No One Cares About Moms

I’ve only been a mom for 18 years, but this year has been the hardest yet. I thought the sleepless baby years, a muddle of pregnancies, leaking breasts, and endless diapers would be the hardest. Then, the teenage years hit and I thought the late nights, power struggles, and disrespect would be the hardest. This past year I had a child suddenly withdraw from home life, and leave high school, and that was the hardest. And then there was this pandemic, which was also the hardest. It magnified all the parts of my life that weren’t working.

I suddenly had to oversee the remote education of kids from preschool up through high school – completely on my own. It was just expected. Most of my mom friends were in the same boat. I realized again that I had too many kids. By that, I mean I can’t care for each of them the way I’d like to. The sheer exhaustion of trying to keep track of what each child is supposed to be doing for school was overwhelming. Their mental and social needs also grew. Add to that the emptiness I am running on. I am the mom that loves to send her kids to school each fall, to have another adult who is helping love and teach them. I love teachers. They do so much for our kids. Sometimes I have idyllic images in my head of how great it would be to homeschool my own children, but I don’t think I could ever do it. I’ve rarely had a moment to myself since March, when quarantine hit. Sure, I steal some time to take a walk, to keep my sanity. But I feel a weight grow with each step back toward my house. The mantle of the never-ending demands of motherhood.

I can’t help but feel I was lied to. I believed what I was told about motherhood being the highest and holiest calling I could aspire to, that it was revered. The truth is, no one really cares about mothers. They might give lip service to you once a year and say how great it is that you are so self-sacrificing, but the truth is that you are self-sacrificing because everyone expects it of you. If you want to do something for yourself, you are selfish. If your child is willful, it is your duty to break them to society’s expectations. You might have to fight tooth and nail to get your child to bathe or comb their hair or brush their teeth. But if they go out in mismatched socks, you will still be judged. If they end up with something like depression or special needs, you will likely be blamed. The mom is supposed to be everything to every child. You must anticipate their needs and help them see and develop their gifts, and encourage them to go out and take the world by storm. Your child should play a musical instrument, a sport, have a hobby, and friend. And if you are a Mormon mom, you should have many of these accomplished, well-polished, and socially acceptable children. Here’s another truth. Your child will have ideas all their own. When they are 3 they will be sure that a bathing suit is the perfect outfit for a wintry December grocery store trip. They will think you are trying to feed them poison and you are the worst cook in the world. When they are 12 they will have several antiperspirants sitting on their dresser, but never remember to use them. They will think it is fine to wear the same shirt and underwear every day. When they are 15 they will think you don’t know anything about the world and you are the only parent who has all these rules and chores. You will step on legos in the middle of the night while cleaning up vomit. Your children will likely hate you at many times throughout a given day. They do not want to be a reflection of you and you will have to unlearn that they are supposed to be. It is hard and thankless work to raise children, even in the best of times.

When there is a pandemic, you will be reminded that all of this is your responsibility alone. At least that is the case for many women. Somehow we are expected to carry the slack when the world’s routine is interrupted. If you can’t remember the last time you slept through the night, no one cares. They will tell you to ‘take better care of yourself’. As if you weren’t doing everything you possibly can. Being stuck at home will make your children feel like caged wild beasts. They will want only to be on screens, but you know that rots their brains so you will try to get them to use their toys and imaginations, to play outside, to read books, or to use the art supplies you carefully stocked up. They will mostly complain about how unfair you are, how annoying their siblings are, and how ‘everyone else’ gets to go out and have fun.

With the return of school approaching, I have been heartsick about the schooling options. Do I choose to borrow chrome books and start up again with school at home because I value the health of my family and community? Or do I send them to in-person school amidst the teeming masses, surrounded by people who believe the pandemic is a hoax? No option feels completely safe and all seem to have heavy consequences. Social and mental health concerns are real. The unknown dangers of a new virus can be overwhelming. Will schools be shut down again? Will my asthmatic children get it? Will it be a bad case? Will any of us have heart or lung damage? Will we able to afford medical care if we need it?

