The Joy (and Exhaustion and Stress) of Motherhood

I have been a mother for over sixteen years now. Lately, living with teenagers, I am learning a lot about how to let go. I’m learning to tune my daughters out when they argue bitterly with each other, to hold my tongue when they walk to school with wet hair on frigid mornings, without a hat. I know not to take it personally if one informs me that I “don’t understand anything.” When they close their bedroom doors for hours at a time, I leave them be. At dinnertime, I knock politely.

I know that some very interesting and poignant years are coming soon: they will leave home. I’ll be asked to let go to a degree that I can hardly fathom. Having watched my sister and many clients send their beloved children out into the world, I am sensing the approach of that new season of worry, pride and bald sorrow at missing them.

As tough as it is to be a mom sometimes, I revel in the safety and intimacy of our everyday routines. And then, those routines are punctuated with moments of exhilarating adoration. Transcendent love, across the breakfast table. How am I to let them to leave? This mothering business: it tends to beat you up a little.

Living for Naptime

Still, the phase of mothering that sticks with me the most is the one that came first. I can’t remember ever feeling so tired, depleted and hemmed in as when I had a toddler and an infant – there never seemed to be enough oxygen. I couldn’t move freely. It was as though I were living my days with one arm tied behind my back.

I have no doubt that fathers feel a lot of the same things. But this piece isn’t about fathers. In my house, though my girls’ dad is solidly a 50/50 parent since we divorced, it was the mother who was on duty the most. It was me.

Desperate for the company of other moms, a bunch of us would get together every week at one of our houses and have "playgroup." The children played a little, but mostly they whined and ate snacks and sat on our laps. We more or less ignored them while yammering with each other.

After a couple of hours, each of us would heave our children home for naps. In those days I looked forward to naptime more than anything else in life, even more than the visits with adult friends. That is, I loved my own naptime.

If the children didn't sleep, if they cried and interrupted me, it was a real trick to swallow my disappointment and carry on with the afternoon.

Somehow, though, I’d make it to nighttime. I’d fall into bed. But then my youngest one was awake by 5:15 am most mornings, so I got up again, rather resenting the unbelievably cute baby who was smiling at me from her dark crib. Next came nursing, changing diapers, offering toys, reading to the toddler, nursing, fixing food, spoon-feeding, laundry, etc. At around 10 am I'd usually have my head in my hands, wondering how in the world I was supposed to survive the hour or two before naptime.

I loved my babies. Nothing was more fascinating than watching them learn to talk. No one ever smelled so good. Never before had I experienced such a lovely ache in my solar plexus as when I held them and felt their chubby fingers playing with my hair.

But when it was time for my nap, I so treasured those moments of luxury -- covering up, settling my body on the mattress, adjusting the pillow, and drawing that delicious pre-sleep sigh. My whole being had pined for that time. And if I didn't have the chance to snuggle down and check out for a while, later on it was as though my brain had been placed in one of those machines at Home Depot that shake up a can of paint. I was jangled, irritable, depressed, and overwhelmed.

An Introverted Mother

At a certain point, I realized something about myself: I am an introvert. And, as stated by Susan Cain in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, “Solitude matters, and for some people it is the air that they breathe.”

I used to think that there might be something wrong with me as a mother, given that I look forward to the end of summer vacation and feel anxiety at the start of the Christmas break. My own mother, a fabulous extrovert, used to DO a lot of things with us: bake, make crafts, teach us to work in the garden. Though I admire her fervently, I have not been inclined to follow her example in this way. Instead, I need to gear up for activities and outings. If I have stored the energy, I truly enjoy those times. But make no mistake, I look forward to my nap.

There are many other ways an introverted mom can recharge – creative projects after the kids go to bed, nights out with friends (if we’re single, we are allowed to hire a babysitter!), even solitary weekend trips. Sometimes we have to be willing to break out of the ordinary to find fresh relief.

My introversion is not so much a liability as it was when my daughters were little. They’re pretty independent now. And, as we’ve established, there are new challenges these days. But I’m grateful to have learned it about myself. I share it here because I hope that others – those who are really feeling the difficulty of being a mother – might forgive themselves for being introverted. Or, just forgive themselves period. We can fervently love our children and be grateful that we’re mothers, and still struggle with all that makes it such an intense experience.

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