That Awkward Moment, That Incoherent Post

That awkward moment when you realize that someone is unsure if they should share their positive experience because she (is empathetic and thoughtful and) doesn’t want to make you feel bad, because… well, you’re experience was not so positive.

Or at least you didn’t make it out to be.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about motherhood, and managing two children and staying at home and how everyone has such different experiences for so many different reasons. There are so many moving parts and each of us has distinct versions of each of those moving parts, so while they may all come together to make similar-looking machines, each is actually completely unique. So really, my version of motherhood can both resemble yours and simultaneously be completely different.

There are so many different aspects to motherhood and each is shaped by the mother and child (and myriad other things). My experience of motherhood is affected by each and every one of my circumstances: my emotional disposition, my physical condition, the support my partner and family are able to provide, my child’s constitution, our financial situation, where we live, the help our families are able (or not) to provide. It’s literally impossible to list every thing that defines my experience of motherhood. So while what I experience might resemble what someone else experiences, we actually experience them in a totally different way.

I don’t know if I know how to say this, or if I even know what I’m trying to say. I’ve just been reading blog posts and looking at Facebook statuses and realizing that while we all act like we can relate–and take the time to commiserate–we really don’t know what it’s like for anyone else. Their kids are different, their circumstances are different, THEY are different. So when I wonder how someone can not only handle, but seem to enjoy, being home all day with two kids under two when I know I would really struggle to do the same, I have to remind myself that their experience with their two kids is totally different from what my experience would be with my two kids.

And as I’ve started to recognize this, I’ve found myself trying to qualify the different experiences of motherhood in certain ways. Of course you can’t qualify them. Even if you thought you could look at each mother’s circumstances and some how compare them to your own, you have to remember that each mother is different so their experience of their motherhood is different than you would experience those exact same circumstances of motherhood. So even if you could know EVERYTHING about a person’s situation (which, obviously, you couldn’t), the way you would react to that experience would be completely different to the way she might. I might handle frequent night wakings less well than another woman, while she might tolerate the pain of thrush better than I did.

I guess the whole point is that you can’t compare anything, so there is no point in trying.

It’s not that I want to compare anyone’s experience to my own really, I guess I’m just trying to understand. And mostly I’m trying to understand myself and my own experience of motherhood, because it’s not playing out in all the ways I thought it would. I’m STILL surprised that some aspects of motherhood are so challenging to me. I’m still shocked that I struggle so much with my daughter. I’m still in denial about how hard the transition to a family of four was for our daughter and our family. I’m still mourning the fact that I will most likely never nurse my last baby. I’m still not sure how to reconcile the realization that I probably wouldn’t stay at home with my children even if I had a choice (which I don’t, so why does this continue to matter?!), with the memory of the kind of mother I thought I’d be (obviously one who would absolutely choose to stay home with her kids).

I guess what I’m trying to figure out is, do I feel the way I do about certain things because of who I am? Or because of who my kids are? Or because of our circumstances? If I were in someone else’s shoes, someone whose choices or circumstances or experiences I deem admirable or enviable or positive, would I respond in the the same ways that they do?

Do I not want to be a SAHM because my daughter is so difficult? Is my daughter so difficult because of who I am, myself? Did breastfeeding not work out for us because I of something I did, or was it my son’s issues or some delicate combination of both? Was our transition to a family of four so tumultuous because we sometimes felt ambivalence about it? Is my son as easy going as he is because I couldn’t handle anything else?

Was our experience negative because we didn’t know how to make it positive?

We are taught to develop understanding by comparing and contrasting, by making connections. When we recognize our own plight in someone else’s we learn more about them and about ourselves. This is how we build the bridges needed to find common ground. But what if there is no real common ground? What if it’s all an elaborate facade? How do we understand anything then? How do we relate to others? How do we empathize with those around us, and with ourselves?

I don’t know if any of this makes any sense. Honestly, it could be the ramblings of a mad woman for all I know. Maybe it doesn’t make sense because it’s so obvious that you can’t write about it without coming across as incomprehensible. I guess I just going to hope it’s not offensive or inflammatory, and I’m going to post it early on a Sunday morning, when no one will read it and fewer will comment, hoping no one will judge me too harshly for its incoherent message.

Do you have any idea what I’m trying to say? If so, could you enlighten me?

9 responses

  1. I *do* think I get what you are trying to say. Even given the exact same set of circumstances, no two women (and their partners) would handle the situations in an identical way, because we are different people. I really bristle at comments like “Enjoy every minute!” or “Life is what you make of it” and the like because they imply that things would not be so bad if only I would “just” change my attitude. To a person who copes with PPD and other on-going mental illness, those things can be so dismissive, even hurtful. My circumstances (and ability to cope with them) are simply different and I do the very best that I can. I think we all do.

