The Unnatural Mom

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I made a confession to my spouse the other day. I am not a natural mom. I may have given birth to three very healthy, rambunctious, strong and smart kids. But this did not make me a mom.

I did not become a mom the first times I felt a baby move or the day I picked out a name for him. I did not become a mom the instant I had a baby.  I did not become a mom the first time I held him or even the first time I fed him.

While in those moments I had felt overwhelmed with excitement and love and an instant need to protect and safeguard this little human being that came from within my own self. Those were not the moments that made me into “mom”.

“Mom” is what my kids have called out at night when they have nightmares for the past 9 years. “Mom” is what my kids yell out in distress when they can’t find clean socks before school. “Mom” is what my kids shout at me as they come through the door with an exciting story to tell. “Mommy” is what my youngest calls out when he is truly feeling lost, or helpless or afraid.

It is the collection of 9 years of moments of “mom” or “mommy” that have made me a real mother. But it didn’t come naturally. I was, and still am not, a ‘natural’ at this gig. I need to work at being “mom” every day.

Everyday I have to allow myself to give up the need for personal space, and trade it for kids climbing on me or playing with my hair or tugging on my shirt or sitting on my lap as I try to go potty or bang on the door as I try to get changed or grab my face as they demand my full attention or follow me around as if they are a lap dog or ask me 10,000 “but why?” questions that I don’t know how to answer. Every day. Everyday I wish for a moment alone at least once.

Everyday I trade my need for silence for sounds of toys crashing to the ground, kids exploding off couches, brothers tumbling around on the floor with war cries, sounds of laughter – usually followed by screams of sibling rivalry – and the sheer chaos that comes of living in a house with multiple little people in it.  Every day. Everyday I wish for a moment of quiet at least once.

I have often wondered if I am the only “mom” who feels like this whole gig was a disaster. Why would any sane adult trade all of it, for this much noise and personal invasion? But I know I am not the only one. I know there are plenty of ‘unnatural’ mothers around, fumbling their way through the day just trying to do the best they can. Because while we may feel like we are not naturals at it, we do love it. We do love these little people more than anything.

So we work through our worst moments of doubt.

We do this by reaching out to a friend who can come hold our crying baby for an hour so we can play with the older sibling one-one-one so that the nagging will end. We do it by making a phone call to our funniest friend from University that can come up with a story that will make us laugh even after we’ve spent 20 minutes rocking a child until he could fall asleep. We do it by going to a playgroup where we see other moms thinking the same things we are – “you are so cute, but I need you to leave me alone and play with someone else for 5 minutes.”

I often think we do women an injustice by saying phrases like: “Don’t worry, you’ll be a great mom. It’s the most natural thing in the world.” Ugh…no… no it is not. I cringe at that phrase.

The truth is, while some women do honestly love every second of every meltdown and every needy-moment and they do very well at this job right from the get-go… most women, most parents, have to work at this gig.

We have to teach ourselves how to be good at it. We can’t learn it from books or go to University for it. We have to think of it as an applied education. One where we will make mistakes and we will have moments of not knowing the answers. One where we wish we could get a do-over on some assignments or call in the expert for some advice before we take that exam. One where our partners are just as frazzled by the questions as we are. We have to experiment until we can find the proper solutions to our families.

Being a “mom” or “dad” takes work. It takes self-training. And it takes time. It means plenty of moments of being asked to do things you don’t want to do (like getting up every 2 hours a night for a year or wiping poopy butts for 3 years). It takes time. It is not always natural.

Nine years into this gig I still feel I am not a natural. I don’t believe I ever will be. I am a loner by nature. And here I am, sharing every space and part of me with three little people who need me to give that to them so that they can grow into healthy adults. I need to remind myself to explain emotions to them. I have to remind myself to hug them for longer. I need to be okay with sticky hands in mine whenever they reach for it. I need to be okay with that personal bubble being popped. There is no bubble with little people. There is no being a loner with little people. We are a tribe. The instant they were born, we became a tribe. And while I did not become a “mom” in that instant, this tribe did happen. And I do love it. Even when it frustrates me. Even when it overwhelms me. Even when I feel the need to escape.

Nine years into this gig, I have learnt to be okay with not being a natural at it. I am okay with knowing I work at it. I make mistakes. But I also get better. And today I want to tell all the other unnaturals out there, you are not alone.  I see you and I’m right in it with you. So let’s be unnatural at it together. Let’s help each other. Let’s show love to one another and learn our way through parenting together. You got this. And I got you for when you don’t.

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