Parenting is hard. Let me express that.

woman-1043030_1920 (1)I posted one morning on FB, as I’ve done many times before, about my struggles with parenting– a whole list of things that make parenting particularly challenging for me. It was pretty cathartic to say those things “aloud,” but as I got to the end, I felt the need to make it more palatable, to drop some sugary prose on the end like, “But parenting is also wonderful and grand and blah, blah, blah.” And I actually did it. I typed up a quick, cute little something so no one would accuse me of not being grateful for my children or not enjoying the journey. ‘Cus, ya now, God forbid a mother doesn’t enjoy parenthood every second of every day.

But you know what, I took that ish off! Because though it was true (parenting is great and so are children), the road is not smooth and it does not always feel good. And that prickly discomfort is what I wanted to communicate, NOT the warm fuzzies that come at other times. But for some reason, mothers are made to feel bad for not always enjoying the ride. We’re supposed to grin and bear and act like our mystical ties to our children blot out the magnitude of this task. They don’t. I love my children in an unimaginable way and thank God for them daily, but that love and thankfulness don’t temper the strain and friction of being responsible for a tiny person’s life. It’s tough, and I should be able to say that without feeling like I’m doing something wrong.

And so I did. I said what I wanted to say in the way I wanted to say it and drowned out the voices that whispered, “Shame on you for being other than happy. Shame on you for not presenting yourself in the expected way.” As I submerged those voices and muffled their condemning cries, I was left with a silence that allowed me to feel ok about not feeling ok.

We all need that. We all need to be able to say, “These kids are getting on ALL my nerves and I’m ready to blow,” without someone else saying, “Oh, but children are so precious. Be thankful.” Sigh. Yes, I know children are precious, but sometimes they fight and lie and break things and whine and don’t listen and disturb my peace and make my left eye twitch just a little. And when that happens, I’m not thinking about how precious they are. I’m thinking about how lucky they are that I choose not to use corporal punishment. I’m also thinking about what room I can lock myself in just to get some space. And then it passes and I’m able to function again. But I need my moment. Don’t deny me that.

It is downright oppressive to condition mothers to bury our feelings under a forced smile. Even though most people are trying to help by reminding us of the good, it feels like judgment and it feels like we’ve done something wrong for sharing how we feel.

For those who are wondering, a better response would be to say, “I know how that feels/I’ve been there.” Or maybe you don’t know how it feels and haven’t been there. In that case, just say, “That sounds tough. Hope it gets better.” Silence works too. Sometimes just saying it aloud does wonders. We don’t always need a response. Aside from HELP and support, all we need is the space to truly feel and process the full range of emotions parenting produces.

~Nadirah Angail

photo credit: Yery Yheoun

On Diaper Bags, Care Bears and Justmoms

carebearsAs an almost-mom, I’d have to say that the hardest decision I’ve had to make so far has been choosing a diaper bag. It seemed like it’d be an easy and effortless task, as I love purses and diaper bags are nothing more than big purses, but my diaper bag search has proved to be much harder than I expected.

I don’t consider myself a diva, a fashionista, or any of those other trendy terms people like to throw around, but I do like to look nice and care about the way I present myself. So when I found myself standing in the diaper bag aisle, surrounded by Elmo, Care Bears and that hunny-addicted Pooh, I knew I had a problem. Does becoming a mother mean I all of a sudden have to revert to my childhood preferences? Because if I was still five or six, I would have been all over that pink and purple Care Bears bag with the matching changing pad; but now, twenty years later, I’m not as interested. My likes and interests have matured and evolved to now include looks that don’t scream “I’ve been watching PBS and Noggin all day.”

My issue with the character bags is more than just aesthetic. It also has to do with the fact that I do not want to become a Justmom. A Justmom is a wonderful, multidimensional woman who, after becoming a mother, puts her entire life on the back burner to focus exclusively on being a parent. These are good-intentioned women who end up deserting their friends, families, husbands, interests, hobbies and, themselves for motherhood. They spend all day cutting carrots, cleaning rooms, checking homework, washing clothes, joining mothers’ groups online, buying children’s clothes and items, taking trips to parks and zoos, and many other child-centered activities. There is nothing wrong with doing any of these things. In fact, they’re all signs of good parenting, but what pushes these moms into the ranks of Justmoms is that they do these types of things only, at the exclusion of the many other parts of themselves that also need to be engaged.

stressed momI don’t want to pathologize Justmoms. They’re very caring, nurturing, forgiving, and all around sweet women. My concern is that they don’t put nearly as much energy into their own maintenance as they do into their children’s. They become shells of their former selves as their marriages, social lives, self images, and mental states suffer. Consider the research. According to Ariel Gores’s The Mother Trip, mothers are more likely to be affected by depression that any other demographic group nationwide. I doubt that all of these depressed moms are Justmoms, but I’m sure being a Justmom increases the chances of being included in that group.

Mothers seem to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, and not having healthy outlets to help shoulder that load is nothing more than a recipe for disaster. We all want to be good moms. We want to give our children the best, protect them from harm, prepare them for the future and reassure them of their value. That’s great and admirable. (No wonder Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said “paradise lies at the foot of the mother.”) But, in our haste to feed and protect our children, we often forget that one of the best gifts we can give a child is an honest image of a healthy, balanced mother, one that is so much more than a bodyguard/servant. Healthy and whole moms teach their children the benefits of helping self along with those of helping others. They laugh more, handle frustration better, become angered less easily and are pleasant to be around.

For me, the idea of being a Justmom is scary, but I understand that, for some women, the idea of not being one is even scarier. Many of us have a romanticized image of the perfect mom in our heads. We grow up either wanting to be just like our own mothers, who some of us feel were perfect, or the exact opposite of our mothers, who some of us feel were neglectful. The truth is that most moms fall somewhere between perfect and neglectful. Either way, the image of the Justmom becomes glorified and normalized. So once the children start to arrive, your date nights with the husband disappear, your biweekly girls’ nights vanish, the salsa lessons you loved are discontinued, your paint dries up and your brushes harden, the instrument you used to play begins to collect dust, your sense of style somehow gets lost, and your overall personality dulls. Basically, you lose your zest and unique qualities. These are some of the affects of becoming a Justmom.

There was a time in my life when I thought being a Justmom was inevitable. I thought being a good mother meant sacrificing all else. Lucky for me my understanding has changed. I now know that it’s not a bad thing to continue to have a life outside of my child. I know that my husband can continue to be my husband instead of just being my co parent. And if nothing else, I know that it’s ok to hate the Care Bears diaper bag.

Nadirah Angail

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