The Pitfalls of Motherhood
I remember a time after my first baby was born that I realized I didn’t like who I was becoming. My moment of clarity came while watching my husband bathe our new baby. From where I was sitting, the bath water was too cold, the soap was all wrong, the washcloth forgotten, and the un-fluffy towel chosen. And I seemed unable to keep myself from commenting on each and every one. No one enjoyed bath time that night and the feeling it left stayed with me for a long time.
Nine years and five kids later, I’ve become skilled at noticing the little ruts we mamas can find ourselves in – patterns and attitudes that transform good mamas into people we don’t recognize. I’ve sorted these morphed-mamas into categories I like to call: The Critic, The Nag, The Score-Keeper and The Complainer.
his is the bath time experience I just described – mom is commenting from the sidelines as dad tries to bathe the baby. The Critic believes that her way is the best way and a pattern emerges:
- Dad attempts to interact and care for baby;
- Mom disapproves and ‘helps’ by providing suggestions/criticism;
- Dad loses confidence and is reluctant to care for baby;
- Mom gets frustrated and resents dad for not pulling his weight.
Mama has now created her own monster – a self-fulfilled prophecy of sorts. Dad has been made to feel useless and that is exactly what he has become. I was lucky to cure myself of this pitfall by setting boundaries. I would only comment if dad’s choices were going to affect baby’s health or safety. These days, when dad dresses the children in uncoordinated outfits, I keep quiet. Before the Critic speaks, she needs to ask herself “does it really matter?”
What differentiates the Nag from the Critic is her tone of voice. We know she can be polite and respectful because we hear her talk to her friends and her mother. However, when the question or favour is directed at her husband, the tone completely changes and all “pleases” and “thank-yous” are completely abandoned.
When mamas are exhausted by a new baby or energetic children, it’s easy to fall into the habit of barking orders at hubby. At the end of the day it doesn’t make either parent feel good. If this defines your style, it’s time to re-shape how you communicate before it backfires and the kids start using the Nag tone with you!
This is the mama who thinks diapers should be changed according to a schedule of “whose turn it is.” If hubby is going out with friends on Friday night, you better believe Mama’s going to spend all day Saturday at the gym or shopping. After all, it’s only fair! This is a pattern I desperately try to avoid. I strongly believe children can interpret this scorekeeping as parents getting “stuck” spending time with their children. Kids should feel that both parents want to be with them all the time – even during those times we might not.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a good rant with your girlfriends – they can make for good sounding boards. But the Complainer takes it to a higher level. She can recognize herself by asking: does the pharse “I’m tired” find its way into every conversation she has? A sub-category is The Competitive Complainer. This describes the mama who if husband had a tough day at work, she had a tougher day at home. She is the “Johnny One-Upmanship” of complaints. The reality is, being tired is what we signed up for and it is exclusive to no one. This mama needs to remind herself that complaining is not pro-active. If there is a problem, do something about it. I’ve personally never found that saying “I’m tired” lends itself to more sleep.
Motherhood is hard work, very hard work. It’s no surprise that at various times during this journey we find ourselves developing some of the symptoms that put us into one of these morphed-mama categories. I’ve learned that catching myself as the Critic, the Nag, the Score-Keeper or the Complainer, makes me unhappy with my behaviour and certainly doesn’t make any valuable contribution to my family. We all find ourselves falling into these ruts from time-to-time, but with some quick recognition of the signs – there’s plenty of time to climb out!
Julie Cole is one of the founding mom entrepreneurs behind Mabel’s Labels Inc. (www.mabel.ca) and the proud mother of five.