Every woman tells the story of her labour, just like old men regale youngsters with their exploits in the war. It’s our mothers’ privilege. So here’s mine. I know you’re not interested, but tough. Here goes.
I was just a kid and scared witless. I made out I wasn’t, but I was. My mother warned it wouldn’t be pleasant. And it wasn’t. I laboured with you for twenty two hours; my contractions were five minutes apart from the first two hours, and then four minutes apart for nearly fifteen, then three minutes for what seemed like forever. I didn’t think it would ever end.
And you know what? It didn’t really, because after I FINALLY delivered you (with the cord around your neck no less – freaking us all out on top of that!), I then only got to sleep in ten to sixty minute increments for the next THREE MONTHS solid. I thought I would die. Perhaps if I hadn’t been so young, I might have, so swings and roundabouts.
You were cute. There’s no denying that. But I do remember thinking I must have the worst baby in all Christendom, ‘cos all you did was cry. When you weren’t crying, you were grizzling. During the day, you slept those ten minute catnaps. Ten minutes! Then you cried yourself yourself to sleep non-stop for three hours every night, between 9pm and midnight like clockwork. After that, you’d wake every hour after that until 7AM. Then the vicious cycle would begin again.
The doctors said you had colic, but I figured you were acting out because I was a teen mum. If I were older (I reasoned), less stupid, more experienced (!), I would surely know what to do with you?? Nope. The reality was, even my own mother didn’t know what to do with you … and she’d had five children, not one of them when she was a teenager.
Once, you stayed awake and crying, for NINETEEN hours. Nothing would pacify you. We tried everything. I thought I would go insane. My mother thought she would go insane. By the end of that episode both of us and my eight year old sister were gibbering wrecks and your eyes were bright red, like a baby vampire. I thought you were here to suck the life out of me.
Then you got to twelve weeks old and you were suddenly completely different.
I guess the colic was gone, or maybe you decided you might as well make the best of things, after we got off to a bad start. You were no longer this grizzling, mewling babe of Satan, but the sweetest, smiling little angel. It was a literal overnight change, it was incredible. It was like a creature of the night had taken pity on me and snuck in and swapped you, taking the evil one back to Hades. That was fine by me. The previous version of you hated my guts. This new you LOVED ME TOTALLY. It felt good.
And it continued to be good after that, for a really long time. Sure we had our moments – we’ve always argued, possibly because we’re so similar – but you were one of those little kids that’s always chatty; always interesting; and totally hilarious. You were a bit naughty and man, could you backchat … But overall, you were what is commonly known as “a great kid”. I knew this because everyone would say how great you were, like it was this huge surprise a kid like me could have a kid like you.
And you’re STILL great. There’s so many brilliant things about you, I can’t even list them all. You’re clever, funny, handsome, interesting. But every mother thinks that, right? But in *my* case I speak the truth.
So, parenting is harder than anyone thinks. Ironically, I have grown to realise this more and more as I’ve got older, which means you have ended up my “experimental child”, though perhaps every eldest child is to some degree. I have made mistakes it’s true, but I take responsibility for them and I always apologise. I will no doubt make more mistakes … and I will apologise. Again. I will always apologise if I do you wrong.
But you’re sixteen now and I see that grizzling, mewling Satan babe in you again … I have done for some time. That’s okay ‘cos being a teenager IS a bit like having colic for about five years, instead of three months. I was a teen Mum remember; I can recall what it’s like and won’t tell you simply to grow up, whilst treating you like a child, like some of those OLD parents.
What’s more, I no longer have to stay awake with you all night, so I can afford to be charitable (though I do wish you’d go to bed earlier, you look washed out, boyo). But anyway. Want a quiet life? Here’s how to get me off your case:
1) Appreciate relationships need repairs and maintenance, just like cars.
Ignore them and they rust or worse, break down. It really is as simple as that. So don’t just tolerate your loved ones; consider them. Cherish them. Make sure they KNOW you cherish them.
2) When it comes to relationships, it doesn’t matter what YOU think, if the other person does not.
This is why the repairs and maintenance is important and why NOTHING should go left unsaid, especially when it comes to expressions of love, appreciation or consideration.
So, here’s a tip: when a loved one says “Why are you doing this?” the answer is NOT “I’m not, you’re crazy”. Instead, if you are confused, think instead “WHY would she think that? What am I doing – or not doing – that makes her react in this way?”
3) Relationships are a TWO way street.
Ask yourself honestly if you give your loved ones get what they need from you, spiritually. Words are cheap: what actionable steps can you take?
