April 09, 2010

Is Motherhood a Competition?

As 4:25 this afternoon, I will have been a mother for five weeks. In that short amount of time, I have learned a lot of things about myself, my daughter, my husband, and how our lives are going to work with this new addition.

Some of those lessons have come, almost, instinctively – like learning that my baby girl loves having her head rubbed while rocking or that her short tiny cry means she’s wet – and the loud nearly ear piercing cry means “I’m hungry….FEED ME NOW!”. Others did not come so easily…..it took me sobbing in the floor from exhaustion before I realized that it was impractical for me to believe that I could handle all the nighttime feedings, diaper changes, and take care of Joycelen all day long.

The most surprising lesson of all is the sheer number of women who view motherhood as a competition. Two weeks ago, while discussing my daughter’s feeding schedule and my inability to breastfeed – an acquaintance interrupted the conversation to tell me how she was able to breastfeed her daughter for the first year of her life. While I was happy that this woman was able to nourish her daughter that way, I could not and it was not for a lack of effort on my part. I had a deep desire to breastfeed; my body simply would not cooperate. Does that make me less of a mother? I don’t think so. But this woman seemed to think so.

Then when I returned to work this week, I had woman to tell me that I should have stayed home longer with my child, that I would regret not spending an additional two weeks with her. I love my daughter, I love that I am her mother, and I feel so blessed to have been able to be her primary caretaker for the first four weeks of her life. However, I yearned to return to work, to once again embrace the daily challenges that accompany my job. Has working outside the home changed my daughter’s love for me? No, she still knows that she can depend on me to meet her needs – it is evident in the way she smiles at me and gets all doe-eyed when I pick her up after work. Has my love for her changed? Not even close, if anything, it has deepened. I appreciate the hours that I can spend with her even more.

Lastly, some fellow mothers in my life have attempted to make me feel guilty that I take an extra 30 minutes (3 times a week) to go to the gym. One went so far as to accuse me of being selfish. SELFISH…..seriously? I work a mentally demanding job which often requires me to spend hours in front of a computer screen. By day’s end I feel fatigued, sore, and often mentally drained. However, a quick run on the treadmill, a sweaty session on the elliptical, or time with the free weights leaves me feeling rejuvenated, revived, and full of energy. When I leave the gym, my daughter gets a Mommy who has energy to play with her, dance with her, and handle those pesky nighttime feedings – she is able to have all of me, not just a shell version. Moreover, I am laying the foundation for a healthy life – something I hope she will embrace as she grows.

Motherhood is hard. It demands all of heart, mind, body and soul. Therefore, one would think that mothers would unite to support one another thru the trials and struggles. All too often, as of I have found, that is simply not the case. Instead woman play games of one-up – telling anyone who will lesson their accomplishments as a mother, making others feel inadequate. It is pointless. Last time I checked, they weren’t giving out medals for motherhood at the Olympics (although I think they should). Instead, I measure my success as a mother by my daughter. And at this stage she is happy, healthy, loved and cared for…..and I considered that a huge success. Perhaps my methods are not like yours, but again we are individuals. While I may not make the same decisions as you, I will never attempt to elevate myself in order to demean you. I can only hope that more women will choose to do the same.


Kathie Brinkman said...

Very well said Kimberly. I'm sorry that you've experienced some of this "darker side" of mommyhood. But, if you keep your mind focused on what is right for YOUR family, you'll do just fine. You and your hubby are the most important opinions that matter when it concerns caring for and raising your daughter. Unfortunatly, this competition stuff does go on and doesn't really ever end. But, if you and M are faithful to your personal vision of parenting/family life and work to be faithful to that, you can be proud of that. Every family is different, every child is different so don't let the judgement of others get into your head. I too had tons of guilt heaped on me (and tons that I heaped on myself) about my inability to breastfeed. My body just couldn't do it sufficiently enough to provide for my childrens' needs. But that's what formula was designed for. I discovered many years after the fact that I had a hormonal imbalance that caused this problem and there wasn't any solution to it. So all that guilt was for nothing. I think you and M are doing just fine. Blessings to you.

Jennifer said...

Don't let those people get to you. You do what you know is best for your little family. People will always have opinions, but you know what is best for you and her.