Who has it hardest? (A Mother’s Day post)
Is motherhood harder for a movie star than for a mom who works 9 to 5?
A whole month ago (which is like, 15 years in Internet-time), Gwyneth Paltrow turned more than a few heads when, in an interview with ENews, she explained that being a mother who works fourteen hour days on a movie set is more difficult than being a working mother in a 9 to 5 job. And the whole world rolled its eyes.
This is not new, this thing in mothers that makes us compare ourselves to one another, battle for who has the most challenging life. Most mothers are like me: insecure, worried that we aren’t raising our kids right, worried that we will fail in the most monumental ways.
We long for someone to tell us we’re doing a good job. And we live in a culture and moment in time where we can meet that need online. Want to talk about your kids? Blog about them, Instagram them, post something cute on Facebook! Want to feel better about your parenting choices in education or nutrition or discipline? Find all the other mothers who’ve made the same choice and camp in the their corner. The “Mom Wars” are nothing new to Planet Earth. It’s just that we have the Internet now. We can yell louder.
And that same Internet that makes us louder also leads to our exhaustion. We live in a world that never stops communicating. The screen never shuts down. Our to-do lists are never emptied. We support our kids. We volunteer at school. We play legos and fold laundry. We barely rest and when we do, we feel burdened by guilt for doing so. Our lives are packed full. Of course we compare who has it hardest. Comparing makes us feel less alone, less afraid.
After reading Gwyneth Paltrow’s words and fake moaning over her dramatically difficult life, what with her lovely golden flax hair and nanny and housekeeper and adorable 500 dollar shoes, I had to stop and remind myself of reality. Gwyneth, for all her luck and perfectly sculpted body, is an actual human being, a mother who is simply lamenting the difficulty of motherhood. And, yes, motherhood is difficult for her, because motherhood is difficult for everyone.
Maybe the question is not whether motherhood is harder for a movie star than it is for a mom who works 9 to 5. Maybe the question is this: What would happen if we let go of the need to compare at all? What would happen if we accept that motherhood is simply hard?
There is a much bigger narrative to the “Mommy Wars” than most of us will let on. Underneath the media’s quick reflex to label (and in doing so, dismiss) mothering “cat fights,” are actual women who face the real-life challenge of raising human beings.
Motherhood is one of the world’s greatest, most impossible, most beautiful tasks. We mothers must keep our children alive and safe. It is our job to give them a future, to help them flourish. Most of us do our best. Most of us still fail.
We come into motherhood feeling like imposters. Who am I to take that baby home from the hospital? Don’t the authorities know I have no clue what I’m doing?
We mothers are brave and weak, usually at the same time. We scream at our littlest ones. We stomp around the kitchen shushing the noise, frantic to accomplish all the tasks that must be done today. We bounce plump, milk-filled babies. We pump breast milk and cheer for first steps and first words. We potty train and sign permission slips, comfort the child who was left out at recess. We practice sight words with the new reader. And, somewhere in the daily chaos, we learn to pass our children, our dearest possessions, into the hands of another. We weep at school and daycare doorways, and leave for our jobs.
Who has it hardest? Whose work demands more?
We can divide ourselves into camps here. We know how to do that. Or, we can stop for a moment and acknowledge reality. Motherhood is hard for every mother. Motherhood is always hard.
I’m ready to try a different approach. So, to the mom who works late hours, who rarely has the privilege of tucking her babies into their beds, hear me say this: Motherhood is hard. To the mom with the flexible work schedule who dreads doing homework with her emotionally challenging child, hear me: Motherhood is hard.
To the mom with a capable nanny and the mom whose circumstances force her to leave a child with a caregiver she does not trust: Motherhood is hard.
To the stay at home mom who hides her own loneliness, who struggles to get her anxious self and her child out of the house today: Motherhood is hard.
To the working mom and the mom who needs work desperately. To the mom who longs to quit her job and stay home with her young children. To the mom in night classes after a full day’s work, striving to make her child’s life better. Let me say this: Motherhood is hard. To the mom who struggles with addiction and the mom longing to heal from past abuse, motherhood is hard.
Can we take a moment to look up, ladies? Can we catch one another’s eyes for a second here? We’re all fighting our own demons, ashamed of the version of ourselves that shows up when the sun goes down and the kids won’t listen. We’re all beautiful and brave and sometimes frail.
Look at this magnificent thing we accomplished today. We got our kids to school! We fed them! We bathed them! We sang songs. We laughed. We corrected. We prepared our kids for a day when we will not be beside them.
Look at you, administrative assistant at the construction company. You worked 9 to 5 and you still bought groceries and made dinner.
And look at you, actress with the charmed life. Underneath the ease of your outward luck, your life is still real. Your marriage is ending and still you’re working on the movie set. It’s difficult for us to imagine your pain, but still, for a moment, we see you. You love your kids like we do. It’s hard to be away from them, isn’t it?
And look at me, in my pajamas on the couch, writing this piece in a moment of quiet. My kids are asleep in the other room, the youngest coughing every few minutes. I’m chastising myself for not giving him his inhaler tonight. If only I’d done better. If only I were the mom I want to be.
Today I whined about how tired I am, even though I have a husband who supports my work and tucks my boys into their beds. Will you forgive me for complaining while my house stays warm and my little ones eat healthy food? Forgive me for saying I’m busier than you. I’m not. Every kid is challenging. Every season of motherhood is challenging. And you are doing your best, aren’t you?
So is Gwyneth, working and struggling through the end of her marriage, and protecting her kids from the media. It’s all hard, even if your legs are ten feet long and your hair is fashioned of golden silk.
We’re all imperfect. We try to hide our weaknesses and they roar up at us. But for a moment, let’s release the failures. Let’s stop comparing who has it hardest. Let’s choose compassion over competition. For a moment, let’s look at one another and shake our heads at the beauty and mystery of the task we’ve been given.
Well done, us.
Photo Credit: pedrosek via Flickr