The Parenting Paradox (or The Myth Of Motherhood)

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Parenting, particularly mothering, as anyone who’s lived it or who is living it knows, is perhaps the most difficult job ever in the history of the world. It never ends. There are no days off,  not even sick days…The minute you become a parent your life pretty much ceases to be your own. Suddenly (and yes, it is suddenly because pregnancy does nothing to prepare you for the realities of raising a child) there is this sort-of-person, a small and helpless little creature that is completely dependent upon you for every single thing. It’s daunting, frustrating, exhausting, and, for some, joyous. However, for others the joy is harder to find; for some it never really comes and all they can muster is a sense of contentedness or a quiet resignation to accept responsibility for the choice they have made…

For those mothers out there who fall into the latter, the realization that we are not cut out to be mothers is a hard pill to swallow. It fills us with guilt, leaves us feeling like horrible people, riddles us with regret, and shames us into silence. Because in a society that, despite its many advances, still expects women to aspire to motherhood above all else, that still fights to control women’s bodies and treats sex as if its sole purpose is the propagation of the species, admitting that one does not want children is hard enough, but to admit that one should never have become a mother is even harder. For those of us who harbor these feelings, it is not that we do not love our children, it is not that we would not do everything necessary to raise them to the best of our abilities, it is merely a matter of fact that we are not cut out for motherhood.

As anyone who knows me well knows, I never wanted children. I never wanted to be married. I wanted to go to college, join the Peace Corp, travel the world, and dedicate my life to making the world a better place. I didn’t want to be tied down, trapped in a cage, withering away in the endless, daily drudgery that sucked the lives out of my own parents and murdered their dreams. However, as is often the case with life, shit happened and I found myself, at the age of twenty-one, unexpectedly pregnant. Like most people, I was a different person in many respects then than I am now, in my thirties. Back then my belief system was quite different from what it is today; back then I was relatively religious, I believed that life began at conception and as such abortion should only be sought in the most dire of circumstances, and so I believed that having a child was my only choice. I became a mother not because it was what I wanted but because I believed I had to become one.

And this is where the paradox of parenting, or rather the myth of motherhood begins: I neither fully embraced nor entirely lamented the situation; rather I accepted it with a sort resigned ambivalence. From the moment my child was born I have cared for him, loved him, and sacrificed for him; but not because I feel a deep and all consuming maternal drive to so, rather its because I have to; I owe him the best that I can give him. He didn’t ask to be brought into this crazy, fucked up world; I made that choice. I love him and take care of him because he is a human being, innocent of the complexities of life and as his mother I understand and accept my obligation to him. But often times that is exactly what motherhood feels like to me, an obligation; a sense of duty born not out of an innate maternal instinct, but rather out of a sense of ethical responsibility.

For years I have felt as if something was wrong with me for being unable to embrace motherhood with the same zeal or happiness with which so many other women seem to embrace it. I have felt guilty for not seeing motherhood as my greatest accomplishment or as even being a minor accomplishment because for me its just something I have to do for the sake of this person who I brought into the world. For years I have felt ashamed because motherhood never felt entirely right, because it felt almost foreign. Then I read this article and while I certainly don’t feel vindicated I do feel somewhat relieved to know that I’m not alone, that other women have found themselves trapped in the same parenting paradox in which they at one and the same time love their children but wish that they weren’t parents. Not every woman is meant for motherhood, and for this reason motherhood is a myth; a sacred story of the feminine ideal against which all women are judged but up to which not all women can, or for that matter want, to live.

Although I love him very much, he’s an awesome kid and I couldn’t ask for a better son, if given a chance to make the choice again I don’t know that I would have made the same decision. It’s not that I regret the decision or that I wish he was never born, because that’s not the case, raising my son has taught me things about myself that I may not have otherwise learned; it’s simply that I realize that I would have been just as happy, if not a little happier, had I chosen a different path. This is the real reason that I never had, and why I will never have, another child: because being a mother has taught me that motherhood is not for me. I know now, in ways that one can only ever understand in hindsight, why I never wanted children – I was just never hardwired for it. I’ll never overcome my ambivalency, but perhaps now that I know that I’m not alone I can at least stop feeling guilty and ashamed.

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About Karen

1) I speak my mind. Sure, sometimes it drives people away, but I'd rather regret the things I've said than the things I haven't. 2) I'm a Progressive Liberal, which means people and the planet matter to me. 3) I'm a woman (this needs no further explanation).

One response »

  1. beautiful, Karen … i often feel the same about being a father. i love my two daughters with everything that i am and yet i know i am not nearly the kind of father to them that they deserve, and i never have been.

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