Mothering in the Age of Motherhood

Like most moms, I struggle to balance mothering, verb (to raise one’s children) and motherhood, noun (definition in flux as we debate the inherent inclusion of  cloth diapers and whether it’s essential to make ourselves crazier than our mothers did).  

Once upon a time (last July), I thought I had the mom gig figured out. To prove it I wrote a tongue-in-cheek guest post for Scary Mommy’s hilarious blog about how much more relaxed I was with baby #3 compared to the nervous-wreck crazy lady I was the first time around. I was an expert. I’d hit my parenting stride.

Well, the nagging feeling I fought so hard to quell is back, and I can’t figure out why.  My kids are safe, warm, and nourished (the basics). And they’re loved and happy (the dream). Nevertheless, I feel pressure to do more . . . but more of what, I’m not sure.

I suspect there’s a correlation between the fact that I’m more involved with my writing than I was a year ago (hello blogzilla!) and the anxiety I’m once again feeling about my skills as a mom.

So let’s be honest, when I say I should be doing more, I suppose what I mean is, I should be doing less. Less work on the fiction, less blogging, less Twitter. Less of the occasional lunch or dinner with friends. Less exercise. Less of anything that takes me away from my little guys.

But there’s this:  If I focused 100% of my energy on the kids

  • I’d lose my mind.
  • I’d resent my husband when he wanted go for a 30-minute run or do anything outside of work.
  • He’d resent me for resenting him.
  • I’d lose my mind.
  • I’d yell at the kids. All the time.
  • And, say it with me now: I’d lose my mind.

Still . . . the nervous-wreck lady is back. When I see my youngest child turning small objects into imaginary phones, I panic about spending too much time on my Blackberry squeezing in “me time” in her presence. Similarly, I’ll gleefully TiVo the newest Sponge Bob movie for an hour of sweet silence from my 4-year-old and 6-year-old, but later feel disgusted with myself for not wanting to do a workbook with them or a puzzle or anything that won’t turn their brains to mush.

Essentially, I’ve paralyzed myself with the second guessing, and I want it to STOP. I’m sure I’m not the only parent out there with these images of other moms doing more, doing better.  And I wonder why I have so much trouble giving myself a break from the guilt. Especially since I honestly don’t believe in some magic elixir of parenthood or a foolproof equation. (Organic food + child’s participation in every activity available + mom’s presence all the time= perfect children). If only it were so predictable!

I think any derivative of the equation above pushed directly or indirectly by society or pushed mom-to-mom is ridiculous. We can only attempt to control so much for our children before we end up making ourselves miserable in the process.  So if I believe that’s true (and I do), then WHY WHY WHY do I STILL worry about failing as a parent every time I open my laptop?

I welcome both commiseration and advice!

FOR OTHER EXCELLENT ARTICLES ON THIS SUBJECT SEE:

(photo credit skenmy via Flickr)

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Nina is a freelance writer with work that has appeared regularly at Brain, Child Magazine, Kveller.com, The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward, Tcjewfolk.com, Writerunboxed.com, and elsewhere. Her short stories have appeared in over a dozen literary magazines. She writes an advice column for The HerStories Project, participated in the 2013 cast of Listen to Your Mother, and she enjoys co-leading the book review site GreatNewBooks.org. Nina lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children.

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37 Responses to Mothering in the Age of Motherhood
  1. Frume Sarah
    December 20, 2010 | 12:00 am

    I think we must all make a pack to be more forgiving to ourselves. Or else the guilt will send us to an early grave.

  2. 30ish Mama
    December 20, 2010 | 12:59 am

    I think we feel guilty because every now and again we bump into that mom who lives for and lives through her children. I really don’t think it’s healthy to lose oneself this way, not only because of the insanity that is sure to follow, but I think it puts added pressure on the kids. And when they grow up, they will feel guilty for trying to live their own lives.

  3. marlys
    December 20, 2010 | 1:22 am

    Isn’t that what grandparents are for? To share the responsibility of focusing on the grandchildren AND to make you feel guildy at the same time?

  4. alissa
    December 20, 2010 | 6:41 am

    Balance is critical, but don’t hold yourself to the standard of trying to achieve it daily. I strive for balancing the week (and even then often miss the target). Give some flexibility to what balance looks like across the weeks- for me, that too evolves and accommodates to fit 50 hours of daycare, commuting, doctor and therapy appointments, play time at home, play dates and birthday parties, taking care of the house, laundry and food, running errands, connecting with friends, and hopefully time for either my husband or me. It is simply never going to be perfect. And that is okay. Your kids are beautiful, kind and clever little people; cut yourself some slack, my friend.

