It was another bustling-at-the seams Sunday. The house was sunny, and the kitchen smelled like lunchtime — miso-glazed salmon with rice, cucumber-sesame salad — and it was full of people. Three teens, their friends, two babies, me and my husband. Big personalities, lots of opinions, crazy love, and a oh-so-much mess.
But this is the norm. The weekends are full, because it’s the only time that we’re together. My husband is gone Monday through Friday. He lives in another country.
This means that just about every parenting and house responsibility is mine. Especially with the babies. They’re my job. We didn’t plan it that way, but it happened.
Without knowing it, I became a married “single” mom.
My husband and I are both crazy-in-love with our kids. We’re both great parents. But we each have different roles, and mine happens to be 99.3 percent of the actual, physical labor of childrearing.
To most feminists and family therapists and Lean In’ers, this is warfare territory. It’s a living room littered with landmines waiting to go off and destroy the fabric of our family. For my husband and I, it works. So, it’s not just that I choose not to complain… it’s that I usually don’t even want to.
The truth is, I am eternally grateful to take care of my children every day. But sometimes I feel trapped in motherhood.
I get tired. Gratitude doesn’t erase exhaustion. To my knowledge, the only thing that really helps extreme fatigue is extreme sleep. Not even triple-shot lattes do the trick long-term (trust me. I’ve tried).
I watch my husband prepare for his cab. Darting around, distinctly handsome in his black suit and tie. Anxious, looking for his briefcase. He’s stressed, too, but less. Smelling fresh, from the shower. Not me.
I am a stressed mess.
Here’s what my “trapped in motherhood” looks like: My hair is stringy. Yesterday’s date night waves, now tangled from the baby’s night wakings. It’s 11 am. I’m still wearing my leggings and nursing top — the pajamas that I’d worn when going to get the morning’s pastry for breakfast (because, I mean, Paris). Pastry crumbs cover me, courtesy of my baby who is learning to eat on his own.
And that is the norm. Motherhood is messy.
I made my third half-cup of coffee, with great hesitation. Because potentially-too-much-coffee-while-breastfeeding guilt is real. I let my husband kiss me goodbye, with my dirty hair, my toddler-fingerprint-smudged glasses, my half-opened eyes.
The baby had been awake since 5 am that morning. Only I knew this. Only mothers know this.
It makes the grass on the other side of the baby-free fence a lot greener.
He rushed out of the door, fumbling with his keys. Our infant wailed upstairs instead of napping. I listened nervously to our toddler opening the tops to her rainbow-colored markers, next to our white walls and the brand-new linens I’d just bought to solve all of my problems.
And in the middle of all of this — the husband exiting, the stressed baby crying, the toddler marking, the guilty coffee shooting into my bone-tired veins, my hair and body and soul needing a good scrubbing — I feel trapped in motherhood. The motherhood I desperately wanted.
Then, I hear myself say the shocking truth, out loud…
“I feel like I’m in prison.” Of course, I’m so totally not even ever in prison.
Yes, I know this! Anyone who knows anything about prison knows this. But I couldn’t get out of wherever I was, and I wanted to. Just for a few days. For one night. A couple of hours. Five minutes.
I want to go away to work, too. To dress and pack for myself and think about what I’m going to say to the other big people. Maybe my coffee could be a little boost, and not life support. Or I could stop craving baby nap time today and bed time tonight, just so I can feel relief. Just so I can be released.
And, most of all, I wanted to stop minimizing how hard it is to have a baby, just because it’s the most incredible thing that has ever happened to me.
Do you feel trapped in motherhood, too? You’ve read this far, so I’m gonna’ take a wild guess and say “YES!”
Luckily, there’s a way to start turning it around: begin telling yourself the truth.
We have to be able to tell the truth, especially to ourselves.
Then, we can then just get on with it. Take the shower, wash the hair, drink the coffee, wash the walls, dance with the cranky baby, curl up on the couch, listen to how our husband’s child-free day went without envy, listen without judging.
Telling ourselves the truth about ourselves, about our own experience, is the first step to changing it. If we choose.
That day, I felt like I was in Mom Jail. But saying it out loud? That also made me feel a lot more free.