The Worst Mother

I always knew I wanted children. One reason (among many) my first marriage ended was that I knew I could never have children with that particular man. It was a deal breaker. I cherished my ideal children in my heart for years. Despite my various life goals there were always babies in the background.

I had always loved children and worked as a babysitter throughout my teens and early 20’s. I enjoyed babysitting, and always envisioned life with children just like babysitting—but better. I imagined the wonderful quiet time with my children, the books we would read, the activities we would attend, the museums, the zoos, the playgrounds, the theatres, the travel. Hiking, sightseeing, I imagined everything I did with a baby on my back. I could not wait to have little ones soaking up the world around us and showing them all the beauty I could find. I wanted to be a “perfect” mom. The kind of mom who was always happy, smiling, loving life and who would make crafts with her children, bake cookies, and never raise her voice.

My husband, the “real” one, always wanted children too. However, his idea of children was more tempered than mine. He wanted to be a father, but was worried about all the continuous vomit and diarrhea he imagined was imminent. He focused on all the negatives, and I just could not understand how he could be so hard-hearted! Couldn’t he see how exciting babies were? I just could not see any negatives.

Once our first child arrived, it was a very difficult transition, but not for the reasons I expected. It never occurred to me that I would not be able to function without sleep. My daughter was chronically ill and it never occurred to me that I would have a child with health issues. My husband, for his part, never anticipated all the love he would feel for his child. He truly embraced parenting and loved all the joys he had never expected. I was overwhelmed and a nervous wreck.

I had no roots where we were living. I was flying solo with a sick baby and a husband who traveled half the month to China. Despite the stress, I truly adored my daughter. I couldn’t wait for our day to begin (even though technically, it never ended). I cherished our time together, and even with the doctors, specialists and hospitals, it was still a glorious time in my life. Not at all what I expected, but still beautiful. I flew off the handle quite a bit at my husband because of the stress, but my daughter seemed like a perfect, albeit ill, cherub.

I joined a “Mommy Group” and things improved in some ways. As my daughter grew, our days were more active and she became my beloved playmate. We did crafts; we went to mommy and me classes, the zoo—everything I had expected. She rarely, if ever watched television. I felt like a great success as a mother.

Toward the middle of my second pregnancy I started to lose my patience. My perfect little lamb was getting to be a terrible two, and it was shocking to me. Again, something I didn’t expect. I was feeling more run down due to the barrage of illnesses my daughter had during that time, and feeling crummy from pregnancy. I snapped. Then I yelled. Only once, but I yelled horribly, and my daughter started to cry. I had made her afraid, and I felt awful about it.

I had tried so much to be the “perfect” mom the first two years of my daughter’s life, and in some ways probably succeeded at being the ideal mother I wanted to be, but with a great disservice to myself. I was struggling so much to be the maid, the nurse, the cook, the errand runner and two weeks out of the month I was a single parent. I was just so frustrated and then it all blew and I became one of the things I swore I would never be: THE YELLER. I started to yell more and more. At first I felt if I could just keep the numbers under ten times, it wasn’t so bad.

After the second baby was born, the genie was out of the bottle. I felt like I was losing my cool all the time. The new baby had reflux and colic and never slept. She screamed eighteen hours a day. I started to yell all the time. I felt like the worst mother in the world. I had a moment, which I laugh about now, but which was very real and awful at the time. I was driving down a highway while visiting my parents when my first daughter was two and my second daughter was eight weeks old, and screaming, as usual. My older kid was making an enormous mess in the backseat with a creamsicle. I was feeling horrible. Tired, sore (breast infection) and angry (husband in China) and just handle it anymore. I pulled over to the side of the road and got out of the car. I could still hear the baby screaming. I thought, for just a moment, if I walked out into traffic I wouldn’t die, I would just get hurt badly enough to go to the hospital and get some sleep. Someone else would have to take care of my kids, and I could just rest. I got back into the car and screamed at the toddler about making a mess with the ice cream, I so stupidly had given her. Until she was four years old she would never eat a creamsicle so much did she fear my yelling again.

When I returned home from my visit, I went to a therapist. She refused to give me any medication because she said I was just tired and that “of course I was feeling all these things and that yes, I needed to find something else to do beside yell, but not to blame myself.” I thought she was an idiot. Of course I had to blame myself. Who else? I was the one yelling. I felt I was becoming the worst mother in the world. I felt like an utter failure. The television seemed to be on constantly whenever we were at home. Luckily, we kept busy, and were out of the house most of the time. I felt that I was just yelling like some kind of psycho. At BABIES! What was wrong with me? I had chosen to be a stay-at-home mom, I wanted this, but I just didn’t know it would be so hard. Just the mountains of laundry were enough to cripple my spirit. I cried to my husband that we had to change our lives. I couldn’t continue on the way things were. Something had to give, or I was going to go off the deep end. Although I felt I was already there.

We moved to Northern Massachusetts and I thought that would change everything, that I would stop yelling. I didn’t know a soul, but joined The Mother Connection so I could meet other moms with young children. It definitely helped, but wasn’t the “quick fix” I expected.

I could not, and still can not, understand how I can get so frustrated; so angry, so upset with the two people I love most in the world. I still cannot wrap my brain around how I allowed myself to get swept away into yelling. They are little kids; they have no malice, no ulterior motives. I still find myself yelling. I attend parenting workshop after parenting workshop. I have days where I am super in love with being a mother and there is no yelling. There are days I can identify with those mothers of urban legend who find super-human strength enough to lift a truck off their children’s bodies. Then I have “Medea” days where I want to throw myself under that same truck. I never expected the highs and lows being a mom. I guess, truth be told, I never expected the lows. I am still living out my dream mother fantasy of adventures, zoos, museums, activities and cookies. There is big love in motherhood. The big love was what I expected and longed for but I still fall short of the perfect mom I wanted and thought I would be. There is big love, but also, big failure, and big despair. That was something I don’t think I could have ever expected. I suppose I had always heard motherhood was a lot of ups and downs, a lot of ebb and flow. I never expected my experience would be the same.

One summer day I took my two daughters to a beach. We had an amazing time. The kind of day I want every day to be. At the end of the day, we watched the sun settle into the horizon and watched the tides change. It occurred to me, on that “non-yelling” day, watching the ocean was a wonderful metaphor for my years of motherhood thus far. If there was ever a day I wanted to savor, it was that day. The day I could tell myself (and my daughters) that this was all it is. The tide comes in, the tide goes out. Good days and bad days. Ebb and flow. Ebb and flow. Ebb and flow.


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