    • Frume Sarah
      December 20, 2010 | 10:08 am

      I like this. Trying to achieve balance on a daily basis is anxiety producing in-and-of-itself. But to spread it out over the week give me a much better shot at finding where I might squeeze in some balance ;)

  5. Anne Greenwwod Brown
    December 20, 2010 | 7:16 am

    Kids don’t want bells and whistles. They want a warm body who loves them. Period.

  6. Tracy Hahn-Burkett
    December 20, 2010 | 7:17 am

    If Mommy is unhappy, the whole family is unhappy.

    You have tons of company in this struggle, Nina. Almost every mom–and several dads–I know wonder if they’re striking the balance right and fretting that they’re not. It eats away at all of us and enters into every decision. And despite the fact that most of us know that in the end, our kids are probably going to turn out just fine, we drive ourselves crazy anyway.

    Some people are totally fulfilled by devoting themselves exclusively to their kids, and that’s great for them, although I do wonder what happens later when those kids start to separate. For everyone else, though, there’s a need to hang on to something in the world of adults and to some piece of who you were before you became “Mommy,” and that’s always struck me as healthy. Why should you lose everything that made you who you were before once you have kids?

    I like that my kids know that I love them and care about what they’re doing, but they know I have other obligations and love writing, too. I think they see a picture of a more complete person that way. And as long as I can keep this up economically, it’s better for all of us if I can keep writing. My kids get to see what it means to pursue a dream.

    Now, um, about all the time I take from my kids so I can tweet? That’s a different story…

  7. Ann's Rants
    December 20, 2010 | 7:33 am

    Yes yes and yes. Thank you for the link.

    I fight the guilt beast daily.

    • Nina Badzin
      December 20, 2010 | 12:11 pm

      Ok, so THIS is why I blog. I step away for a few hours (son has an ear infection, I had a meeting at my daughter’s pre-school, and this darn snow makes EVERYTHING slower) and there is this fantastic conversation happening already. I’m responding to ALL comments above here:

      F. SARAH: Yes, a pact. I love it. Actually, I might toy with that for a short story. Thank you!!

      30ISH MAMA: You’re so right, the pressure on the kids to sort of live up to the intense focus can’t be good. I’ll keep that in mind during hour 2 of Sponge Bob. ;)

      MARLYS (Aka, my kids’ fantastic grandmother, their “Bubbe”): You are so funny! And you never make me feel guilty!

      ALISSA: Looking at what we do over a week or a month and not minute by minute or day by day is so brilliant. I may steal that for another blog post. It’s the advice doctors give about a toddler’s diet too! I never thought to apply it here. Did you see that the fantastic blogger “Frume Sarah” commented on your comment? You would love her blog (she calls her self a frum reform Jew). Check her out!

      ANNE: So true–and like I said above, I know it in my heart, but it’s hard to remember it on a daily basis. As a side note, someone tweeted something so funny yesterday: “Friends don’t put whistles in their friends’ kids’ goody bags.” Neither here nor there but I knew you’d appreciate it! ;)

      TRACY: Such a wonderful comment! (Ahem, you should write a blog post about this too if you haven’t already.) I always remember my mom working–not full time but for sure in ventures that were time consuming–and I respected it. I think writing (pre-official-AUTHOR) writing makes way for an extra layer of work since there’s no $$ in it.

      Ann of Ann’s Rants fame: Everyone needs to read her blog. She’s hysterical and my blogging idol (along with my friend Jill, of course, of Scary Mommy fame).

  8. Amy Sue Nathan
    December 20, 2010 | 7:44 am

    As your kids get older they’ll be proud that you have other things “going on.” It’s important for them to grow up knowing that they’re the most important — but not the only important part of your life. It was a mistake that I made for many years, being 100% mom and no one else. It benefits no one.

    Blog, tweet, write. Whatever works to round out your life. When you want to be with your kids, leave the laundry — it’ll be there to be folded whenever you’re ready. Leave the dishes for a while, they won’t put themselves away and will wait for you. Sit on the floor, be present when you’re with your kids — those moments don’t wait.

  9. Sharon Bially
    December 20, 2010 | 8:22 am

    Thanks for linking to my blog post about Motherhood as a Job!
    Ever an amateur philosopher, I have a theory about this guilt and the craziness it brings that might not be very popular, but here goes:

    In this modern era of relative privilege and ease, many people have no outlet for the primal survival instinct that nonetheless continues to drive us. Financially secure, supported by either a good spouse or a good job, sheltered, fed, etc, where can we find an outlet for that gotta-fight-to-live-and-thrive (which we might not be able to define, but certainly feel)?

