What’s It Worth?

Caryn: So my kids are away for the day and I’m supposed to be working on this big freelance project that’s due in a few days, but of course I keep spacing out. (I’ve learned I actually thrive on chaos!)

Specifically, my mind keeps returning to a sentence I read in a great book by Anne Tyler called Breathing Lessons. Here’s the line: “It was Serena who’d said that motherhood was much too hard, and, when you got right down to it, perhaps not worth the effort.”

This line scared the little dickens right out of me–because when I read it (and it was in the middle of some serious mommy chaos!), I thought, “So true.”

Nice.

To be fair, right now, I don’t believe it at all. I think that motherhood IS worth it. But I have to get it out there that I’ve had plenty of moments when I’ve thought otherwise. That I agree with Serena. So there. I said it. Sometimes I think motherhood is too hard and maybe not worth it.

Anybody else share this terrifying little truth? Even for a moment?

Carla: I don’t know if I’ve ever thought it wasn’t worth it. But I have thought, I can’t do this anymore. For me, that’s a scary thought because, well, I have to keep doing this. So what would happen if I just gave up? That scares the crap out of me.

I don’t think these terrifying thoughts are reserved for mothers by any means. There are truths too awful to say out loud in everyone’s life: What if I have this job for the rest of my life? What if this is all there is? What if I never get married? What if I can’t stand to stay married one more day? What if I never have children? What if I hate having children? What if someone finds out I’m a huge fake? What if I fall apart?

It seems to me that the reason those are such scary thoughts is that they all point to that big question: “Is it worth it?”  If I don’t end up with the life I hoped for, is the life I have worth anything? And apart from the usual Christian platitudes that, for me at least, don’t really get to the heart of the fear behind that question, I don’t know that we can ever answer that.

I think part of what we–or at least I–need to work out is what “worth it” means. Worth it to who? Worth what? Why does “worth” matter? As with most things, sometimes unpacking the baggage behind my fears helps dissolve some of the worry and terror.

Caryn: Good points. Because in my “Is it worth it?” moments really I’m just dealing with those same old unrealistic expectations that come from the outside–and from right in me. Unrealized dreams. Fears of missing out. All that good stuff. Huh….. What do you all think?

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16 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Pixie on July 23, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    Earlier this spring I did something that I grew up hearing spoken of in hushed tones as utterly depraved. I took a day off work, took my toddler to day care and went shopping. Granted it was Home Depot and I proceeded to spend the rest of the day rototilling and preparing our back trash dump to become a lawn. In the midst of this, I thought, “I could walk away from it all. No problem.” I wasn’t frustrated or tempted to give up; rather, I was thoroughly elated about being free. I haven’t felt that free since before marriage…when I could & did, just get in the car & go. The thought terrified me partly because of the self-revelation and partly because it brought up image of the mother in the book “Angela’s Bones” who gave up a part of herself to be a mother and then eventually walked out on her children (granted in the novel there was a horrific family tragedy that precipitates all this). I do not want to be and am not that mother. I may have been care free in my early 20s and long for that at times now but I know for certain that I am much happier & at peace now. Maybe sometimes I just don’t want to pay the price for my happiness…or maybe it’s something else. I don’t really know. Anyways, there’s a little story of how the same type of thought came from a good moment & not a chaotic moment.

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  2. Posted by Robyn on July 23, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    During the last 5 weeks since I found out I was pregnant, I have had a few moments where I thought, “Oh my GOD, what was I thinking? I can’t do this. I can barely do one child. Maybe it would have been better if I had never gotten pregnant. What if I could take it back?” I immediately feel guilty and say, “Just kidding, God!” because I am somehow scared that he will take me at my word and cause me to miscarry or something. Totally stupid, I know. God doesn’t work that way, right? I never felt like this with my first pregnancy. What if I really CANNOT love this child as much as I love my daughter? What if I wish s/he were never conceived? These are the dark, ugly thoughts I have…

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  3. I think we put a lot of pressure on motherhood, to be this amazing and fulfilling experience–every moment of every day. And frankly, it’s not. Sure, there are some amazing moments, but they are like islands in a sea of hard work. self-doubt and a lot wiping. The problem lies not in motherhood itself, but in the gap between our culture’s expectations (myths) of motherhood, and it’s messy, mundane reality.

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  4. Robyn,

    I remember having those thoughts during my 2nd pregnancy. I didn’t have them in my first pregnancy. I think you don’t feel that in a first pregnancy cause you haven’t experienced that deep intense mothering love yet. But I remember feeling jealous of my feelings for my first child while I was pregnant with my 2nd child. I didn’t want to share those feelings with a second child. I felt like it wouldn’t be possible to love anyone else like that. It was out of the realm of my ability to imagine — but once she was born the love for her came and it was as overwhelming as the love I had for my first child. For me, that intense love didn’t come though until the baby was in my arms — I wasn’t able to feel that intense connection during my pregnancy.