This mom feels like she is dying slowly every day. Years of fighting depression do nothing when life is so overwhelming. My goal of going back to school or work feels like wisps of smoke or a fading dream. Regular workouts at the gym to cope with my anxiety have been out of the question, and I am back to just surviving day to day. Washing laundry, grocery shopping, preparing meals, cleaning, these are old hat. Now add on gathering masks for all the family members, policing hand washing, reminding children not to share drinks or blow in each other’s faces. Every small weight feels impossibly heavier this year. The pain of a loveless marriage feels suffocating when there is nowhere else to go. I have tried to schedule distanced meetups with friends in the park. A few have been successful, but it is not nearly enough for me. I still end up feeling alone. I don’t know how to respond at those few times people do reach out. I am afraid I will suck them into an endless whirlpool of need. Is there something wrong with me that I can never feel connected and a part of the world? Why do I always feel shut out and like I am treading water or buried at the bottom of an ocean? Why don’t I feel like I remember who I am?

Yes, mothering can be good. You will live for the tender moments that are few and far between. You will thrill at their small accomplishments and glow in their fleeting hugs. But you may also find yourself utterly and completely alone. You might find yourself out of your depths and not know how to get back to land. You might wonder what help anyone could possibly give if you could even manage to form words about what you need.

If we really valued motherhood, how would day to day life look different? How would we keep moms from becoming completely depleted by their parenting duties? How would we pull together in crisis times like this pandemic? What would a stimulus package to support moms look like? What other differences would we see if we valued care taking and women’s work? If you can articulate what help you need, what do you say?

Chiaroscuro

Chiaroscuro is a play of light and shadow. Finding noisy messy lovely life in all the shades between.

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19 Responses

  1. anitawells says:

    I’m sorry this is such a hard time for so many. Hang in there, sister!

  2. Allemande Left says:

    I wish I could be with you and help. I wish I could give you a hug.
    Thank you for being honest about your circumstances.
    May we all see our neighbors, friends, and family and find ways to help each other.

  3. Caroline says:

    Oh, Chiraoscuro, this a brutally honest glimpse into pandemic life for moms. Huge hugs to you. I do feel like our American system is stacked against women with kids. Childcare is so expensive that many of us choose to stay home with kids. If we had systems set up like European countries (paid leave for years after having babies, awesome state-supported childcare), I think many of us women would have far more security, better careers, better income potential, etc. I personally feel like my Mormon upbringing inhibited me from thinking seriously about pursuing a career and investing in my future by going to some kind of professional school after college. I’ll probably always regret that I didn’t figure out a profitable career and pursue it when I was in my twenties.

  4. Elisa says:

    You’re right and I’m sorry. Really.

    I’ve become pretty cynical about Mormon motherhood myths. Mormon men don’t care about moms – they need them so they can live their own. That’s not the same thing. And so many of us make “choices” when we are young that we feel are right but later upon reflection may not have been real choices because we’d been taught what to want by people for whom the only right answer was lots of children ASAP.

    I lucked out (I didn’t know it was luck at the time) because I got married “late” (mid-20’s ;-)) and had gotten mostly through graduate school, and I had no choice but to work because I graduated during a recession and my husband couldn’t find a job but I could. So while I’ve had a lot of cultural religious garbage to chuck from my brain, I shudder to think what would have happened if I’d married younger and stayed home. That’s great for some but I know for me it would not have been a real choice and I would have looked back later with regret and resentment.

    But that doesn’t help you now. And I think about that a lot. How do we support others – and ourselves – who in middle age are dealing with a life we didn’t choose or wish we didn’t choose? I don’t know. That’s heavy.

  5. Jessica says:

    I agree and empathize and resonate with every word you have written. I am so glad you are speaking your truth. It is a shared truth and we are all less lonely when we finally speak. Thank you.