    It seems to me that our children are an easy target.

    On a personal note, for some reason I have been spared the guilt and much of what you describe above. (I might be missing the neuro-pathway…) I work all day at home (till 6 p.m.), getting up only to drive my kids to an activity when needed, answer a question or fix a snack. My kids know I’m not truly available, though, until around dinner time. They know darn well that I don’t do puzzles, games, homework or workbooks. Ever. That I go to the gym on the weekends, to dance classes some weekday evenings and out to an occasional dinner with girlfriends. And they’re ok with it all. But more importantly, they’re perfectly fine: happy, healthy, expressive and engaged in the things they like to do.

    That’s why my bottom line is: No Guilt. Be yourself, be happy about it, think about what “survival” means to you and how you can fight for it on other fronts than through domestic life, and your kids will be happy, too.

    • Nina Badzin
      December 20, 2010 | 12:16 pm

      AMY: THAT is such a challenge, isn’t it?! Being present when I’m with the kids . . . it’s that darn phone and like you said–the constant straightening up around the house. Thank you for chiming in with your experience that you have older kids.

      SHARON: I’m only sorry you wasted that comment here rather than as your own blog post! You ARE quite a philosopher. I love it! And dance classes too? Who knew? You’re a renaissance woman! Your original post on motherhood being WORK but not a JOB inspired this whole post so thank YOU!

  10. Jen Erickson
    December 20, 2010 | 8:24 am

    I love that Amy wrote, “Whatever works to round out your life.” So, so true. I’ve found that it is those small moments with our kids that matter. The ride in the car to an ortho, dentist, dermatologist, practice or zillions of other appointments are the best time to connect with my teens. They are busy and I take whatever moments I can to listen to them and NOT offer advice. In the past five years I have run a marathon, sang on a worship team and started writing a blog and my children do “see” me in a different light, not just Mom. It’s a good thing and it’s a way for them to see me enjoy what I am passionate about. Isn’t that one of the gifts we want for our children? To find out their passions and incorporate them into their lives? As I have gotten older I see the lasting value in that. Marlys, grandparents are rock stars and Mama sanity with a large dose of the best kind of love. :)

  11. Sharon Bially
    December 20, 2010 | 8:32 am

    PS – I totally agree with Anne: kids don’t need bells and whistles!

  12. Lisa
    December 20, 2010 | 9:00 am

    Read The Mommy Myth. It sums up everything you are saying and will give you great pride in all you do and the maddening culture of motherhood our society has created. Run, don’t walk, to get this book, Nina. It will change your view of everything.

    • Nina Badzin
      December 20, 2010 | 12:19 pm

      JEN: So well said. Like Sharon and Tracy, you should discuss it on your blog. And like I said to Amy I’m so happy to have virtual friends with older kids who can impart wisdom so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel!

      LISA: How do I not know about that book already??? Consider it ordered! Sounds like it may be similar to the Erica Jong article. Did you read that???

  13. Pop
    December 20, 2010 | 9:34 am

    Ahhhh, that guest post. I remember it–and the subsequent comment war that ensued–fondly. In fact, I think that’s the first time I was exposed to your great writing. Anyway,

    “Organic food + child’s participation in every activity available + mom’s presence all the time= perfect children”

    Two things: 1st, the word “perfect” is subjective. 2nd, that equation doesn’t always hold up. My wife’s a high school teacher and she’s had numerous students who were constantly seeking their parent’s approval or guidance/direction, and the parents constantly requested parent-teacher conferences. Along with love, I think one of the best things we parents can give our children is the opportunity to be who they were made to be – not who we think they should be.

    And also? I think the worrying thing seems to generally inflicted the mothers more so than the fathers. For instance, my wife constantly thinks she could be doing more and is often riddled with guilt. Me? I’m more concerned that that boy she’s playing with at the playground will end up impregnating my daughter before she’s 15. In both cases, our anxieties are unfounded. Just relax and enjoy the ride. And in my case, learn a deadly martial art soon.

  14. Andrea
    December 20, 2010 | 10:09 am

    My newest mantra…we are the mothers our children need…if your children needed something from you, you would find a way to meet that need, while they don’t, you don’t. It’s not a lazy mama’s mantra, it’s sanity.

    I thought for a while, I am not the mom I thought I would be Making great projects for Zelia and filling the house with crafts…you know what? That’s not her thing, she is not into drawing and making things, she likes to read and we do that together:)

    Another good thing, our children, ESPECIALLY our daughters need to see engaged interested moms who know how to care for themselves, if not we teach them they shouldn’t. You want your kids to read, enjoy the outdoors, whatever? Engage in the activity yourself even without them!

