Anatomy of a Bad Mama

When DD was about 9 months old, I began to show signs of mild depression. I was still in my pajamas at noon, I was having trouble getting motivated to get out, I was cranky, and I didn’t have too much patience. At the time, I thought maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a full time SAHM. That thought saddened me a great deal, because I had taken such pride in being at home and wanted to continue to do so indefinitely. When I arranged to go back to work I was very excited.
But after a year, when I got pregnant with DS, I began to long for the SAHM life again. I wanted to be home with him at least as long as I was with DD. Being a mother of two is a whole new experience compared to having one, and I’ve certainly had my tough times. I went through a phase a couple months ago where I was really losing it alot, and not being the mother I want to be. But now I’ve come to recognize that this isn’t about being “cut out” to be a SAHM. It’s not that I lack some crucial aspect of my personality that makes me a good mother. I’m not doomed to have to seek out other forms of employment because I failed at being a full time mother. The issue, you see, is maintaining one’s emotional resources.

Mothers were never meant to do this job alone. Traditionally we women surrounded ourselves with a network of female relatives and close friends with whom we could all share childrearing responsibilities, and provide support to one another. Most of us don’t have that any more. To be with two kids from the time they get up until the time they get to bed is exhausting work (especially when, as is the case with my kids lately, they aren’t going to bed until after 10 pm). Certainly there’s the physical aspect – you’re always on the go, you never get to sit down, and if you do you become acutely aware of all the things you should be doing, that need to be done, and so your reprieve is short-lived. When I was a young teenager I worked at McDonalds. They had a motto “If there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean.”. Well that motto comes back to haunt me alot, lol.

Anyways, the physical aspect of it isn’t as hard as I’d have thought. It’s amazing how well one can function on little sleep. And there is certainly a sense of accomplishment when you have managed to feed both kids, get them dressed and ready to go out, done some laundry, etc. But there is also a huge emotional factor to being a mother, and that is the part that both surprised me and now challenges me. And, I suspect, pretty much every mother out there.

I know what kind of mother I want to be. I know exactly how I want to handle each situation with my children. I suppose in that sense I’m ahead of some mothers, who struggle through each situation wondering what they should be doing, playing along by instinct, and lacking a whole lot of guidance or information, instead relying on society’s generally misguided assumptions about how children should behave and how they should be treated. I have done a lot of research over the years and I have a solid philosophical foundation upon which I act. I have my short term and long term goals in mind, and I feel confident about how I plan to guide my children over the years they are in my care.

The problem, however, is that knowing what to do isn’t quite enough. Because, as it turns out, being the kind of parent I want to be takes incredible reserves of patience and self-control. I’m only human, and I’m likely to lash out (usually verbally, since that’s my style – and what I grew up with) when I run out of the emotional energy I need to control myself and react conciously to my children, rather than unconciously.

And I’ve had a hard road in that respect. One would think that having a partner who has basically been at home with me for all but the first four months of parenting would make life easier. But in our case, I don’t think that has been the reality. We have never had an established daily schedule and I find there are several drawbacks to that. I don’t have “me time” planned out. For example, most mums know that their partner leaves at a certain time in the morning, and returns in the evening. They might get their partner to get the kids started on their day before leaving for work (that’s what I did that year I was working). And they know, when their day gets tough, that they can expect a repreive when their partner comes home from work. They can hold that time in their head as a finish line, and muster up some reserves to get there. They can probably negotiate some “me time” in the evenings or, if not then, certainly on the weekends.

For me, there is no such schedule, and I am left with the perception that I get no time off. I’m not sure what the reality of that is, how much time I really get compared to DH, but without a set routine, there is no way to look at the big picture. I can go days without having any real break for myself, and that just zaps my energy. DH on the other hand, gets time alone every day. Usually for 5 or 6 hours. To me that’s a vacation. And I often struggle to get the kids out the door so he can be alone, and that makes me resentful on some days when it’s particularly hard to do so. Even more difficult, is the fact that I don’t exactly know what he does all day. He says he’s working, but there is no product. This past few weeks I’ve been giving him time to write articles, but now that his recent deadline has come and gone, he informs me he didn’t meet his quota. I get so frustrated wondering why I’m sacrificing myself and my children all these days when I lose it with them and feel guilty and horrible afterwards.

All along I’ve been saying that we need a routine. And while he agrees, we’ve never done it because we’ve been in this awful state of transition. Ever since we returned here the assumption has been that he is going to have a full time job soon, and so we’ve tried to structure our days as if he were away all day, but that really didn’t work at all. Not to mention, having an extra body around the house just contributes exponentially to the mess and the housework.

So, on those days when I’m too hard on DD, when I raise my voice to her or scold her, when I know in my heart that I’ve failed her. When I’ve NOT been the parent I want to be, the parent I know I can be, it weighs really heavily on me. I went through a phase a couple months ago where it was pretty bad. But I recognized that the stress of our financial situation had really reached it’s breaking point. Now that things are moving forward and seem a bit more encouraging, it has been better. And, I’m aware of it now. I know that if I don’t get that emotional break, my kids suffer and so do I indirectly by my sense of failure. I’m making a point now to get more time for myself, and I feel it’s helping.

I used to be judgemental of mothers who lose it with their kids, who yell at them or belittle them, etc. But now I understand that all of us are doing an incredibly hard job, and many of us with little to no support. I recognize that my ability to be a “good mother” is really dependent on how much I can keep it together, and for many people that isn’t entirely in their own hands, but dependent on others to provide support. I’m lucky that I actually have a good network of friends and family around me. I think it’s just important that I draw on that and make sure that I get the breaks I need.

I’m not so judgemental any more. Because I know that the difference between myself and a “bad mama” is only a few extra pounds of emotional exhaustion.

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One thought on “Anatomy of a Bad Mama

  1. a.v.

    emotional exhaustion — this is so true. i am also often left with the perception or reality that i do not have ‘me time. and when i do, it is always hurried, because i never know when i am going to get it again, and i don’t know when it is going to be interrupted. right now ‘me time’ is going out with the baby while dh stays with dd. what an enormous difference — one child, or two.

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