  6. MDearest says:

    This post runneth over with blunt, raw truth.

    If we really valued motherhood, all of us, everyone in our society? I had fun spinning my fantasy list, until suddenly it wasn’t fun anymore, so it’s incomplete. Feel free to add your blunt truth.

    1. Dads would be in the trenches alongside mothers, at every stage. Motherhood would never be praised, but “parenthood” would be. Men would be fully grown up, especially about creating children.

    2. Parenthood would have government support at a similar level to the military, with A Lot of subsidies. Child care problems would have many and varied solutions. Maternal health care would be freely funded, including research. Health care, including mental health, would be available to everyone.

    3. At church, couples would be encouraged to space children according to the ability to care for them and birth control would be considered essential. Women would be members of all governing councils. Parents would not be called to time-consuming tasks. Gaslighting would wither away. There would be a revelation about the unfairness of polygamy.

    #3 sucked all the fun out of this, so I’ll quit. Chiaroscuro, you have my empathy and my attentive approval when you get angry. I wish I could give you substantive help, but all I have to offer is my complete validation.

    Also, just a small aside: some of us scream internally when someone sympathetically says ‘hang in there.’

  7. Nancy Ross says:

    Chiaroscuro, this is all so hard. I only have two kids and the demands of the pandemic have been a tremendous weight and source of anxiety. I also find that brief socially-distanced meetups are hard. Thinking of you and hoping for something to feel lighter.

  8. Sharon says:

    You speak the truth for so many silent sisters. It’s heartbreaking.

  9. Aimee says:

    So much love and solidarity, sister. Parenting in isolation is not how humans were meant to live.

  10. Fellow lonely mom says:

    This is beautifully written and speaks to my soul. I feel the same way – the never ending crushing guilt of never feeling enough, the aching loneliness of a loveless marriage and difficulty of having and maintaining close friendships, etc etc.

  11. Hedwig says:

    It is a dark place we are in. I hear your pain Chiaroscuro. I know the lonliness. I made a list.

    If we really loved moms we…

    Would make sure they didn’t have to worry about how to pay for their and their childrens medical care.

    Would give maternal and paternal leave that is much longer, and let the couple decide how to divide it up.

    Take it for granted that moms need occasional alone time in order to keep sane and society functioning. Make sure that the mother’s day out type of childcare for those who just need to grocery shop alone is affordable.

    Put in place employment practices that are family friendly, so that mothers who work do not feel like they are missinf their kids lives, or like they are falling behind at work. All humans need adequate work life balance and society is healthier when we have it.

    Child care costs would not eat up 80%+ of a mother’s wages.

    Not blink an eye when a mother of young children is elected to high office. Men with young kids are elected to high office all time time, so what is the difference.

    Would find a way to make education available to them and other untraditional students and reasonable costs so that they can continue to learn, can support their family, can get out of bad situations or marriages without wondering how they’ll keep a roof over their head.

    Would find it a sign of disfunction rather than strength when mom is the one sacrificing her needs to other’s wants and no one else is sacrificing wanta for anyone else’s need.

    When we believe them in doctors offices when they talk about their pain and other symptoms.

    When our maternal mortality rate goes down to the rate of other developed countries.

    Would not send home elementary school children with homework whoch has been proven not to be helpful.

  12. Abby Hansen says:

    I have a friend who has one daughter. She is a full time stay at home parent to this one little girl (I think she’s starting 3rd grade this year), and she is killing it. She’s a girl scout leader and makes fantastic activities for her troop and every possible badge with her. She is homeschooling this fall and they’ve set up an entire room in their house as her classroom and have creative and interesting field trips. She is honestly killing it at being a full time mom. That’s all she ever wanted to be.

    I really like this woman and admire her gusto and talent, and it occurs to me that she can handle this all so well because she has ONE child. One child is a full time job (plus). I have three kids. You have eight. The more kids you have, the smaller pieces of yourself you have to give, and the less is leftover for your own interests.

