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When Being a Mom Feels Like Being in Prison


There have been a few times in my motherhood journey that I’ve actually wondered if it wouldn’t be more peaceful in prison.  I could read books uninterrupted.  Write letters.  Sure, I wouldn’t have my freedom but I don’t really have it now and I’m fairly certain that in prison there is nobody constantly yelling demands at you while you tirelessly and breathlessly work towards fulfilling the demand before that one.  Plus, the sleep deprivation.

Ok, I know that sounds terrible.  But have you ever hit that point?  That point where you literally feel like you are being driven mad?

When tantrums drive you over the edge
In one famous incident, my kid screamed for almost half an hour because I wouldn’t let him have chocolate bars for lunch.  Yes, I told him we could have some for dessert.  Yes, I offered a small piece as a compromise.  Yes, I empathized with him.  I stayed close, hugged him, picked him up…. until his repeated screaming of “I WANT CHOCOLATE I WANT CHOCOLATE” began to cause me to start half-laughing and half-crying, because I just didn’t know what to do.  I put him down and he started to scream that I pick him up.  Then, I tried to walk away to take a breath and he took hold of my leg and wouldn’t let go.
He did eventually calm down.  But I’ll remember that one for a long time… maybe forever?
When going to sleep feels like work… you hate
For the first year and a half of my sons life I dreaded every single night like a job I hated.  This was mainly because I knew I wouldn’t sleep well and that there was a good chance I could wake up in the morning and sob from the frustration of not being able to connect more than 25 minutes of sleep.  The days would drag on, and I was not a very fun mommy because I was constantly so tired.
A year on, I still somewhat dread it on the days I’m tired but it’s not as bad, and now daddy can finally sleep with him some nights and I get a break.  I actually look forward to sleeping again sometimes!
The understanding created by adversity
It’s after tough moments I have come to understand how can be that some mothers or caregivers have done some pretty awful things when under the stress of caring for little ones.  I get it.  It can feel like your life has become your own personal prison cell with no escape.

As a fairly well-supported mom, my difficult moments make me grateful (well after, obviously not during).   These moments also illuminate the difficulty that so many others must face, particularly those with less support – either in the form of family, friends, or spouse.

When motherhood starts to feel like a burden, that’s when support is most crucial.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The village is crucial.  We weren’t meant to do this alone.

And if you’re feeling overwhelmed on a more constant basis, it might be time to visit the doc.  They might be able to refer you to some support groups near you.  And always remember: it does get easier.  We’re all in this together.

Please, please mama… how can we help you?

Oh boy.  So I just read this article by The Milk Meg entitled ” Please, please mama… pick up your crying baby.”  Meg, by the way, is an amazing breastfeeding supporter and I generally love all her articles.  She’s blunt, well-spoken and evidence-based.

So I was disappointed to read this article, where in her opening Meg writes:

“I have written this blog post to all of the women out there who have crying babies in their prams, those who are so exhausted and feel as though they cannot possible hold them again that day…”

And she goes on to make plea after plea for every mama to pick up her baby, no matter what that mama is going through.  For example:

“If you have had no help today, no break to pee, shower or eat without sitting down…

Please, please mama… still pick up your crying baby.”

CRINGE.  I understand that Meg is trying to inspire these tired moms to pick up their babies.  She has 3 kids of her own – she knows what exhaustion looks like I’m sure.  I just find this post a bit troubling and sad for a few reasons:

1) It judges and shames moms by saying that moms can overcome whatever aspect of motherhood to just “pick up their baby”

We can’t know why any particular mother doesn’t feel the need to pick up her baby when they cry.  It’s possible mama has back spasms and literally cannot pick up her kid.  Maybe she hasn’t read the recent research on secure attachment and responding to your baby.  Maybe she is in a compromised state i.e. totally exhausted or has postpartum depression.

Meg says she knows what it’s like… but can she really know what it’s like for every mom?  Some of us have a harder time with school and some of us have a harder time managing our weight… do we go up to people who weigh more than we do and say “if I can do it so can you!”  Well, maybe some people do.  But the research on obesity is increasingly showing that it’s harder for some to lose weight than others.  I don’t think I need a source for the fact that parenting is harder on some of us than others.

There is an unfortunate effect of pleading for moms to do something in the face of an adversity you think you understand; you are making them feel bad for being unable to do what you could push through and accomplish.  It could be viewed as privileged and arrogant, really.



2) It simply isn’t an effective way to address the issue of mothers not picking up their crying babies

I suppose some moms could be motivated to pick up that baby by reading that “I get it, it’s tough… BUT JUST DO IT.”  Nike styles.  But the problem here is that the root cause of the problem – why the mom isn’t picking up the baby – is completely ignored.  So often we focus on how mothers are treating their babies… but it is how mommy is doing that determines how baby is doing.

A better method of inspiring mothers is showing them that you understand why they can’t pick up their babies and offer some actual suggestions to help them or dig deeper into the root causes of this issue.  Telling moms who are already low that they need to place their own needs after baby’s isn’t just unhelpful and illogical… it’s downright hurtful.

They say you need to fill your own cup first.  Nowhere is this more true than in parenting.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that if your baby crying isn’t motivating you, Meg’s post really is just going to piss you off and/or make you feel bad about yourself.  The commenters rant about how hard it is to hear other peoples’ crying baby and how amazing it feels to follow their instincts.  Ugh.

And it’s great that Meg doesn’t intend to judge you or shame you, but why does that matter if that’s how you feel?

Perception and how writing is perceived is just as important, if not more important, than your intentions.

And no, I’m not trying to say that Meg is being judgmental to silence her

One individual alluded to this article that discusses how contradictory opinions in parenting are not judgment.  I agree.  Crying “judgment” can for sure be used as a way to try and silence the side you don’t agree with.  But this article isn’t a contradictory opinion.  To me it reads as a backwards plea to exhausted mothers to please pick up their crying baby.  At best, it is meant to help you pick up your baby… but it inherently disparages any mom that doesn’t pick up that baby.  You’re disappointing that poor helpless baby.  That’s a bit judgy I say.

And so yes, I think I can say this writing has the potential to offend and effectively “judge” some mothers and make them feel even worse than they already do.

How about we focus on helping moms who don’t pick up their crying kid by focusing on the moms.  I think they could use a bit a bit more focus on themselves.

Here’s a re-write of Meg’s plea.  When she writes:

“If you are a single mother or your partner has been away, you feel as though you have no strength left to mother and parent on your own…”

I say:  Please, please mama… You’re doing the best you can so don’t be hard on yourself.  Let’s try and get you some help.  Is there some family you can call?  Friends in the community you can reach out to?  How can we build your support network?