Here it is again, the season of bouquets and brunches, of sappy cards and engraved bracelet charms: Mother’s Day.
This annual celebration is the appropriate occasion for me to admit that my feelings on motherhood have evolved with experience and that my role has changed over time. I still fret, yes. I still suffer through a sleepless night or two every year, but with adult children there is little for me to do but hang around.
I am now the Just in Case Mother. Just in case I’m needed to babysit the grandchildren. Just in case I’m asked to wait for the plumber. Just in case I can serve as a sounding board. Just in case I know a good handyman. Just in case I can pick up at the mechanic. Just in case I understand such and such and so and so. Just in case I own an extra whatever.
In short, motherhood for me now is less about the physicality of caring for the young and more about providing support to the grown, less about homework and birthday parties and more about career choices and networking events. As a result that trajectory has given me perspective and not just about my children specifically but also about motherhood in general.
So much has changed for mothers, yet, strangely enough, so much remains the same. I suspect that certain parts of parenting — the worry, the exhaustion, the tedium but also those pure moments of joy and pride — will always transcend generations. It comes, as they say, with the territory.
The change that concerns me, however, is this growing tendency to paint motherhood, all of it without disclaimer or discernment, as one of those awful experiences that must be trashed publicly for a greater glory. Perhaps this is a kind of backlash to a past era, when we glossed over the grit and grime of child-rearing in public while sharing the war stories only with a small circle of girlfriends.
But the pendulum has swung way over to the other side. These days you can’t go to a bookstore, or a movie theater, or a dinner party without being exposed to some horror story of how a baby upended a woman’s life — or, better said, lifestyle. In the beginning, I applauded this let-it-all-hang-out era of motherhood. What we had sniped about in private was now public, and it was overdue. Now … well, now, I’m nauseated by all the whining.
There’s been “this vertiginous pile of memoirs and novels” on every (horrific) angle of motherhood, notes New York Times critic Parul Sehgal, who goes on to detail the books’ subjects, from unexpected pregnancy to postpartum depression to creepy mom thrillers. Even the title of a new book captures the torment beautifully: “Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty.” It’s not just books, though, that pick at this unending angst. Charlize Theron plays a mom at wit’s end in “Tully,” a recently released movie described in one review as a “gut-punch.”
While many think these renditions of motherhood are new and refreshing, the reality is different. Tough tales about raising children have been shared in countless kitchens and playgrounds, perhaps even over ancient fires. Before there were gender-reveal parties, there were family-style baby showers where women shared unvarnished reality. The only difference these days is that streaming video and internet accessibility can amplify the motherhood blues — and, if done right, catapult the overwrought to fame and fortune.
I’m tempted to climb the mountain and shout out to young women, “Get over it, already. What you’re experiencing dates back to the cave-dwelling age.” But in the spirit of compassion, I won’t. Instead I’ll give them the benefit of hindsight.
This, too, shall pass — and it’ll go faster than you ever imagined.