Awhile back (we’re talking last summer, y’all), I had the distinct pleasure of reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.
I say it was a pleasure because I have a life-long habit of giving LOTS of f*cks about LOTS of things… making it extremely refreshing to imagine another way of being- one with (presumably) much less paralyzing self-doubt.
My complete inability to make even small decisions with confidence is a direct result of my giving faaaaaaar too many f*cks about the outcome (and, more specifically, what other people will think of that outcome). I try hard on a daily basis to pretend that I don’t care about what people think of me — that’s what we’re supposed to do, these days, to be cool and keep friends — but I’ve always harbored this desperate, un-crushable need for others to approve of (and admire) my decision making.
Because if others deem my decisions sound, I myself will feel like a success… rather than an inept fool whose decisions land her in nothing but emotional turmoil and life-altering financial debt (as has sometimes been the case).
And no area of my life has served up quite as much self-doubt and discomfort as motherhood.
Becoming a mom is not simply a “life choice” or something that you “do.” It’s an entire identity shift. Perhaps, had someone explained it to me in this way, I might’ve reconsidered my decision to plunge into it, headfirst…
… though, probably not. After all, I wasn’t really in control of my brain at that time. My internal clock was ticking haaaard at age 28, sending an overwhelming rush of hormones through my body which led me to do the one thing that flies most defiantly in the face of reason or logic: reproduce.
Who in their right mind would read a job description that requires a complete trade-in of time, energy, youth, and sleep for a (possibly temporary and certainly not guaranteed) return of unconditional love, care in your old age, and comfort of knowing your genetic code will survive a few years longer than you?
Any takers? *CRICKETS*
Yet, we do it. And although I could definitely explain HOW, I can’t fully explain why…
But I digress.
This post is not intended to wrestle with the “why” of having kids — something I don’t think anyone can really squeeze into a convincing and logic-based argument.
Becoming a mother is something much more profound than logic, reason, or basic common sense. It’s an undertaking of epic proportions. A test of sheer will. A contest of survival in its purest, richest form.
And a very real, very demanding job that you can never… ever… quit.
Which is why understanding the depths of the motherhood experience is as untenable and arduous as comprehending death itself. As finite humans, how can we possibly grasp something so eternal and unending? It’s impossible. It’s enormous. It’s beyond our mental limits.
And actually, now that we’re on the subject, becoming a mother is SO much like death in many ways.
I mean sure, if I hadn’t become a mom, I’d still be a different person today than I was 5 years ago. But having kids undeniably accelerated that process to breakneck speeds, at which (many times) I thought I, myself, might just perish.
And so very many parts of me did along the way.
Some for the best, quite honestly.
The worst aspects of my personality- the greed, selfishness, narcissism, and artificially-inflated self-image — these were the first to collapse and disintegrate beneath the sudden weight of the struggle to make room for the love and acceptance of another human… it just drops into your life, all of a sudden, filling up your entire being and atmosphere with indomitable force.
Like the mind-flayer from Stranger Things. Or, for those of my generation, a dementor from Harry Potter.
It is an other-worldly and beyond-words power inexpressible in the human language.
But that has never stopped me from trying.
See, even 5+ years into this gig, I’m still transitioning, still adjusting, still working feverishly to make sense of the changes happening to and around me on a daily basis as a direct result of my “mom” role. Because as my kids grow, my role shifts. The process is never “finished.” I will never reach an identifiable “end” to this journey. My mind simply can’t make sense of that, nor can it parse out the raw mix of emotions generated in its wake… the ones that desperately claw at finding their way out.
Sometimes, I’m afraid that if I don’t let them out and give them their due full expression, they might just suffocate me.
And I can’t have that- all crunched up and contained is no way to live.
Books (like The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck) help, in the sense that they remind me to care less; to live defiantly unencumbered by the peripheral, nonsense things in order to leave room for the bigger issues deserving of my focus. But none have been able to get at this very real, very daunting question: am I doing okay as a mom?
There’s no feedback system built into this job.
Our kids certainly aren’t a reliable source — even if we are doing a good job, they can still turn out to be assholes. And other parents have no f*cking clue. We’re all so busy fretting about this question for ourselves that our only recourse is to heap judgment and shame on anyone doing it differently (because what if that means I’M doing it WRONG?!)
And the answer is so nuanced, because every kid is wired differently. I might be doing a great job with my kid, but my methods won’t work for yours. It’s like we’re handed this ultra-complex, alien technology and asked to figure out how to make it run efficiently.
I don’t f*cking know. Do you?
What are the milestones we should be hitting? What are the benchmarks that point us toward success and a job well done?
There aren’t any.
We’re building elaborate sand sculptures in an earthquake zone.
The terrain can change on a moment’s notice, from one moment to the next. All we can do is sweat and hope and pray and cuss and make cynical jokes and try not to lose our minds to the mounting fear of the fact that we’re just making this shit up as we go.
We try to toe that line between giving the right amount of f*cks — just enough to get the job done as well as we’re able — and so many f*cks that we become entirely inept and freaked out.
To make peace with the fact that we’re in over our heads here, and that will never change, because the needs and personalities of our kids keep changing.
Being a mother is like living in sobriety. All we can do is take it one day at a time, reaching for anything that will provide an ounce of comfort and relief from the crippling self-doubt, trying not to lose our goddam minds as we just… keep… pushing… toward an ever-moving finish line.
This is the part where I tell you all the great things that come from motherhood and raising kids.
But I’m not going to. Because those you have to find for yourself. As frustrating as it may be, this journey is entirely what you make of it. You get out what you put in.
So, my main message and encouragement to you, dear companion on this overgrown jungle trail, is this: make it your own.
There’s no “right.” There’s no “wrong.” There’s just you, your capabilities, your capacity to get creative and imagine a better version of yourself, and God’s ever-present, unyielding, masterful skill at covering over the multitude of mistakes you’ll make along the way.
It’s true, there’s no real measure of success. But the only way to truly fail is to stop trying completely.
So, here’s to #NeverStoppingNeverStopping. And while we’re at it, is a little less judgment of others and ourselves too much to shoulder?