  15. Nina Badzin
    December 20, 2010 | 12:25 pm

    POP! Yes, I believe our Twitter-ship began right after that guest post. Since then I kept saying, “I don’t have time for my own blog.” But the blogging muse called (and basically I’m a social media animal) so I had to do it already.

    I so appreciate your comment because I love having the male perspective. What you said about letting kids be who they are reminds me of Tracy’s and Jen’s comments. So true and important to remember. By the way, if we’re still blogging when our kids our teens (God help us) then I’ll look forward to how you deal with teenage girls! Yikes!

    ANDREA: I love that you added your two cents here because I know you think about these things too. I’m not a crafty person either. I figure that’s basically most of what they do at pre-school based on the numerous projects that come home. So why do I need to muck up my house with paint and remnants of playdough. No thanks! I don’t even feel bad about that one! I love your point about indirectly teaching our kids to be engaged, interested people through our own role-modeling. I suppose the opposite is true, too. If we show them they are the ONLY things in our world that matter, it’s a sure way to raise little narcissists!

  16. Rebecca Kotok
    December 20, 2010 | 1:09 pm

    I LOVE this post and the comments. Have you read The Blessing of a Skinned Knee? READ IT AGAIN. I am obsessed with the author’s concept of GOOD ENOUGH. She writes that children will thrive so long as things in their life are good enough. Not perfect. Good enough. Good. Fine. Okay. Even – gasp – med-iocre. Good enough books….good enough toys….good enough moms and dads….good enough. Here’s an excerpt:

    “Donald Winnicott, the British pediatrician and psychoanalyst, often wrote about ‘good enough mothering’ and the ‘ordinary devoted mother.’ He says that ‘inherited potential will be realized’ when ‘the environmental provision is adequate.’ Adequate, not exceptional…..Dr. Winnicott is reminding us that in order to flourish, children don’t need the best of everything. Instead they simply need what is good enough. This may include good enough (but dull) homework assignments, good enough (but a little crabby or uninspired) teachers, good enough (although insect-infested and humid) summer camps, and good enough (although bossy and shallow) friends. Consider that “good enough” can often be best for your child, because when life is mostly ordinary and just occasionally extraordinary, your child won’t end up with expectations of herself and those around her that can’t be met on this worldly plane.

    • Nina Badzin
      December 20, 2010 | 5:15 pm

      REBECCA! And I haven’t read that book in a long time. Thanks for including an excerpt here. I’ll have to reread along with Lisa’s recommendation, The Mommy Myth. My mom made a similar comment about “the good enough mom” on the Scary Mommy guest post. Most days I’m satisfied with that, but then I get these bursts of shame about it. (Hence, the entire post!) But I’m working on it! ;)

      • Scary Mommy
        December 20, 2010 | 7:11 pm

        I’ve never read the book, my that’s totally my moto. So very true!!

  17. Ali
    December 20, 2010 | 1:58 pm

    Nina,

    THANK YOU for sharing this! Balance and the “feeling” that we need to do MORE is something that ALL moms struggle with – no matter if you are a working mom or a stay-at-home mom. I constantly struggle with, “I should be doing MORE.” But, like you said, what more?!?!?! Again, thank you for sharing your work with us and keep it up as I SO enjoy reading it.

    On another note, we NEED to get together…much to catch-up on.

    XOXO,

    Ali

    • Nina Badzin
      December 20, 2010 | 5:17 pm

      ALI- you’re so sweet to comment here. You have no idea how much I appreciate it. And you’re right we all beat ourselves up too much (for working, for not working, etc.) It’s endless. Meanwhile, we for sure need to catch up IRL (that’s twitter speak for In Real Life!) Look at what a techie monster I’ve become!

  18. Erika Robuck
    December 20, 2010 | 2:08 pm

    I struggle with this often, Nina, but I read something in the Mitch Albom book HAVE A LITTLE FAITH that helped me tremendously. It all boils to to this sentence: ‘Mom,’ the child said, ‘ you’re not listening with your eyes.’ Do you attend to your children (your husband, your friends,etc. ) when you interact with them? It’s not about how much time you spend, it’s about the focus you give. I might be working at my desk, but if my child comes into the room and I stop, turn to him, and look him the in the face, our quality of interaction is much improved.

    I wrote a blog post on this back in March because that sentence inspired me so much. http://bit.ly/dB035T

    Great post, and great comment conversation!

