Mastering the Mommy Mind Game!
by Lee Dobie
Being a mom is such a mind game sometimes. The other day Hannah and I were in the car on our way into town. I usually allow her to sit in the back of the station wagon as we drive through the alley behind our house, and then when we get to the main street she gets into the car seat again. So we hit the street, but Hannah says she’s not getting in the seat. “Well, then we can’t go anywhere,” I said. But she wouldn’t get in so I shook my head and said, “Then we’ll sit here.”
And we sat there. And sat there and sat there. After about five minutes I’m getting really angry and I’m thinking, “Okay, we’re sitting in the car, we’re not going anywhere. What do I do? What’s the plan here?” So I decide to get out of the car and sit on the curb–sort of a little protest on my own. And Hannah says, “Mom! I want to get out, too!” “Nope,” I said, “you’ve got to get in your car seat. The car can’t go until you get in that seat.” But she wouldn’t get in, so I sat there on the curb, in the middle of the day, my hands folded over my knees, listening to my kid shouting, “I want to get out of the car.” And I’m thinking, “This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but I don’t know what else to do.”
Surrender–that’s a big part of motherhood. You have to get in the mindset of “It’s not important if I get the laundry done today or if I get to the grocery store.”
Control is out of the question
You can’t want control. Control is out of the question, because with kids there’s no way to anticipate what your day is really going to be like. You can think things are going to happen a certain way, but then five tantrums later it’s happening a different way, and you pretty much have to go with it. Now I’m used to it, but it was a shock in the beginning, all that letting go of the world that I thought was mine.
I think any woman who’s had a sense of independence would feel this way when she becomes a mother. As women, we’ve been educated, pushed along, and told that we could accomplish anything we wanted to and become anything we set our hearts on. But after you have a child, you hit a brick wall and you realize that if you really want it all, if you want your family and your brilliant career, then somebody’s going to pay, and that somebody may be you, or your marriage, or your kids. And you have to ask yourself, “Do I really want it all, if that means someone is going to suffer because of it?”
I couldn’t do it. Working full-time just brought on too much chaos for me. I was getting my children up in the morning, getting them dressed, fed, rushing them out the door to day care, rushing to my job, working, coming home from work, trying to see my kids, talk to my husband, play with the kids, get them fed and to bed. I knew that it was just a matter of time before something was going to give, and I didn’t want my children to live in that kind of chaos. God bless the mothers who have to work and who don’t have a choice about it, because it’s really hard to do it all.
Rewards are where you find them
At the time I’d been working full-time as a social worker, and while I did make a sacrifice by going from five days to two days a week and then down to one day, I don’t feel like I gave up a huge career, either. If motherhood made me give up anything, it was a certain sense of freedom to go and come as I pleased and make spontaneous choices about what I felt like doing in the moment. Now my decisions are made with my children and my husband in mind, and while that’s wonderful, it’s very different.
At the same time, motherhood has turned out to be much more rewarding than my job was, though not rewarding in the way society views rewards. These days, I feel rewarded if I can get Hannah into her car seat and get her potty-trained. I felt a weird kind of reward when I went to buy my children shoes yesterday, because it meant that they were growing. I felt the same satisfaction when I took Hannah to play school for the first time and she cried only a little bit, but the next time didn’t cry at all. Before that she never liked to be without me, so to see her hold her head up high and walk into that place by herself was my accomplishment, too; she’s learning to be an independent person, and that makes me feel good.
The truth is that my life is about my family these days, and my rewards come in relationship to them. I might have rejected that notion five years ago, when I was career-bound and knew myself as a professional woman. I’d been raised in the 70s and 80s, after the women’s movement had been rolling, and I believed that I would carve my own path and not live through my husband or my children. But the thing is, this time with my children is so short-lived, and it’s really important for me to be here at home for them, which also means that I’ve had to expand my notion of where my rewards are found.
So who said life is fair?
And maybe because my generation of women was taught to be independent, I still carry the essence of that with me. I know myself enough and have enough self-esteem to not live through Bruce’s accomplishments, either. He’s the editor of a newspaper in town, a paper he and his partner recently purchased. That was a big deal this summer, and everybody was saying, “Oh, you must be so excited!” And while I was excited, I didn’t feel a personal sense of accomplishment because it wasn’t my deal, it was my husband’s deal. In the 50s and 60s, that would have been “our deal.” So I have to sit with myself on this and realize that while my job as a mother may not seem like such an outwardly successful role, for me that’s okay because I really believe what I’m doing is a good thing.
There have been times when I’ve resented that Bruce is out there in the world making things happen, especially when I’m on my fifth load of wash. I remember saying to him once that being a father is something that he gets to experience, as opposed to something that he lives on a moment-to-moment basis. I mean, he comes home, and the kids go wild to see him. He gets to be the good guy, the exciting guy, because they haven’t seen him all day long. And he also gets to feel pretty good about himself most of the time because he’s accomplishing so much at the newspaper, whereas I’m the disciplinarian, the heavy, and I take care of the mundane tasks like sweeping the floor and picking up after everybody. We live in different worlds to some extent.
If I sound miserable, I’m not. I have days when I’m miserable, I have moments when I’m miserable and frustrated and fantasize about walking out the door and doing something spontaneously, without having to plan ahead and arrange babysitters, but I also have a level of maturity that says, “Okay, so it’s not always fair.” A lot of what you have to let go of in motherhood is instant gratification. With most jobs there’s a tangible reward at the end of the day, but with motherhood you have to let go of needing that. And I can live with that. In any job there are moments of being miserable, but I’m not self-centered enough to believe that I should get to go through a whole day where every moment is bright and shiny perfect–that’s just not motherhood.