mother load

The topic of having children in relation to  sustained or occasional unhappiness, I have found, is as controversial and rife with potential trip-wires as any involving sex, politics or religion.  People don’t discuss the correlation freely, really, and those who do are lambasted as anti-child.  There is so much poppycock around having children that when you reveal the actual truth to the uninitiated, it feels as if you’ve broken some unspoken pact, a complicit glossing-over of how hard and often how awful childrearing really can be.  It’s like we live in a group-dream (perhaps as part of the preservation of the species?) that keeps us believing – much like issues in religion and politics — how fulfilling and wonderful it is to have and raise babies. To say otherwise is tantamount to treason. What I am about to write next will probably mean I’ll get a little flak, in other words, but please read to the end before you get too disgusted with me.

When a friend without kids told another friend with kids and me that she was sort of, kind of, maybe contemplating children and did we have any thoughts to share, my experienced friend and I took a deep breath and looked around, whispering sotto voce, ”Do you want us to tell you the whole truth?”  Well, of course — who wouldn’t want to know that?!

So we did. We told her the dirty little secrets about babies and small children.  We launched into unsanctioned territory, threw stones at that temple with a vengeance…and probably went too far.  We told her how alone you feel when you’re a new mom. How you may not even love the little mewling, demanding creature you birthed, though you feel passionately mama-bearish about its welfare. That breast-feeding is really difficult to master and might not actually work for you. We told her about unrecognized post-partum depression and unreasonable fears for baby’s safety making you a crazy woman. About sleepless nights, very strained marriages and even divorce, as in my friend’s case.  How you give, and you give, and you give so much more than you thought you had in you to the point of potential loss of yourself.

Early childrearing, we told her, is a mind-melding blur, the lines of your personhood so merged with that of your child or children that you literally cannot see straight.  And you may even believe you are the only woman in the world who feels unhappy with this little “bundle of joy” that feels as if it will be hanging around your neck 24-7…for the rest of your natural life.

Beware, we told her, of all the focus on pregnancy and birth, because the end-product of both is an actual baby, one you have absolutely NO idea how to care for (other than a random lesson or two on taco-wrappng and belly-button cleaning from a nurse as you lay dazed in the hospital post-partum) nor how it will really truly affect you and your primary relationship.

Our basic, uplifting message? Have a baby and go directly to jail, do not pass go and definitely do not collect $200. Call it verbal birth control. I mean it’s not like she was pregnant and we were unfairly freaking her out after the deed was done…forewarned is forearmed, I felt!

“So, do you regret having children, then?” she asked, saucer-eyed after what we’d just dumped on her.

We both were silent for a second. But only for a second. What may surprise you (although it is what society would expect) is that we both answered a quite emphatic “No!”

Because what we hadn’t told her yet was the good stuff (I guess we felt she could get that somewhere else…everywhere else, in fact). We didn’t tell her that there is a light at the end of that dark, babyhood tunnel. That what you reap you do sow (at least until they turn 12 or 13 — but that’s another story), sometimes a lot sooner than you think you will.  You begin to see something rise out of the fog and the mist of early parenthood: a little person, more and more separate from you, who you can’t imagine living without; someone who gives you far more joy than gritted teeth; someone you actually like hanging out with (okay, not all the time, but you do catch glimpses).  And as you look back on those early years, they may have been rough, but they really weren’t all bad, and you do miss those sweet baby kisses and hugs, the funny questions and cute drawings, little feet and hands, sweet-smelling heads and delicious, chewable arms and legs.

Then, too, there’s that  hot, fierce love that has grown so strong inside of you — on what used to feel like such thin soil — that it sometimes hurts.  It’s a breathtaking thing, when you look at them sleeping or playing peacefully, and know deep down that without them, life simply wouldn’t have had as much meaning, such richness. In fact, they have pretty much become the most meaningful thing in your life.

A couple weeks after that discussion, which I’m sure was a very confusing one for my child- contemplating friend, I read about new international studies showing that parents are significantly less happy than their peers who don’t have them.  Hello.