4) Dodging, ignoring and making people wait when they are upset or angry is wrong.
When others reach out to you and actually ask for your help in resolving an issue, to dodge or make them wait is a slap in the face. It makes them feel like you don’t care about them. Yes, other people can overreact and yes, sometimes the problem is theirs, NOT yours. But never withdraw, never ignore. You’re better than that.
5) Relationships are ultimately about give and take.
If you take something, then it’s only right to give something back in return. People who give too much become doormats, but equally those who take too much will find themselves all alone, as they are marked by society as “selfish”. Most of us will fall somewhere in the middle, but during various times of our lives we will lean towards one end or the other. But overall, it’s best to try and maintain balance because that is healthiest not only for other people, but you as well.
I am your mother. There is NOTHING you can do or say that will make me abandon you, but this may not extend to other people or partners in your life. So instead of thinking, “Why does she ALWAYS GO ON at me”, think instead, “Is there something she knows that I don’t – and could doing what she asks actually HELP ME in the long run?”
Because believe me kiddo, I’d rather being having another G&T and watching ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK on DVD than putting your behaviour under the microscope *again*, y’know?
Lucy V Hay is a novelist, script editor and blogger who helps writers via Bang2write. “Like” the Facebook page for Lucy’s Decision Books, a novel series for teens and young people which confronts a female protagonist with ALL the potential outcomes of a single dilemma. You can also follow on Twitter: @DecisionSeries.
Let me make something clear right up front. I am a big fan of Shonda Rhimes. She is a brilliant writer and producer who has created rich, funny, interesting shows. I stay up later than I should on Thursday nights to catch “Scandal.” I re-watched the entire 9 seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy” while on maternity leave. I was grateful for the complex stories she told about abortion. Shonda helped make huge strides for representation of both gay characters and women of color. I sighed in relief to see a character like Meredith, who echoes the real life experiences of being a mom with a career, as well as a couple trying to negotiate making space to both be parents and to reach individual goals.
My appreciation for her talent and her nuanced writing is probably why I was so disappointed to read her recent Dartmouth commencement speech in which she said that she (and other moms working outside the home) is failing:
“Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means I am failing in another area of my life.
If I am killing it on a Scandal script for work, I am probably missing bath and story time at home. If I am at home sewing my kids’ Halloween costumes, I’m probably blowing off a rewrite I was supposed to turn in. If I am accepting a prestigious award, I am missing my baby’s first swim lesson. If I am at my daughter’s debut in her school musical, I am missing Sandra Oh’s last scene ever being filmed at Grey’s Anatomy. If I am succeeding at one, I am inevitably failing at the other. That is the tradeoff. That is the Faustian bargain one makes with the devil that comes with being a powerful working woman who is also a powerful mother. You never feel a hundred percent OK; you never get your sea legs; you are always a little nauseous. Something is always lost. Something is always missing.”
I am not failing. I am struggling, striving, juggling and doing my best. I feel like a failure sometimes. That feeling comes from the judgment and self-doubt that too many mommies feel, so to see someone I admire imply that we are all indeed failing made me sad.
If I don’t sign up for work events in the evening or I can’t stay at the meeting that runs later than it was supposed to so that I can make my train home to eat dinner with my family and put my kids to bed, I am not failing. I will still get the work done – likely sitting on my couch watching a Shonda show.
If I am on the road as I am a few times a month to take the skills I have honed over the years and use them to contribute to work that I believe in and on that evening I miss dinner and bed time, I am not failing. I take flights that are at the crack of dawn or the last flight of the day to be away from them as little as possible. My kids know I love them. And as they grow and learn more about what I do they will see that mommy is doing important work that matters and that I am a person with a strong sense of self, with goals and that strong women can have a career and kids if they want to. It is hard, but it can be done.
They will also see me and my wife supporting each other in our roles as parents and professionals. They sit on our bed while we put laundry away and see that we take turns cleaning up after dinner. They know that on Tuesdays mama will be teaching, so my eldest helps mommy feed the baby and they share a tub, which often results in a big, wet, fun mess. They know that if mommy has to take a trip that mama will step up to make sure that in the midst of feeding and bedtime that they still get a story or two. We are not failing. We are negotiating. We are supporting each other. We are showing our children how to have healthy relationships with partners that not only contribute the house and to raising the kids, but also to ensuring that we can each be successful in our fields. At times they may see that we are trying to figure it all out, but also that we get through, that we are all cared for and loved.
Shonda spoke of doing more than simply dreaming, of making sure to be a doer. That is what moms do. We act. We problem solve. We make things happen. When we choose to (or when we do not have a choice) to work outside the home we are not failing. We are struggling, striving, juggling and doing our best.
