“Give it here! I’ll just do it myself…” I cannot count the times I heard my mother angrily mutter these words. It seemed as if she always had an endless list of tasks and chores that consumed her days and nights. I don’t think I can recall many memories that don’t include my mother holding a laundry basket or pushing a vacuum. She was forever bemoaning her constant laboring and lecturing us about what she had to give up to care for her family. I could never understand why she was so angry. Then, I had my first child and entered motherhood.
While adjusting to life with a newborn, I quickly understood the endless list of tasks that come with caring for a family. My husband and I both worked full time yet much of the housework and childcare still fell to me. I took on all of it thinking it was what motherhood entailed, but more importantly, if I didn’t do it, then it wasn’t done right. I found myself repeating the same words my mother had said so many times. I was angry and frustrated. Why the hell was I running myself ragged just to make sure the dishes were washed each night, toys were picked up, and carpets vacuumed only to get up and do it all over again?
In addition to my day job and my family duties, I had been doing side work as a writer. It had been a lifelong passion that I was finally pursing. In every spare second I would write, and I would find myself lost in the words feeling a flooding sense of relief. Then, the baby would cry or the dryer would buzz, and I had to snap back to reality. I would rush through my tasks eager for just five more minutes to write, but taking time to pursue my goals also filled me with guilt, choking me with its bitter taste. I was constantly trying to talk myself into believing that folding laundry, sweeping, changing every diaper, and giving every feeding was more important than my writing.
Because working during the day took up so much of my time I felt I had to be completely focused on my family roles when I got home. If I asked my husband to help so I could have an evening to myself to write, selfishness taunted me and told me I was a bad mother and wife.
I was trapped in this idea that as a mother I had to sacrifice my former self for the good of the family, and in that sacrifice came resentment. A resentment that stemmed from my feelings of being unappreciated. I felt guilty, I felt selfish, I felt resentful and I became a martyr of motherhood.
At night I would lie awake stifling my cries wondering why I felt so angry and alone during such a special time in my life. A constant pressure developed in my temples and all day it throbbed as I beat myself with my guilt. I began to accept that this was a condition of motherhood. The woman I had once been was transformed by my new role, and I had to bend to fit into the mold in order to live up to the expectations no matter how painful or exhausting.
One cold Saturday, I laid the baby down for a nap and began running from chore to chore. I walked through the living room carrying a week’s worth of dirty clothes, and I passed my husband sitting on the couch watching football. Seeing him sitting there triggered something in me, and hot anger shot up my spine pumping through my limbs. I thought I was going to have an aneurysm. I threw the clothes on the floor, and said, “I’m not washing these fucking clothes. You do it!” I stomped away and locked myself in the bedroom. Uncontrollable sobs escaped and I fought the urge to tear the hair from my head.
Days went by. I couldn’t shake my anger. I wasn’t even completely sure what I was angry about. In my passive aggressive routine, I pouted in silence. My writing work had been piling up, and I had to focus on hitting my deadlines so for a few days I gave up on all housework. As laundry piled up and dishes sat on the counter something incredible happened…Nothing. The world didn’t end. No one got hurt, and it really didn’t make a damn bit of difference. Most importantly, when I asked my husband to help, he didn’t demand a divorce. I didn’t have to juggle everything by myself, and not everything had to be done my way. I realized I was on to something.
I started focusing on what absolutely had to be done and everything else could wait. Slowly, I learned to let go, reorganize my priorities, and ask for help. I had thought the more I did for my family, the more fulfilled I would feel, but I couldn’t truly feel fulfilled by denying my own wants.
Motherhood is often considered to be the ultimate accomplishment for women as if it is the single defining moment in our lives. This idea kept me thinking that I was somehow missing something because I didn’t feel complete. I exhausted myself with chores trying to fill this hole inside me that I expected to be filled by being a wife and mother. I finally realized I am allowed to find a sense of happiness in accomplishments outside of my home and beyond my family. Just as I have with any other role in my life, I get to define the terms.
Cooking for others doesn’t give me the least bit of pleasure, but my writing does. Spending my entire evening trying to keep the house in order doesn’t feel like a success, but focusing on my son definitely does. Changing every diaper doesn’t make me a better mother, but finding my own sense of happiness does.
Women are met with a barrage of ideals and expectations, and we often forget that we should be deciding what feels right for us as individuals. While I love being a mother, I also love working, and I have many career goals that don’t have to be sacrificed because of my family. I do not have to deny my personal happiness to reach some perceived idea of womanhood. Above all, to be a wife and a mother is not a lopsided role that demands subservience. My family roles are a partnership, and they are one more piece that makes me who I am. It is a large piece of who I am, but no one role defines me.
It is difficult to seek out our own wants when there are so many expectations in our peripheral. We overstretch ourselves trying to fit into every role that demands us instead of molding our lives into our own creations. As women we have the right to seek out our wants and delegate to create time for ourselves. While motherhood changes us and forces us to create an opening in our lives for a new person, it does not mean we discard ourselves to make that space.
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