Lately, my three-year old has been waking up when it’s still dark outside, refusing to go back to bed, and instead requesting breakfast and a TV show. I guess if he was old enough to take care of this himself, it wouldn’t be such a big deal. Then as a result of waking up too early, he spends the morning not wanting to anything and when he comes home from school, he is a grumpy mess and melts down over everything, even when I say yes to something he asks for. And of course he does. I’m cranky and bitchy too when I don’t get enough sleep. And yet, it feels like a really big deal because I’m still tired and I don’t want to get up before sunrise to tend to his every need, when that will be my job for most of the day anyway. My job doesn’t start for one more hour and it’s not as if I’m going to be paid overtime. What I really want to do is hide under my covers in hopes that the responsibilities of motherhood won’t find me there.
I find that this tends to happen to me whenever my son enters a new and difficult phase, leaving me in one of my “I just don’t want to be a mom right now” funks. Does this ever happen to you? Please tell me this happens to you. Then maybe I will feel normal, rather than as if I’m sometimes missing the motherhood gene.
Last week, as a guest on the radio show, The Mindful Parent, the host asked me what my biggest struggle as a parent is and I answered exactly how I’m feeling right now – the constant struggle between wanting to always be able to do what I want, when I want and wanting to be the most loving and present mom I can be for my son. As a parent, you give up the luxuries of sleeping late on Sunday mornings, seeing every movie when it comes out in the theater, sitting down to read a book for five straight hours just because you feel like it, and booking a last minute trip when you want a change of scenery. These may seem small because of what your child provides you in return, but sometimes they feel so big because they represent a certain sense of identity and independence that has now been lost.
I love my son more than I could ever express here with words. When he opens his mouth and kindness and curiosity and silliness spill out of it, I melt. When he laughs, I want to bottle it. When he sleeps, I stare at him in awe. When he snuggles up next to me and says, “Mommy?”, I want to freeze time.
And yet, I still sometimes crave a life where the only needs I’m responsible for are my own. As I hide under my covers, hoping my son will entertain himself for at least one more hour before coming to wake me, I fantasize about that night in a hotel room. Just me, the cozy bathrobe, TV remote, and a bed waiting to be slept in without interruption. Even as I write this, my husband has taken my son to the football game this afternoon and I relish this alone time to write, be by myself, and do whatever else I feel like doing. This morning when my husband wasn’t sure if they would go to the game, I silently prayed that they would because I knew it meant a few hours of freedom. Is there something wrong with me?
Then I begin wondering if these feelings are a lasting side effect of once having postpartum depression. Is this postpartum depression making a fleeting appearance just to say, “Hey, remember me? You may have beaten me, but I’m never far away.” Postpartum depression convinced me I didn’t want to be a mom then, so is that what is happening now? Or does every mom feel like this sometimes? I want to believe the latter. That you also feel the pull towards your old life, before kids and the overwhelming love and devotion you now feel for the child who has given you a new one. That you just don’t talk about it, don’t want to admit it for the world to hear. That like me, it sometimes makes you feel like a terrible mother. Am I a terrible mother? Or does this just make me a mother, like every other mother who I have to believe has these feelings at some point, even on her best days.
When my son was two, other moms told me it gets easier. Now at three, they say just wait until age five. Today, another mom informed me that she was told to wait until age seven. Seven is the magic age. That’s four years away. Is there really even such a thing as the magic age? Will I always feel like this? So much love for my little one battling so many feelings of wanting to be free and independent? And when my son reaches that age I can’t even fathom him ever reaching- the one where he goes away to college, leaving me to be able to do what I want, when I want, will I miss not being able to? And will I hate myself for spending so much time mourning the loss of not being able to?
Why didn’t anyone tell me about these feelings? I don’t remember this chapter in What to Expect When You’re Expecting. The chapter that tells you that on some days motherhood will be everything you need and more, but on others it won’t be nearly enough. That the real truth of motherhood is that it can be equally magical and too much at the same time. That maybe there is nothing wrong with me for having these thoughts because every mom has them. That it’s okay to want to be a mother and also just want to be yourself. That you can love your child and love your freedom too. That you can want time to stand still when you’re with your child and also count the days until you leave for a weekend in New York without him. So, I ask, does it ever get easier?