What Do You Need?

Karen Johnson Stay at Home Parent

Share Mamalode Share Mamalode

What do you need?

I wiped away a tear, and bent down to clean up spilled milk—for the third night in a row. He had just walked through the door into a disaster. The physical condition of the house was fitting; it symbolized my mental state. An elaborate maze of train tracks extended well into the kitchen where dinner was burning on the stove. My 2-year old was standing in the bathroom in pee-soaked clothing, waiting for Mommy to change her. Again. Pasta sauce was splattered all over my too-tight shirt, reminding me of how disgusted I felt about my postpartum body. The baby, hungry for Mommy's milk, was expressing his frustrations from the pack and play.

My husband had asked me this question a countless number of times, as he saw me exasperated, completely drained of mothering strength, at the end of my long days.

What do I need? I need your support! I need some help! I need you to work less. I need a break.

But I didn't say those things. I didn't say anything like that. I said Nothing. I'm fine. It's fine.

And it was this dance—of him knowing I needed something, but not knowing what it was, and me unwilling to verbalize it—that pervaded our first few years of parenthood.

Why couldn't I tell him? Did I even know what I needed?

The two models of motherhood I was privy to, before becoming one myself, included the moms who had it all together and did it all happily, with endless energy (or at least this is the image they worked so hard to convey). The other group were martyrs. Moms who had to do it all, and thrived on preserving their halo of martyrdom.

What happens when you don't fall into either of these categories?

What happens when you don't have it all together, when you find yourself floundering, and you're willing to sacrifice any chance at sainthood, just so you can sleep? Or have five minutes alone?

What happens when you know you need support?

It was this epiphany, which occurred many years into parenthood, that introduced a new category of motherhood to me—the mothers who know they need support and ask for it.

What do you need?

I need support.

But here's the kicker: what does that mean? I quickly learned this requirement for membership in this newly discovered tribe of motherhood: we must be able to verbalize what we need as individuals. And in order to do so, we, as mothers must identify our greatest struggles in order to respond to this question.

One of my deepest pains of motherhood, one that I could not admit for years, is losing myself. I was a teacher in my former life—a career for which I had intense passion and drive. And the hole, the void of giving up my identity as a teacher, in a classroom, was eating away at me. It was preventing me from embracing the gift that is motherhood. And on those particularly long days when I felt like all I did was clean up milk and change pee-soaked clothes, I felt lost and resentful. I missed the person I used to be.

What do you need?

I need to feel smart again. I need to use my brain. I need to write.

Another internal battle for me is a fear of failure—in everything I do. I don't sign up for long races, only short ones. Because I can run short races. I don't enter writing contests that seem out of my league, but rather, I keep my writing world small, manageable, to ensure my list of acceptances is longer than the rejections. My fear of failure transcended into motherhood, from the beginning, when my firstborn would not breastfeed. And it continues to this day, as my third is defiant and refuses to potty-train. But I can't avoid these challenges, as I can with other aspects of my life. There is no “5k” of motherhood to sign up for, so I don't have to face the marathon. Motherhood is a marathon. And I have to run it. Which means I have to face the possibility of failure.

What do you need?

I need you to tell me I am doing a good job—that I am a good mother.

That simple sentence is one I hunger for. I need it to keep going. I need to hear it to get to the next mile.

It took me several years to find my voice, my ability to assert exactly what kind of help I need in order to be the mother I want to be. However, my cup is my cup—each mother needs to find her own answer to this question, to have her cup filled. It is up to us, as mothers, to leave categories 1 and 2 behind, and embrace category 3—run full sprint into this circle of motherhood, and join other mothers who can say, I need support. I need help. And this is what I need.


About the Author

Karen Johnson

Karen Johnson is a writer at and assistant editor at Sammiches & Psych Meds. Often sarcastic and always passionate, she writes about all things parenthood as well as issues of social justice. Karen has had work featured on sites such as Scary Mommy, The Huffington Post, and Sammiches & Psych Meds and is a contributing writer in several anthologies. Follow Karen at the21stcenturysahm.com and on , and Instagram as 21st Century SAHM.

Share Mamalode Share Mamalode
April 2016 – SUPPORT
Facebook Comments