I don’t read parenting books. I have no idea what the Wonder Weeks are or what leap my child is going through. I read exactly one book about sleep when LJ was a baby. It’s a lot of reading and research and what works for one baby might not work for another (and honestly, by the time you find the “solution” your baby may just naturally be growing out of that phase anyway) and I just find that my time is better spent in other ways.
That being said, I did read this book about motherhood, and it has been a game-changer for me. So much so that after finishing my library copy, I actually bought my own copy so I could re-read and underline to my heart’s content.
In her book To Have and To Hold: Motherhood, Marriage, and the Modern Dilemma, psychologist Molly Millwood puts so many of my thoughts into words. But even more than that, she puts my hidden, sometimes suppressed thoughts into words.
In her introduction, she presents the question “what if we could . . . occupy a mental space in which there is room for all our loving, nurturing feelings towards our children and our partners and room for all our other, less socially acceptable feelings, too?” (p. xi) She spends the rest of the book basically encouraging women to do just that. Reading it feels like being granted permission to, for lack of a better phrase, feel all the feels that motherhood brings. And even more importantly, remove the judgement from feeling all the feels.
Motherhood has been many things for me. It has been one of the greatest of sources of joy in my life. It has been rewarding and fulfilling and wonderful.
It has also been one of the absolute hardest things I have ever done. It is difficult, draining, and frustrating. And it has brought about some very complicated thoughts and feelings that I didn’t expect at all.
“Why didn’t anybody tell me about this part of the journey?”
Why didn’t I know that, as Millwood puts it, “the dark and vexing moments of mothering [exist] side by side with the moments of joy and fulfillment”? (p.3) Why didn’t I know that for all the external, superficial complaints and frustrations that other mothers felt comfortable warning me about (sleep deprivation! messy homes! tantrums!), I would also have much darker internal frustrations (resentment. loss of identity. disappointment that I’m not the mother I thought I would be.) that cause deeply rooted feelings of guilt?
Why isn’t this talked about?
It’s complicated, right? I feel like I can’t ever go deeper than the surface complaint for fear of seeming like an ungrateful, bad mother. I prayed so many prayers and cried so many tears to become a mother, to be right where I am today. I wanted this, I waited for this, and I finally have it. And I love my children; how can I be anything other than deeply grateful? So I squash down the harder feelings when they start to surface. I don’t look too closely at the feelings that look like boredom or resentment or the moments where I wish I was just on my own. They feel shameful, even blasphemous, to even think, let alone talk to someone else about. I’ll issue my feelings with a generic “motherhood is tough” and hope people think I’m just talking about the more socially acceptable frustration with piles of laundry or sleep regressions.
And so the vicious cycle continues. We fear being the only ones who feel this way, so we don’t talk about our hardest, deepest feelings, so others don’t know we’re feeling that way, so they think they’re the only ones feeling that way and don’t share their hardest, deepest struggles . . . on and on and on.
But Millwood talks candidly about the often-hidden struggles of so many women, including herself, in their motherhood journeys and made me feel less alone. It felt like the biggest breath of fresh air, like lifting off the weight of guilt I didn’t even know I was carrying. Reading the stories and experiences of others led to acknowledging my own complicated feelings and allowing myself to feel that way without judgement. Permission to just accept and work with those feelings – what a gift.
Motherhood is complex. And that’s okay.
If you’re a mother, or hoping to be a mother someday, I cannot recommend this book enough. Here’s to removing some of the invisible burden of guilt and living in the freedom of knowing you are not alone. ❤