Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: Had a baby two months ago. I’d never do anything to harm him or myself, and I do love him, but I hate being a mom. I stay at home with him after a decade as a high-school teacher, a job I loved. When he screams, I wish I was wrangling surly teenagers because at least that’s something I understand and am good at.
I’m tired of getting up all night, of never having time to myself, of the house never being clean. Husband is helpful but doesn’t understand how I feel like a failure. I get lots of support from my mom and mother-in-law (whose pushiness doesn’t help things). I get out for walks, errands, and I take the baby to all of these things. But overall, I’m not thrilled that my whole future is full of nothing but him.
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I don’t think I’m depressed, as I can look at all this without passion. How do I learn to like my new role and “career”?
– I Hate Being a Mom
DEAR I HATE BEING A MOM: Please get screened for postpartum depression anyway; “I don’t think I’m depressed” doesn’t rule it out.
Still, just about every new parent feels desperate, because it’s relentless, new and scary, and walking away is unthinkable. Desperation relapses are also common whenever Baby grows into a new stage.
Partly to blame is our culture’s ridiculous expectation that at-home parents fit the way we live now — house-centric isolation — instead of requiring what young families need and used to have: community.
Also to blame is just the nature of child-rearing. As kids learn and change, parents must learn and change with them, which is rewarding in retrospect but disorienting in the moment.
You have many possible lifelines. You can decide you’d be a better mom working than not; or accept you feel stymied and frustrated by babies but will get progressively better with toddlers, tweens, teens (most parents like one age best). You can lean more on others without guilt; or be patient till your love kicks in, since it’s not instantaneous for everyone; or see for yourself that nobody’s house is clean! Connect with other parents, through an organized group if needed. No fear, no shame.
But, again — doc first. It’ll get better.
To: New Mom:
Hold on one more month!! They call it the fourth trimester for a reason — the baby is just this blob, a howling black hole of neediness and poop and NOTHING ELSE. Everyone told me three months would be the point where it got better and honest to goodness, I checked my journal. Day 92 was the first day I felt like I hadn’t just ruined my life.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Excellent, thanks — with a your-mileage-may-vary disclaimer. We don’t want a bad Day 93 to unravel her.
For what it’s worth, my experience was a cycle:
(1) The what-have-I-done phases — despair, terror, fatigue, stir — when the kids hit a new stage of development that I didn’t yet know how to handle.
(2) The ooooooh-now-I-get-it phase.
(3) The please-outgrow-this-stage-lest-I-implode phase. This is when you think you can’t bear another [fill in the blank].
Leaning on more experienced fellow parents saved me through No. 1; recruiting help really takes the edge off No. 3. No. 2, obviously, you hang on to with both arms.