, I am better able to savor his precious, fleeting childhood and our time together. I can also better appreciate his fervent curiosity, the milestones met and surpassed, his boundless energy, the giggles, snuggles and kisses. It also makes the “work” part of being a mom a hell of lot easier.
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