    So like I commented to Josey the other day… “Happy for you, sad for me” is the gift that just keeps on giving! I *am* so very grateful to those around me that recognize that experiences are different and were supportive and understanding through it. They helped me get to the other side – to a place where I can be joyful with them and for them. And when the going gets tough again (because it will) I know better what to do. I hope.

  2. I think I get what you’re saying.

    I very rarely compare my life or situation to someone else’ because there are so many factors involved, that you can’t draw a comparison. I would get all woe is me while cycling for Matthew – how could someone with crappy embryos get pregnant on IVF #1, but it took us three with perfect embryos? Those comparisons were nothing but hurtful to me, and I learned to stop. And, I stopped reading blogs of those who got their “one and done” IVF. I was a bad sport. Admittedly. ;). I’ve come a long way since then.

    I do understand how you could compare… Because it’s part of relating to others. And it’s what things like FB exist for. Ha ha!

  3. I totally understand what you are saying. SO many factors go into how each of us individually experiences and deals with motherhood, so really comparing is not productive most of the time. But we do compare. I’m just so sorry you are having such a tough time. I really hope and pray things will start to get easier for you, friend.

  4. Yep. Comparisons are both inevitable and futile. I do think it helps to know you aren’t alone struggling with whatever. And you totally aren’t alone. We have had a regular diet of battles with our older daughter since the younger one came into the picture. The interplay of her personality with ours makes it hard to accomplish anything because we need to give each other more space than we have been, and she’s having a hard time detaching herself from us to take the space we all need. My range of “comparisons I’m willing to make” in reading blogs changes wildly depending on my personal headspace and I think that’s fine and probably healthy. I also think that common ground is what we make it and how we sketch it out in relationships so it shifts depending on how we negotiate it over time.

  5. Yes I totally understand this, and feel this frequently. Obviously, its impossible to tease out how much of what you’re feeling is due to your own tempermant and how much is just the hand you’ve been dealt. As far as connecting and understanding others…I read somewhere that the hardest part of growing up is realizing that no other person can truly “understand you” because they can’t understand every single facet of your life—past and present, to really know exactly where you are coming from. But what we search for, and can find, are those tiny little points of connection. And those can be incredibly uplifting. Just knowing that someone out there is feeling similar to me…it helps.

  6. I agree with you, no two families, women, or child raising experiences are the same. There are too many variables, so honestly it’s best not to compare. That’s hard though, because us mom’s are constantly comparing ourselves or “giving each other advice” on parenting. I have a mommy friend who I sometimes feel “bosses” me around or tries to tell me what I should do with my boys, because “that worked for me.” It used to bother me because I felt so shitty about myself as a mom, but then I took a step back and thought about it more. Just because certain things come easier to her kids or my kids doesn’t mean anything about me as a mom. It’s just how our kids and ourselves we made. We all have different strengths, weaknesses and struggles when it comes to parenting. Some phases of life are easier to different parents. I for one, LOVE the newborn baby stage. Like LOVE it. But I’m having a hard time connecting and soaking in my time with Aiden. It’s just how it is right now. I know it won’t be like this forever> All we can do as moms is be kind to ourselves, others, and our kids and remember that “this too shall pass” and that our kids are growing up way too fast! 🙂

  7. You’re totally right, we are all different. And so comparing is futile to a certain extent. Although I know it does sometimes make me feel better to find people that have similar situations as mine. I found this to be especially true with infertility. I felt isolated since I couldn’t find anyone close enough to my experience to feel like I fit in. And then I found you 🙂 And even though lots of our experiences are very different, I find that lots of things you say do ring true to me just because of our somewhat similar infertility background (I’m not really secondary infertility, but I managed to get pregnant fairly easily the first time anyway, and really struggled with the fact that I might not have another, before getting “lucky” again). And I think parenting a “difficult” child is sort of a similar experience. Isolating. Confusing when you compare your experiences with other mothers. My son was so difficult as a baby and I really struggled with things that other new moms would say because my experiences were so different. Only now that I’ve had an “easy” baby do I really realize how different my situation was from theirs. And I’m sure my personality was also a contributing factor. In a way, it’s been such a relief for me to realize that my experiences were different, and so it’s ok that my feelings and reactions were different as well. In fact, that’s only natural. So while you may have some things in common with other mothers who have just had their second child, you may not. Because your family is different, so just remember that. You’re going through a challenging time right now, and I would say it doesn’t really matter whether it would be easier for a different mother in the same situation or not. YOU’RE the mother in your situation and your experiences and feelings are what they are. And though you may be having a challenging time now, you don’t know what the future holds or how things will be as your family changes. I don’t think it makes comparing completely useless, sometimes it helps us to feel less alone. But sometimes it makes us feel more alone. I think we just need to realize when the latter is happening and catch it before it becomes detrimental.

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