BEHIND DOMESTIC LINES
★ ★ ★ ★
By Jami Ingledue
“I love your honesty online. I didn’t have that when my kids were toddlers,” a friend with older kids told me over drinks. She loves my Facebook posts about my extremely energetic 4-year-old (whom we have dubbed “the Tiny Dictator”).
More than once my honesty (read: big fat mouth) has gotten me into trouble, but nothing has made me value honesty more than parenthood. Because, let’s face it, we don’t always get an honest picture of parenthood before we have kids.
My personal theory is that there is a conspiracy among our mothers to get grandbabies, so they leave out some of the less savory details.
It’s true that nothing and nobody can really prepare you for parenthood. I never imagined the relentlessness of it before I fully experienced it: to be so needed every single moment, including the moments in which you were accustomed to sleeping or showering. I never imagined the terrifying love of being a parent, frightening in its ferocity—in my son, I saw my own heart out in the world, walking around in a tiny vulnerable body. Connection at its most raw and visceral.
There are the obvious hard truths: the sleep deprivation is brutal. Childbirth and even pregnancy will bring some of the worst pain you can imagine. Toddlers are insane, energetic mini dictators. You can practically hear your brain cells dying as your vocabulary slowly falls away. Teenagers are the most annoying creatures on the earth and will make you want to jump out a window. 90% of your life is spent looking for shoes and sippy cups. There will pretty much be poop everywhere for 5 years, no matter how much you clean.
But the most surprising thing to me: I never feel like I actually accomplish anything. Despite long, relentless days without a break. Nothing is ever “done.” I don’t feel I have achievements I can be proud of. I don’t feel proud when I tell people I’m a stay-at-home mom, even though I waited and worked for years to have the opportunity.
In fact, I feel like a failure as a parent so much of the time. And before another parent let me in on the secret, I had no idea that most parents feel the same.
But like so many of our problems, the real problem is that the reality does not match the dream we have in our heads.
The dream is created by our culture, which idealizes and fetishizes motherhood without actually supporting it. (If you doubt that, just look at maternity leave in the US.)
But it’s our lack of community, our isolation, which really allows the dream to grow unchecked in our minds and hearts, like a weed. We all know in our bones that it’s not supposed to be like this. We were not meant to raise kids alone. We are tribal creatures, pack animals, and we give birth to very helpless babies.
We need the pack.
But the pack is spread all over, chasing individual opportunity. And so when we are around family or friends it can feel like a vacation, to pee whenever we want and take long showers. And we think, this is how it’s supposed to be. A person should be able to relieve themselves without an insane small human throwing themselves against the door.
We are not surrounded with the realities of parenting, like we used to be. We don’t know what it’s supposed to look like anymore. We get too many of our dreams of parenthood from movies and cereal commercials. We are not surrounded by knowledgeable women who have had parenting skills passed down to them. And as a result so much knowledge about the skill and art of parenting—so often called “the hardest job in the world”—is lost.
And so we never feel good enough. We are not the parents we thought we’d be. We yell a lot. It feels out of control so much of the time.
I remember sitting on the couch trying to breastfeed my skinny baby for hours at a time, crying and crying. It wasn’t working right. He wouldn’t latch on correctly. My boobs hurt. I was exhausted. He wasn’t getting enough. I had dreamed for years of what it would be like to breastfeed, to nourish my baby from my own body, lovingly strengthening our bond. And here I was, an utter failure, a mom who couldn’t even feed her baby. And what got me through? The texts from my cousin, telling me how much trouble she had breastfeeding and that it would get better. The Facebook comments from other moms telling me how hard it was and that I was doing a great job. Horrible stories of bleeding nipples and mastitis. The brutally honest posts from parents who were having an even worse day than I was, sharing their struggles and their despair.
Technology has given us a second chance at community.
Of course connections with other moms in real life are absolutely essential. But we can also create our own larger communities on social media. And we have a chance to do it with authenticity and honesty.
The “honest mommy” blogs are leading the way, and providing a voice for women that we have not had before. Renegade Mothering, scarymommy, and similar blogs are telling the unflinching truth about parenthood. Sharing our stories in this way allows us to hold space for each other. To walk alongside each other through our pain and confusion as well as our triumphs. To know that we’re not losing our minds, that we’re not alone.
We can choose to do the same with our online communities. Of course we have to be safe when sharing information about our kids, but I’m not talking about chatting with strangers here: I’m talking about building real support systems.
So let’s build those communities, and let’s all agree to cut the bullshit, shall we? Let’s keep it real. Let’s post the imperfect pictures too, not just the Pinterest-worthy ones. Let’s get right down there and talk about the hard stuff. Because if you’re feeling it, the chances are great that someone else is too. And amongst the hard stuff, let’s also talk about this truth: that the bond and love we have for our kids is enough. Just being there with this love is, by far, the most important thing we can do that will impact their lives and development.
And mommies interested in the Wars? Go look elsewhere, because frankly, I am not interested.
Jami worked as a librarian for over a decade before choosing to stay home when her son, now 4, was born. She also has a 17-year-old daughter. She makes all-natural soap and body products and sells them through her company, Dancing Bee Farms (dancingbeefarms.net). She lives with her husband, daughter, and son on an acre of land in rural Ohio, where they keep bees, garden, and brew beer.