    There’s nothing wrong with having no kids, one kid, or 12 kids – but if we are going to teach in our church and culture that having many children (and as quickly as possible) is the best thing we can do with our lives, there has GOT to be an increase of support systems for moms. All of us could be like my friend who is successfully homeschooling her daughter and succeeding so well at motherhood IF WE HAD ENOUGH SUPPORT. But we usually don’t.

    At school, there’s one teacher and 30 kids. But that teacher has a janitor to clean up after them, lunch staff to feed them, parents to get them ready for the day and to bed at night, a principal to help with discipline issues, teacher’s aides to work with individuals and busy work, curriculum ideas from the school district, a network of other teachers and specialty teachers, a school nurse for illness, and duty guards at recess to supervise the kids at play.

    A mom is supposed to do everything on her own for a group of her children 24/7, with no support staff.

  13. DistantThunder9 says:

    I have 7 grown children. I have been caring for my 3 granddaughters so their parents can work. I studied family sciences at BYU. When I studied the history of the family, Until recently, families have always lived in extended family groups, and there was much natural support in the extended family, including for moms. The support came mostly from the other women, the grandmothers, the aunts, the sisters, etc. Fathers typically trained their sons in their trades. Kids were busy working at home. Home was the center of production for most members of the family.

    Today, due to the ability to travel and re-locate for jobs, we are often separated from our close family members who might enthusiastically jump in to help. My grandmother would look at me when I showed up at her house with 6 kids and say: “You look tired, go lay down, and I’ll make you something.” It was the caretaking of the mother. I do it for my daughter when I travel the 4 hours to stay with her family. I do the laundry, cooking, shopping if I have a car. I take the girls to activities. It’s a supplemented, interconnected system. I bring resources of energy, some finances, attention, and home management, along with the childcare.

    As a convert, I learned about the history of polygamy in the church. This was a pioneer church that established 600 settlements in the west. I remember with my own pregnancy, I was so sick, my husband was traveling and I had other little toddlers around. I wondered how women alone could have met the challenges of simple day to day life, like hauling water, or keeping a fire going in rainy weather, and doing laundry, and preparing food. I could hardly throw a pizza in the oven, and do a load of wash. I realized that the women who came together in an ad hoc society of pioneers had to created very close reliable support. They had a choice of joining up with a very reliable, stable, productive, and good man. There were more women on the frontier than men. Women did not have their natural extended family to rely upon.

    My last point is that you children are your investment. You are investing in them to grown and develop their talents and personalities. They will be with you for eternity. That time with them is never wasted no matter how difficult. It’s the bond, over decades and for eternity. We currently have one adult daughter who chooses not to speak to us due to politics. She was fine and friendly one minute, and then stopped returning our calls. We found out from our other children, that she assumes we hold certain views on politics – she’s wrong. We’ll get through this eventually. Children change you, and it can be for the better, if that is your choice. It takes study, determination, humor, patience, and the ability to remember eternity. Find joy.

    Laugh, Hug, Pray.
    After all, tomorrow is another day – (Scarlett O’Hara)

  14. Spunky says:

    Solidarity, sister. Solidarity.

  15. vajra2 says:

    The Western “frontier” skewed heavily male in population; about 125 males to 100 females. The myth that there were more females than males is often used as a justification for polygamy. But it’s just that: a myth.

  16. Lindsey says:

    I could have written this myself. Hang in there.

  17. Lily says:

    No one cares about childless women either. We are literally told our lives are worthless.

  18. Em says:

    I feel every bit of this. And I don’t have answers to your questions because American society envisions a zero sum game where one partner gets freedom and fulfillment at the expense of the other. So if we respected moms then they’d get what dads get. Except we have no system that allows that, except potentially flip flopping the gender roles.

    I seriously want to smack public figures that praise moms (or essential workers). Deeds not words! If we’re heroes, give us pensions and paid leave.

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