We are setting our alarms for 4am to finish that draft before the baby wakes up. We are working multiple jobs to take care of our families. We are doing endless loads of laundry and watching “Frozen” for the 100th time. We are coaching soccer teams and running corporations. We are baking birthday cakes and trying to have conversations that don’t revolve around asking someone to “use their words.”
We need women like Shonda to use their platforms to talk about supporting moms – everything from paid maternity leave to accommodations for nursing moms and flexible schedules to help us meet the various demands in our lives. We should be able to depend on more women with power to speak out about pay equity and paid leave and minimum wage, the kinds of policies that help ensure that we can all take care of and feed our families. Maybe they can use their stature to push decision makers to address the epidemic of gun violence and the need to advance sensible reforms to keep our kids safe.
There are so many ways that we can hold up the way moms are making it work even when it is hard and push to improve policies to make all of our lives just a little bit easier. But telling any of us that we are failing only makes the incredibly important and difficult job of being a mom that much harder. Shonda Rhimes isn’t failing. And neither am I.
Morgan Meneses-Sheets is the Program Manager for the Reproductive Health Technologies where she directs the abortion technologies program. Morgan has spent the past fifteen years advocating on behalf of reproductive health, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender equality, environmental protection and health care access. She resides in the Baltimore area with her wife, their daughters and their two pugs.
When people asked my great grandmother how she raised eight children without losing her sanity, she’d say, “With one blind eye and one deaf ear.” For me, this pearl of wisdom means not only that I can let my kids get away with occasional misbehavior if it’s not hurting anyone, but I also have permission to ignore them now and then. And I do ignore my kids sometimes, freely and without fear of judgment. What was harder for me to ignore when I first became a mom were all the Supermoms out there, who seemed to be parading their accomplishment capes and brandishing their lassos of superiority in my plain sight.
We all know Supermom. She’s that mom in the subway with freshly washed hair, not a single cheerio stuck to her butt. She’s in line at the bank with four kids in tow, all dressed in matching outfits. Her kids say please and thank you, and I’m quite sure none of them are stick beads up their noses either.
When I first became a mom, a good mother was Supermom, a woman selflessly devoted to raising children, having a career, and keeping a home. It was an ideal that I could neither reach nor discard. I used to feel like Supermom was doing those perfect things on purpose just to showcase her superiority. How dare she?! I felt her white-hot judgment all over me and my unwashed hair, my children’s mismatched clothes and bead-accessorized noses.
Then one day I was reading The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, and I came across this line:
“Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman… It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended protective wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized their children… and esteemed it as holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.”
–Kate Chopin, The Awakening (1899)
Even though Chopin’s novel was written over one hundred years ago, she managed to express my exact feelings about the Supermoms around me. I realized then that the Supermom was not a new phenomenon, and she only had control over me inasmuch as I gave it to her. I had placed Chopin’s mother-woman up on her pedestal when I buried my self-doubt and hostility rather than acknowledging them as acceptable parts of a loving whole.
In The Myths of Motherhood: How culture reinvents the good mother, psychologist Shari L. Thurer says, “there is a glaring need to restore the mother her own presence, to understand that she is a person, not merely an object for her child, to recognize her subjectivity.” This recognition was the gift my great grandmother had given me, the permission to be my own person outside the position as mother of my children.
Battle Hymn of the Good Enough Mother
With the help of therapy, I finally allowed myself to be vulnerable with my fellow mom friends; they in turn opened about about their own anxieties. To my surprise, when I finally plucked up the courage to confess my insecurity to friends, I became more powerful. I welcomed the dawn of a new age, the era of the good enough mother. When I learned I wasn’t alone, I felt more powerful at having put Supermom in her place. She might have been better (or maybe she wasn’t), but I was good enough.
Indeed, Thurer says, “The nervousness parents feel about their inadequacy will dissipate when decent people are encouraged to mother in their own decent way,” which was just what my friends did for me. By breaking “the conspiracy of silence,” we–the good enough mothers–experienced the triumphs of motherhood together and helped each other through the trials. I am doing my best to craft an honest community from genuine respect and non-judgment that buoys my confidence and increases our shared influence.
 Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. New York: Bantam Dell, 1981. Print. (originally published in 1899 by Herbert S. Stone & Co.)
 Thurer, Shari L. The Myths of Motherhood: How culture reinvents the good mother. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994. Print.
 The phrase “good enough mother” was first used by pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott in his book, The Child, the Family, and the Outside World (Middlesex 1973), p. 11.