But, the kicker of these worldwide studies is this: it only holds true until retirement, when those with kids surpass their childless peers in the happiness quotient, by quite a bit.

I wasn’t surprised. Despite what we said to our friend in an effort at full-disclosure, and despite a recent spring break trip to New York so filled with juvenile whining, complaining and dragging feet I wanted to put myself out of my misery on the subway tracks, I can see it and even feel it because it grows in that direction every day.

Raising children is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. It is and will be the longest commitment (other than my marriage) I’ve ever taken on. It has pretty much defined my adulthood – made me an adult, frankly – and has taught me more about myself, my parents and other people than I could have possibly have learned without doing it.  My working life/career pales in comparison as far as self-formation goes.

I hope my childless friend will read this for a little bit more perspective – both sides of a single story, if you will. For it is truly only one story, and may not be anything close to what she might experience or will experience. Could be early parenting for her is a piece of cake, full of butterflies, rainbows and light, airy days of utter delight.

But if it isn’t quite like that, if it’s a bit more difficult, I just wanted her to know she’s not alone.

My plea: If you like my posts, please become a subscriber — it’s easy! Just look right, where it says “subscribe” and plug in the info requested.  Thanks for reading! (that is my photo at the top, fyi)

31 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rebecca
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 18:29:16

    What an honest article. Thanks for putting it out there. Will you help me with what to do when they’re gone? Then what do we do?


  2. Lynn Steele
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 20:26:25

    Not kidding Molly. I can honestly say the happiest time of my life was when I was pregnant AND when my kids were small. I was SO totally overwhelmed with joy!!! I would relive that time again.


    • Molly Kelash
      Mar 29, 2011 @ 20:31:18

      I know, I know…I am definitely not speaking for everyone, but I guess I just wanted to normalize it for those of us who were left feeling dazed and confused and stressed by the whole thing. i really wish I’d had your experience — guess I’ll have to wait for grandchildren!


  3. Anne-Marie
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 22:18:00

    Molly, you know I think this might be my favorite blog post of yours ever. So refreshingly honest and heartfelt. It echoes my early motherhood days so much — man I found it brutal for all the reasons you mention, and more. I vowed to write a book about the baby years that no one had told me about (one of the reasons I’m sure that contributed to why I felt so isolated too). Of course there were many joyous moments (mostly enjoyed in retrospect 🙂 but no one chooses to really explain how difficult it all can be for a great many people particularly if you don’t happen to have a strong backup family base where you live. Anyway, we both appreciate the ultimate reward having a child brings and we would do it over again without hesitation. It’s just so damn important to present the whole picture now and then to provide a context and perspective that most people are either too embarrassed or to afraid to mention. Thanks for doing that, both here and for your friend.


    • Molly Kelash
      Mar 30, 2011 @ 07:36:12

      I always wanted to write that book, too. I guess this my short stab. Perhaps we could write one together? Thanks for enjoying and reading — M


    • Annabel Candy, Successful Blogging
      Mar 30, 2011 @ 21:28:38

      Totally agree with Anne-Marie, best post ever. You’re hitting your stride. Yes, I’ve subscribed.

      Don’t expect all glowing praise from me though. For point of improvement I have:

      Not at all happy with the blog design. It looks like this blog is a very dark, dull place where in fact I find it “full of butterflies, rainbows and light, airy days of utter delight.”

      And where are the sexy, smiley/moody shots of you?

      I hope you remembered to tell your friend about the other good bit of having kids that makes all the hell worthwhile: someone to wipe up your drool and care for you in old age:) Ha, we’ll get our revenge!


    • Nicole Harrison
      Apr 07, 2011 @ 14:27:48

      I love the book idea, I had that too during those challenging early years , but now it’s all a daze…I don’t remember all the things I thought I would want to say to others and I am sure I would have been ostracized if I had uttered a word during that time – as a matter of fact I remember a conversation similar to Molly’s a few years back – I was with a group of late twenty-something women- successful career orientated women. I believe they thought I was nuts and I was never invited back to that group. I was the only woman with children and well, let’s say I may have said too much about the challenges. 🙂

      Nice Post Molly and great comment Anne-marie!