    • Nina Badzin
      December 20, 2010 | 5:25 pm

      So powerful Erika! Going to check out your post asap. By the way, after I read your comment I was wondering whether we were Twitter friends back in March and whether I was even on Twitter in March 2010. I looked and I started in February 2010. But I definitely didn’t know how to use it for a long time so I’m guessing the answer is no! Thanks for commenting here today. :)

  19. Holly W
    December 20, 2010 | 9:16 pm

    if you figure out how to get over the guilt will you shoot me an email? thanks…

  20. Jack
    December 21, 2010 | 2:11 am

    Give up the guilt and give up being Jewish. I know, it is a stereotype but there is some truth to it. Just think of Yom Kippur and oy…. It is hard sometimes.

  21. This post is gold. It speaks to me on so many levels. I too harbor a tremendous amount of parental guilt – and particularly in connection with my writing. Every time I flip open my laptop, I think, “I SHOULD be with my girls, talking with them, teaching them, playing with them, suffocating them with hugs…” But then reason finds me (thank goodness) and I realize that if I did not have interests outside the purview of parenting, if I did not pursue my writing passion, yes, I would lose my mind. And fast. But then why does the guilt catch up with me over and over and over? Why does this never seem to get easier? Hey, I already have guilt about the attention given to #3 and guess what? She hasn’t even been born yet. Huh?

    Thrilled to have found my way here. And tremendously honored and touched to be included among your “Favorite Authors’ Blogs” on the sidebar :) Thank you, Nina!

    • Nina Badzin
      December 21, 2010 | 5:25 pm

      Aidan! Thank YOU for commenting here. It’s an honor for ME. The only disturbing part of your comment is this: I was hoping that when/if I got to where you are (not aspiring novelist but ACTUAL author) then the guilt piece would end. You’re not inspiring a lot of hope here! ;)

  22. Jane Pirtle
    December 22, 2010 | 9:28 am

    Nina,
    I am enjoying reading your blogs! I gave up the mommy guilt thing a few years ago when I was driving in the car with my then 5 year old twin daughters. Ellie, pipes up in the back and asks,” Mommy, did you always want to be nothing when you grew up?” Shocked, I sputtered, honey I use to be a lawyer and lamely tried to describe what that meant. Caroline, adding her two cents asks, “Were you a good lier?”
    I am an ardent volunteer, always involved in a million things, yet I tried to block it from my three girls so they would think I was the best mom. It totally backfired, instead of teaching them what a (hopefully) balanced, fufilled life looks like, I was teaching them it was okay to give up my life and interests to do “nothing.”
    Now, I make no apologies for what I do, whether it’s playing tennis, yapping on the phone, serving on a board or simply making dinner. Hopefully, they will remember this whether they decide to attend law school, start a pet store or be a great wife and mother!

    • Nina Badzin
      December 22, 2010 | 4:01 pm

      Wow, Jane. THAT story of what your daughter said is probably every stay-at-home mom’s nightmare. And I like your implied point that you don’t have to work to show your kids that your a complete and involved person. Just volunteering, staying involved with your interests, etc. goes a long way to stay a well-rounded person. And you’re right, we shouldn’t hide those other parts of our lives from our kids. What are we teaching them if we do???

  23. Susan Carter Millner
    December 22, 2010 | 9:21 pm

    Nina-
    I am loving your blog. Congratulations!

    People often ask me if I feel guilty that I am working and not home with my daughter full time. I always answer emphatically…”Not at all”. I know that I am a better mother because I continue to spend time working in a career that I adore.
    I DO feel guilty when I have time to spend with her and I find myself being short, impatient, or not mindfully present. I notice that this happens when I have periods of time where I am not working for some reason or I don’t take the time to take care of myself. For me, being the kind of mom that I want to be is closely linked to pursuing the other things in my life that make me whole.
    I can only hope that my daughter will learn how important it is to recognize that one’s identity is made up of many parts.

    • Nina Badzin
      December 22, 2010 | 10:25 pm

      Thank you, Susan! I’m so honored that you’ve been reading it! Really! When you first start this kind of thing (and for me that was only 5 weeks ago) you never know if you’ll just be talking to yourself. Your comment and the others on this post have sincerely helped me get much closer to getting over the guilt thing already. Your articulated the point perfectly and I especially love this:

      “I can only hope that my daughter will learn how important it is to recognize that one’s identity is made up of many parts.”

  24. [...] breaks to communicate with the outside world or jot down a thought to write about later – Writer-friend Nina Badzin recently addressed the Mommy-guilt that so often arises when we parents …  This guilt is a common affliction.  I’ve said this before, but it’s worth reiterating: [...]

  25. [...] love Nina’s posts on sloughing off the guilt that weaves, insidious, through parenting, all that motherhood anxiety. She takes on the cultural [...]

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