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  5. I am an adoptive mom of 4 amazing Ethiopian children. While in Ethiopia adopting them I met their biological mothers (who couldn’t raise them due to illness and poverty) and promised these heartbroken women that I would fiercely love and protect their children for the rest of their lives. In the adoption process you also make this promise to agencies, social workers and so on.

    Meanwhile, in real daily life I have those scary “worth it” thoughts you wrote about often. Motherhood is suffocating difficult for me. Especially with the kiddos we adopted when they were older. The wild, intense mother-love is slow in coming . . . yet the wild, intense job of mothering is in my face every moment of every day. But I promised. I have spent the last 2 years trying to force “enjoyment” with little success. I recently took a big step and let myself off of the “enjoyment” hook. Yes there are incredible moments in mothering that I enjoy very much, but I don’t have to feel like a failure if I don’t enjoy every moment. Obviously right? But I had been berating myself about this. God promises Joy and Peace, but that doesn’t necessarily equal enjoyment.

    We have taken on a big job as mothers, and any big important job is far from a fairytale.

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  6. I want to reply to EVERYTHING, but my kids are screaming at each other in the back yard. So real quick: How I LOVE letting yourself off the enjoyment hook! That’s marvelous. Great.

    And Robyn: Congrats!! And I totally felt like that too. You will totally love this child every bit as much. Though, as my oldest reminds my other two, “Mom may love us all the same, but she’s love me the LONGEST.” And it’s true. : )

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  7. I am the new mom of a ridiculously cute 8 month old boy named Jack. Throughout the last 8 months I don’t know if there has been a week that has gone by where I haven’t at some point been frustrated with my situation. The first 3 months were the worst when Jack would require soothing from 9pm to 1am every night. My lack of sleep spun me into depression and I have spent the last several months crawling out of it. So I definitely relate to Carla’s words, “I can’t do this anymore.”

    The thing that has surprised me (beyond how difficult being a mommy is) is how nearly every mom I have talked to has experienced the same feelings. I began blogging as an outlet and the responses I have received from friends and strangers has kept me going. Our culture is so individualistic it is easy for moms to be alone in their work. We have to support one another.

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  8. Posted by April G. on July 24, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    This is a much-needed discussion topic. I have felt so guilty for feeling the same way. I wouldn’t say that I “regret” having children, but there are times that I certainly feel that way to an extent. If I had known what I know now – sometimes I wonder if I would have opted out of this one. This is coming from someone who has ALWAYS wanted children badly and who has made teaching children her career. Even with all of that experience, I just didn’t realize motherhood would be so hard. And I think what is so hard for me lately is the constancy of it. I just want some silence! I need a break. I look around me and all I see is more mess to clean, more bodily fluids on the floor, more clutter from toys and crayons and laundry. I just want to scream, “Get me out of here.” Carla, just last week I texted my husband at work and warned him that I was seriously considering leaving. I didn’t mean leaving forever, but I fantasize about just driving away to the mountains and sitting for days with no noise but the wind blowing through the trees or the trickle of the stream. Nobody pulling at me, screaming in my ear, or crying for more of something. I need a break so badly I am ready to just drop the kids off somewhere and drive away. These moments make me feel like it all just isn’t worth it. We can’t afford to pay our bills because the costs of childcare are too high – I literally can’t afford to work full-time – if I could find a job in this market anyway, which I can’t. The stress of all of it just seems like too much sometimes. It is a relief at least to know that others feel the same way sometimes too and are not ashamed to admit it.

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  9. Just have to say that if you are saying “Amen!” to April’s post (as I would have when my kids were little) then PAY ATTENTION TO THAT! It is important, in this intense stage of mothering, to take some time for yourself. Time where you have no noise but the wind blowing through the trees. I’ve said this before but if you are in the stage where you can’t go to the bathroom alone, you need solitude more than anyone. It is not selfish to hire a sitter or leave the kids with their father (he’s not a babysitter) and get some time alone–even overnight, if need be. Or with a girlfriend, who will promise to give you time alone. You will be a better mom if you take care of yourself–which means getting time alone! Dont’ be afraid to tell your husband you need this! And if, like my husband, he doesn’t understand, that doesn’t matter. Have your mother, or a trusted friend, or someone, watch your kids, even for a few hours, so you can be alone. it will restore your soul.

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  10. wow, i haven’t been here in a while because my life has been busy trying to figure out how to entertain 3 kids all day while my husband “gets” to go to an office and sit at a desk doing a job he hates every day…oh, how i dream of trading with him…

    ok, so as i was reading, my palms started sweating. i’m not kidding. they are all clammy as i type, and my heart is beating fast, because it’s one of those moments where i know it will be good to be honest with people but then it’s scary at the same time. so here goes.

    i actually did try to leave my family three years ago. i mean everyone. i checked out from my kids, my husband. i looked for full time jobs online, applied for things. i do freelance work, but i needed something more steady. looked at places to live. completely fell into the fantasy of what it would be like to live alone. and it was wonderful.

