Welcome to motherhood, the real-life version.
We’ve all seen the adverts. You know, the ones filled with giggling babies and a beaming designer-label clad mother with bouncy, perfectly coiffed hair, sparkling eyes, and a body that would make Giselle Bundchen green with envy.
Now I’d like you to imagine a different advert, one where the muffin-topped mother is sporting cereal-stained pajamas at midday and wiping her unwashed, matted hair from her eyes whilst gagging on the stench of her screaming tot’s poop-covered bottom. Welcome to motherhood, the real-life version.
Society loves to portray motherhood in smiling, glorious, soft focus. And with that image comes an unspoken implication that those finding the reality any different, which is most of us, are somehow inadequate. I don’t care how capable you are. It doesn’t matter if you once managed a team of 100, curated billion dollar investment portfolios, sailed solo around the world, or danced up Mount Everest in a sequined bodysuit and six-inch heels; you can and will still be reduced to a gibbering mess by a single tiny human.
And while motherhood is packed with blissful, amazing moments that will have you on a high, it’s also littered with feelings of confusion, frustration, and self-doubt that will slam you back to earth. And that’s normal. Life is not a Huggies commercial, and, despite the libraries full of parenting-made-easy books, they aren’t going to do the job for you.
If you are going to bury yourself under a pile of parenting books, make sure Susan Maushart’s The Mask Of Motherhood is amongst them, because it’s one of the few books that will actually acknowledge the fact that raising kids, especially the shiny squishy new ones, is hard beyond anything you can imagine. At least it is if you’re partial to sleep, personal hygiene, sex, a social life and money, because raising a kid ain’t cheap.
A 2013 study by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) revealed the average cost of raising a child is a whopping $245,340, and that doesn’t even include the cost of school or pregnancy-related expenses, so prepare to farewell your shoe-buying habit.
A single unrestrained child can turn a room into a scale model of the set of a disaster movie in minutes, and it isn’t uncommon for them to attempt to recreate the entire back catalogue of Jackson Pollock’s works using only breakfast cereal. But that’s not the worst of it. Children also have a complete disregard for where they offload their snot, dribble and partially masticated food, and have a tendency to go through more changes of clothes in a day than Katy Perry in concert. And you get the pleasure of cleaning it all up. But only after a night where you’ve managed the equivalent of 23 minutes sleep.
Speaking of which. Children, especially the little ones, aren’t on the clock, so broken sleep soon will become your new normal. And by broken, I mean smashed to pieces, set fire to and buried, before having its grave danced merrily upon. Ongoing sleep deprivation can become so torturous you’ll consider replacing your tot’s bedtime nursery stories with a recitation of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And don’t think it’s just a phase that will only last a few months. Seven years into this parenting gig, we are still invariably woken up by at least one of our children sneaking into our bed with nocturnal ninja-like stealth – a ninja with no disregard for romantic alone time, who kicks us repeatedly about the face and steals all the covers.
Then there are the nappies. You’ll change around 2,800 of them in the first year of your child’s life alone. And though you’ll be relieved when they show an interest in doing it on their own, the actual task of toilet training is right up there with ritual flagellation. Only smellier.
Parenting is hard in less obvious ways too. I mean, some people are gifted academically and some athletically. My husband and I? We are good with words. Swear words. Which meant that as well as learning to parent on the aforementioned 23 minutes a night sleep, we had to start communicating via interpretive dance or learn a whole new language.
And it’s not just the bone-wearying exhaustion or 24/7 workload that makes being a mother hard. It’s losing any semblance of privacy and time for you. It’s saying goodbye to your friendships, sleep-ins, freedom, functional sex-life, and even going to the toilet without an audience.
While these things may sound trite, they’ll seem as necessary as oxygen on a particularly hard day. Though ironically, if you manage to get a hall pass for a night out sans offspring, you’ll probably spend the whole time talking about your kid anyway.
Despite the mess, poop, sleep deprivation and chaos, your children will bring you more joy than you ever thought possible. It may be the toughest job in the world, but it is also the most rewarding.
Comment: Do you think society projects unrealistic expectations around the experience of motherhood?