Read an Excerpt
The Myths of Motherhood
Real is something we become gradually, as we face life vulnerably, returning to God over and over and finding ourselves loved, even when life hurts, when it does not make sense, when we are angry or afraid.
Once upon a time, a mother was born.
Though she'd dreamed about becoming a mom for years, her dream became a reality the instant she held her baby in her arms for the first time. Ohhh, she'd been imagining how that tender moment would feel. She'd heard descriptions and seen new moms on television shows crying and making utterances of great joy as they gazed adoringly at their precious little babies. Obviously they felt overwhelmed by waves of intoxicating, pure maternal love. After all, good moms instantly feel a powerful bonding love for their babies.
Yet reality surprised her. She eagerly took her baby into her arms---this stranger she had longed to meet---and put her face close to his. She touched his perfect little ears and ran her fingers over his petal-soft skin. His head, misshapen a bit from the birthing process, was topped by a mass of dark curly hair. (Where did that come from? she wondered.) As she looked into his murky grey eyes, she felt a stirring of unfamiliar, tangled emotions deep inside her. Love, yes, but also an odd kind of fear and self doubt. Who are you, my child? Will I know how to love you for a whole lifetime? Will I be a good mom?
'Isn't he beautiful?' her own mother cooed, peering at this new grandchild she'd traveled halfway across the continent to greet.
'He is . . .' the new mother agreed. (Of course he looked beautiful to someone who'd traveled so far on so little sleep.) In her first night at home with her newborn, the new mom faced other surprises.
The baby cried at 2 A.M., and she lovingly fed him. Then she changed him. Then she burped him. Then she patiently rocked him and tried to feed him some more. But an hour later, he was still fussing, and she felt fatigued and frustrated. Good moms instinctively know what their babies need, so moms who don't must be incompetent.
A few minutes later, her mother appeared at the bedroom door. 'Let me take him into my room for the rest of the night so you can get some sleep, honey,' she offered.
'Thanks, but I'm doing okay,' the new mom said, because she knew that good moms sacrifice themselves for their children, joyfully and selflessly, and don't ask for help from others.
A few days later, her mom packed up to go home. Before leaving, she loaded the refrigerator with groceries, vacuumed and cleaned the living room, and changed all the sheets. The new mom sat in a chair in the living room, feeding the baby, while her husband loaded grandma's luggage in the car for the trip to the airport. Her mom hugged and kissed the two of them goodbye, wiping away a tear as she told them she loved them. And then she was gone. As the car pulled out of the driveway, the new mom started crying. Why was she feeling so sad and alone? After all, good moms are totally fulfilled and satisfied with their lives as mothers, and they don't complain.
This new mom had been a mom for only a few days, but already she was beginning to realize that the real world she'd entered was not exactly the picture-perfect world she'd expected. Her real-life experiences kept bumping into her good-mom assumptions and expectations. Suddenly there was a disconnect between reality and the image she thought she should live up to. What kind of mother would she be in this bumpy place? On the one hand, living within the myths of mothering looked attractive. She longed for the apparently simple happiness assumed in those mythical expectations. Reality seemed so disappointing, and well . . . real. On the other hand, the myths, while appearing more appealing on the surface, created exhausting standards to live up to all the time. Wouldn't she feel more honest and relieved to be real?
What was the answer? Myth or reality? Which would be the way to 'happily ever after?'
Welcome to the reality of motherhood---a bumpy, wonderful, self-revealing, growing place where a woman faces the constant tension between expectations and reality. Between good-mom myths and real-mom truths.
Okay . . . now we're talking. Every one of us trips over the new-mom realities as we enter motherhood. It's not always the pink-and- blue-edged dream we imagined. Ever been peed in the face by a newborn baby boy? You know what we mean. Okay, so you had a girl; how about mustard-filled diapers?
Sure there are great moments of utter wonder. But not every moment fits our mythical expectations, and neither do our responses; we're way more human than we thought we'd be. Relax. This is normal. The tension between myth and reality has been going on for eons. The word myth comes from mythology, used by the ancient Greeks to describe why things happened when they didn't have a clue. Like what caused lightning or sunrises and sunsets. People believed these myths---explanations--- simply because everyone around them repeated them. People did not question whether they were true; they became accepted as truth out of habit. In fact, social scientists today still study how myths shape human behavior.
The same is true with good-mom myths, which are passed down from experienced moms to wanna-be moms or new moms. From mothers-in-law to daughters-in-law. From sappy Mother's Day cards and Mother's Day sermons to the world of mothers at large. These myths stay mysteriously hidden in our hearts and souls until . . . wham! Reality hits, and we face choices. What will we believe---myth or reality?
What if we choose to believe the myth?
Certainly that's an easy and tempting choice, because good-mom myths are natural extensions of the many good-girl myths we've grown up pretending to believe. Good girls should act like good girls. Good girls are not overly assertive or aggressive. Good girls don't say bad words. Good girls are nice to everyone. Good girls don't get out-loud angry.