  4. Rebecca
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 22:22:43

    I tried to tell a guy once that a person doesn’t HAVE to have kids, he decided to tell everyone that I didn’t appreciate what I had, so I started to believe him, and think that there was something wrong with me until you just put this out there.


    • Molly Kelash
      Mar 30, 2011 @ 07:40:33

      That’s terrible…and exactly why I wrote this. Parents shouldn’t have to feel guilty about feeling exactly what they’re feeling and acknowledging it – doing so can diffuse the bad but not doing causes this horrible, quashed kind of resentment build-up that is often aimed at those you love the most. Who was that guy?!


  5. Katherine
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 23:01:38

    We went to a gourmet dinner party in our neighborhood last weekend and one of the couples had no children and had just come back from one of their trips to wherever. The talked about how wonderful it was and their second home in blah, blah, blah. All I could do was sit there and think that I wouldn’t trade my life with kids for ANY of that stuff. Which is weird, because I am totally not one of those get-down-on-the-floor-and-play kind of moms … In fact, my kids are nearly grown, but thankfully they will never be gone. Even when I’m busy doing “my own thing” – they are always what fills up my world.


    • Molly Kelash
      Mar 30, 2011 @ 07:43:56

      I absolutely know what you mean, K. I think I used to feel jealous of my childless friends, but as my empty nest looms there seems to be an inverse jealousy factor — i like hearing you say your kids will never really be gone, because thinking about them leaving is heartwrenching…


  6. Amy Norton
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 08:10:15

    Bravo, Molly! An unabashedly honest rendering of that universal tension that exists in all root relationships. Your well-wrought post has me thinking of other greats who’ve wrestled with the same. William Blake, for starters: “Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.” Encore, encore!


  7. Amy Norton
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 08:12:52

    Bravo, Molly! An unabashedly honest, articulate rendering of that universal tension that exists in all root relationships. Your well-wrought post has me thinking of other greats who’ve wrestled with the same. William Blake, for starters: “Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion,Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.”

    Encore, encore!


    • Molly Kelash
      Mar 30, 2011 @ 08:19:00

      Thank you, Ames! Very high praise — I feel quite abashed at being compared to Blake! 🙂 When will I be reading your first blog entry, btw? Xo, M


      • Amy Norton
        Mar 30, 2011 @ 21:06:45

        Funny you should ask…actually just emailed a link to you with my first post for a Nashville blog called StyleBlueprint. I was recently hired to edit and was invited to review a store launch for Anthropologie here in town. My personal blog is still TBD, but this is a fun start. Check it out! xo

  8. LoAnn
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 11:23:55

    Wow Molly, how honest…and accurate. You voiced the mixed feelings of many parents very well. I’m sending it to my daughter who is a very young mother of almost-three-year-old twin girls. I know she’ll like it. Thanks.


    • mollykelash
      Mar 30, 2011 @ 11:35:16

      Thanks — sometimes I put stuff out there and wonder if it’s too close to my own experience to be valid for anyone else…but I do think there are some “universal” experiences, or portions of those experiences that are similar for everyone.


  9. Lisa
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 11:49:35

    Molly – This beautifully written post is right on for me. I love my now 15-year old daughter more than anything in the world, but I wasn’t sure I would make it through those early years. Haley was diagnosed with ADD and was a very sensitive little one. I couldn’t take her to a coffee shop because the noise of the espresso machines would freak her and cause her to go into a tantrum. Talk about isolation!

    I made it through but my marriage didn’t. I also know the experience made me a better person and taught me life lessons no other commitment could.

    Thanks for your honest. Keep it up.


    • mollykelash
      Mar 30, 2011 @ 12:00:46

      Thanks, Lisa. After I wrote this I realized that some parents, just like you, have it even harder than I do — can’t really imagine it. I just don’t think I’m built of the right stuff to have “loved” those early, tough years.


  10. Julie
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 12:02:54

    Enjoyed the post! I thought babies were a piece of cake compared to adolescence.


