A Little Honesty from a Disgruntled Mom: Shifting my perspective on life with little ones
“Geez, you got your hands full,” says the older lady at the grocery checkout, where one of my kids is in the proper child cart seating area, one is in the basket under a week’s worth of frozen foods and bags of vegetables, and one insists on hanging off the side, no matter how many times I say, “The cart is going to tip over and SQUISH you!”
She looks at me with sympathy like maybe I don’t know how to use birth control. Or is it scorn, because her kids never hung off the side of a cart? I can’t tell exactly what the expression is.
(Smile). “I’m just very blessed,” I responded. It was part truth I was telling myself, part sarcasm.
The next day, at the big shopping place that we all go to and buy a hundred things we don’t need, another lady touches my arm as I pass. She must see the desperation on my face. Or maybe she notices that I have shaving cream in one hand and a lemon in the other, and wonders if I’m having a stroke. She says, “Cherish these days. They go so fast. One minute, your kids are all hanging on your legs, and the next they’re in college. My Gracie just started at the University…..”
And I tune her out and smile my “Cheese” smile and nod like a bobble head, like these are the greatest pearls of wisdom and I’m just eating them up, until she’s done and I can move on.
So which is it, Moms?
Are we to be pitied, or are we to be envied?
Is our life with young children empty or is it full?
I am a Recovering Disgruntled Mom. An RDM. Google it. It is really not a real thing.
For years, my one prayer (besides “Lord, either slow my aging or increase my husband’s, because he looks like a man child next to me.”) was to have a baby. Even though I had a job I loved and a husband I loved, my life had started to feel empty. It was missing something. I had always known I would have kids, but didn’t crave it early on. I felt no maternal instincts. I wanted to see and explore first and let the family thing happen later.
And then when I decided I was ready, oh boy, I wanted it to happen instantaneously. Everything else in my life suddenly seemed dull in comparison. But it wouldn’t happen quickly for us. And I would have to endure a lot of ridiculous miniskirt medical gowns, procedures, and tears to get there. So when my first baby came by some miracle (and later a second and third), I did feel full. Life felt right. I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. I felt overwhelmed, outnumbered. But so very thankful. Prayers answered. Cha-ching.
But somewhere along the way, that changed. It might have happened during one of our cross-country moves. Or during my husband’s deployment. Or because of persistent health challenges. Or just because raising children is so freaking hard some days. Maybe it didn’t require a hardship at all. Motherhood demands unparalleled selflessness. And let’s just say, I am not always in a selfless mood. I have changed way more pee-pee sheets in the middle of the night than I saw listed on the job description.
At some point, feeling disgruntled became my MO. I didn’t show it outside of my home, but it’s just the way I felt when I woke up each morning. And I carried it around like a dirty potato sack on my back. I didn’t even see it anymore. It was part of the job, completely explainable and permissible. It’s okay to feel crappy, I’m a mom of three children. I’m introverted and I’m surrounded and I can’t take it.
You may wonder at this point, how did I go from disgruntled, survival mode to recovery mode?
Well, my dear husband told me how unpleasant I was.
(Note to self: the internal disgruntled feelings have a way of sneaking out.)
And, for the first time, I really listened. I’m not sure why. I got really hurt and angry in the past whenever he implied I was moody or unkind or needed medication. Because I was operating under some assumptions – 1. That he couldn’t possibly understand my challenges as a mother, and didn’t get how entitled I was to my grumpiness. 2. That he wanted to turn me into a medicated bot that was some plastic version of my true, awesome self. 3. That he wasn’t accepting me the way I was.
The truth is, he’s a good guy. None of my assumptions were true. And, at some level, I just didn’t want to take responsibility for my discontent. I wanted it to be okay. I have always been a dedicated mom, after all. Why can’t I love my children deeply and also wish for more freedom? Or wish my days weren’t filled with puzzles and cooking and discipline? Why can’t I be committed to this mothering job and also feel cranky about it?
I can. But that’s not really a way to live. That’s not the legacy I want to leave for my own kids, who may be mothers one day. It’s naive for me to think I can’t be my awesome, true self and also choose gratitude and kindness, when I feel neither of those things.
So what did I do with this *very helpful* information?
I asked myself the question: What’s the difference between the woman who implies my situation is pitiable and the woman who says I’m in the best years of my life?
It’s how I see my life that determines how I feel about my life (for the most part). I don’t mean to oversimplify it. Life is complicated, and often genuinely hard. But the easy thing to do is just feel the way I feel and justify my continued discontent.
It’s easier to look at another mom’s life and think that they have it easier or better, and if my situation were different, I would feel so much happier. This is a farce. Because we moms are all struggling in different ways.
And my life may look really golden from the outside to you, but if I believe deep down that I’ve been given the shaft in some way, no one will be able to pry that sense of disappointment out of my hands. I’m the only person who can do that.
So if my thoughts inform my feelings, what do I spend my time thinking about my life?
Given my current circumstances right now, what do I really believe about myself?
Is my life empty, devoid of carefree days and independence and fulfillment, a burden?
Or is it full, meaningful, something to be cherished?
I say I’m recovering from being a disgruntled mom, because I think it will continue to be a work in progress. I’m not going to suddenly become a different person, and I’m not going to beat myself up for struggling with this.
The difference is that I will choose to not stay in a discontented, disempowered place. I will wrestle my feelings down to the mat when they threaten to overtake me (and everyone around me). I will take responsibility for my moods and how I treat the precious humans in my home. I will choose to do better.
If you’ve been a disgruntled mother at times, what has helped you? What pulls you out of those mothering slumps?