    people would ask me during that time, “what about your kids?” and i would just give them a blank look. i felt nothing. it was scary. actually, it wasn’t scary at the time. it felt really awesome.

    i even had one friend tell me, “wow, i’m sort of envious, even though i don’t want to actually do what you are doing.”

    that is telling, isn’t it? and i think that one remark, which 3 years later still plays in my head on occasion, is what helped shake me back to reality. well, that, plus my husband told me i wasn’t allowed to leave. (which pissed me off royally at the time but now i completely understand he was doing it for my own good b/c he loves me!)

    sometimes now i think, oh no, what if i start feeling that way again? what if i just can’t take it anymore? but i think now that i recognize the signs of heading that direction (like what kerri warns in an earlier comment), i stop myself before i go too far in that direction. i go out with friends and have a glass (or 3) of wine, let my hair down, allow myself to be who i am, outside of mothering. i think that was my biggest mistake before–putting all that pressure on myself to really love this job, to excel at it even (which is impossible, i firmly believe, because after all we are human aren’t we?!). i bought totally into that cultural lie, as carla’s book points out and as others have commented already.

    i struggle all the time with feeling inadequate, feeling so scared that when my kids grow up they will have strong negative feelings about me the way i did for so long with my own mother. i think, crap, i need to be in therapy, and then i realize, crap, when do i have time to GO to therapy?! i wonder if my own mother had these same agonizing revelations as i was getting older.

    after 13 years of marriage and 3 kids (ages 7, 6, and almost 2), i feel completely lost. i look at other people who keep it together and wish i could be like them. then i come here and feel totally encouraged because we all seem to be searching for our zen place.

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  11. oh, kristi….thank you SO MUCH for sharing that. seriously. i really need honest women friends in my life right now (particularly moms who are willing to admit that mothering sometimes sucks more often than it rewards us), but at this point reading here is about all i’m finding. you’ve made me feel a little less alone this afternoon. thank you… (to everyone! but kristi- yeah, your story resonated with me SO. STRONGLY.)

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  12. Posted by Lori on July 29, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    I read this post at the end of yet another crazy, chaotic, and exhausting day of mothering, and I could definitely agree that while I haven’t questioned whether it’s worth it, I’ve definitely had many times when I’ve felt that I just can’t keep doing it. The thought that keeps me and my husband going every day is, “This time will pass. This time will pass.” This intense time with little kids will pass – very quickly, as everyone loves to keep banging into our heads (“enjoy every minute while it lasts!”) – and eventually, one day, we’ll get a full night’s sleep and even a few hours to ourselves once in a while. But the “is it worth it” question is interesting to consider, because we have gotten into some pretty steep financial woes since the kiddos’ arrival. I completely relate to April G with the catch 22 of needing a job to pay the bills, but the cost of childcare cancels out the income. Every day, I think, life does not work; we cannot figure out how to make everything work on a practical level. We live far from family, we can’t afford to pay a babysitter, my husband is working plus pursuing his PhD, so we’re in a pressure cooker with no time to ourselves, no time for each other, and no money for anything. It’s a very intense phase of life – and are we kidding ourselves that this time will pass? I think I’m envisioning a time very soon when my kids won’t need me anymore and I can devote myself to earning an income again, but it’s more likely that my kids will need me a lot for a long time, and I’ll be juggling motherhood with slogging it out, trying to dig out of debt. I adore my family and I adore being a mother – I hate trying to balance all the demands of life, and it’s a lack of money and personal time that sucks the joy out.

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  13. Posted by Robyn on July 31, 2009 at 9:45 am

    Kristi, thank you so much for trusting us with your story.

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  14. first, I want to say I love this blog because it’s a place where we can be safe, and honest. Mothering is just really hard.
    My kids are 13 and 15, but I promise you, those intense years of caring for kids under the age of 7 don’t go fast. They go more like a mole through granite, as a friend of mine likes to say.
    a couple of other thoughts-
    First, our job is not to entertain our kids–and I think our culture, which is all about entertainment, , makes us think that’s our job. One of my mentors always tells me–keep the end in mind. In other words, what is the goal of parenting? where do we want to end up? It’s not to keep the kids entertained or out of trouble or even happy. It is to make them into healthy, independent, functioning adults, who no longer need us! Hopefully they’ll still love us. But they won’t be dependent on us. 🙂 That means finding ways to give them responsibility –chores, decision making, having to deal with the consequences when they make mistakes, etc. And having some of your own interests, apart from them, so they catch on that they are not the center of the universe.
    second–every dime I have spent on therapy has been well worth it. I’ve been married 18 years, and I would not be here–i’d have checked out long ago–if it weren’t for getting some help from a professional who helped me to see things more clearly,and helped me move from just venting to changing MY behavior, which changes all the people I live with.
    And yeah, a glass of wine or 3 with your girlfriends is a good idea!

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  15. […] inspired me, or things from witty sports columnits on ESPN that are into the same music I am. Like here at the Mommy Revolution. And here where it’s all quotes from Jonathan Safran Foer. And here. […]

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