  11. Kristin Kowler
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 15:08:38

    Molly, great post – having children is absolutely an exhausting and thankless (mostly) job. There have been times that if someone had said, “Mom, Mom, hey mom” one more time, I think I might have jumped in the car and just kept driving. That said, I would do it again. My kids turned out pretty well, and I’m really really happy I’m their mom. Funny how we have such a wide range of emotions around parenthood.


  12. Liz Ward
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 21:57:44

    So I wasn’t the only lonely new mom! There was lonely and joy and amazement and uber responsibility…you captured it all so beautifully, Molly. Funny how there is post-partum blues when they arrive and, when they leave the nest, the blues revisit. I think your counsel to your friend was well considered. In a time where women have options, childbearing/rearing is something to consider carefully. But for those of us who made the choice to put our lives second or fourth, that big balloon ready to burst in our chests lets us know we made the right decision. Hey, here’s a book you may be needing: “Get Out of My Life….” It saved my mother-lovin’ butt.


  13. Barbara Brown
    Mar 31, 2011 @ 10:22:09

    Great stuff, Molly — I’ve contemplated writing something like this myself. As a friend of mine (who has 3 beautiful, talented daughters) said, “If people told the truth about parenthood, the human race may cease to exist.” I had one of those candid conversations with a single woman friend who is thinking of adopting… and I may have talked her out of it…! It is, indeed, the hardest job you’ll ever love. Sometimes, it’s just a hard job.


  14. Paula Nancarrow
    Apr 02, 2011 @ 14:49:45

    Molly: This morning I did the first run through for my first, one woman Fringe Festival performance, The Sins of the Mothers. I picked the title because when I went through all of the material I have written and told over the last decade (which you can browse, if you like, by hitting the “stories I’ve told” link on my blog – failure or fear of failure as a mother was the most common theme. So your post was timely. Thank you. On a related note, you may remember the story I told at Rachel’s about my botched efforts to help my third grader with her science project (a story you’ll find on that blog). When I hit the send button I am taking that now 23-year old girl – who spent a year teaching English in Korea and six weeks at a slum school in Mumbai – to visit Harvard and the University of Chicago Divinity schools. Where she has been accepted at both. Some of what new mothers need to know is that they can survive – and even thrive – despite the doubts, the resentment, the unhappiness.


  15. Debra Fisher Goldstein
    Apr 07, 2011 @ 16:55:08

    Kidless – and always wondering about that choice. And always feeling sub-par for taking the non-parenting path. Thanks for shedding your light on “the light of your life.” Especially those darkest hours. You helped my blurry hindsight vision. Now, if I could only stop looking back….
    Perhaps a future blog?


    • mollykelash
      Apr 07, 2011 @ 17:29:32

      Thank you for continuing to read, Debra. I certainly understand looking back and wondering about certain choices. I am glad that even my “childless” (I prefer “child-free” myself) friends have gotten something out of this post. It wasn’t easy to put out there, so I’m glad it resonates with so many.


  16. Rosemary
    Jun 07, 2011 @ 15:32:33

    BRILLIANT POST MOLLY! I love your writing style and your honesty and you echo exactly my experience of childrearing. The early years were so wonderful but also so challenging that I eventually forgot who I was for a long time…in fact I’m only begining to find myself again and the oldest has just turned 20! But you so succintly and accurately captured the whole kaleidoscope of emotions and the paradox of how no matter how much we hate it, despair of it or want to drive straight over the pier at times…most of us still wouldn’t choose a different path if we were offered a chance to go back in our lives and make the choice again. I came over to your ‘personal’ blog from your guest post at Annabel Candy’s and I’m delighted that I did. ~P>S> I’m subscribing here too!


    • mollykelash
      Jun 07, 2011 @ 15:44:39

      Thanks, Rosemary! I appreciate it — I’ve had a great deal of positive feedback on this one, so I must be on to SOMETHING. Please pass my blog along to anyone you think might enjoy it. I try to mostly write “evergreen” entries, so the oldest ones really don’t ever read as out of date. I do sorely need to post something new soon, however…but I am so dang busy! Anyway, thanks for reading — I will check out your blog as well. Cheers.


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