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Donna Highfill Headshot

Motherhood, Apple Pie and Manipulation

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Let me begin with my honest but necessary motherhood disclaimer -- I love my two children with my entire heart, even though my daughter told me when she was little that I only got a piece of her heart because she had to save the rest for others.

I think my children are miracles and will always be the best thing I've ever contributed to this crazy world. Like others, I believe that children are the future, etc.

I also believe that motherhood is a state falsely glorified by Hallmark and Mother's Day. The actual holiday was birthed in 1908 by a woman, Anna Jarvis, when she held a memorial for her deceased mother and then lobbied for recognition of all moms. Yes, her mother was already dead. Sometimes, the gifts we receive on Mother's Day might make the rest of us wish for the same.

The entire marketing push that comes with motherhood took me by surprise when I gave birth to my son.

It began with the La Leche league, a well-meaning group of women who let you know that if you don't breastfeed your baby, you might as well be Norma Bates. Actually, I bet Norma fed Norman Bates for an extraordinarily long time.

I agree that breastfeeding is good for your baby, but I don't appreciate the guilt that was piled on me in the hospital by woman who kept coming by my room and fondling my breasts. And I didn't even get a free dinner out of it. Instead, I was supposed to provide the meal.

Guilt grew as my son became a toddler. My then-husband's family was wonderful, but none of the sister-in-laws worked outside of the home. I kind of enjoyed working; I'd been doing it since I was 14 years old. I compromised by turning my current full-time job into a part-time job.

This action resulted in snide comments from other mothers who didn't work. Wow, I could never, EVER leave my baby with anybody. I'm so tremendously grateful that I can be at home with my children.

The working mothers resented me for another reason entirely. Wow, I can't believe you get to be with your son 2.5 days a week. You are SO lucky.

I was lost in this no man's land of complete guilt. Motherhood was a bitch.

Once I got pregnant with my daughter, I made the women who didn't work outside the home extremely happy by quitting my part-time job. For almost two years, I put all of my time into raising children, and most of the time it was wonderful. Other times, I wanted to slit my wrists.

My despair was driven by conversations with other mothers who could talk about their child's loose stools for hours or the fact that their sweet little angel only took a one-hour nap yesterday as opposed to the normal three-hour nap they took each afternoon.

Neither of my children napped. When I shared this information with other women, I was accused of not setting a regular schedule and was told that this would eventually really screw my kids up. I mistakenly thought being at home would give me some kind of motherhood judgment immunity, but it only made it worse.

I spent my days fixing meals and snacks, wiping down counters and bottoms, taking the kids out for a walk to 7-11 and reading Goodnight Moon and Hop On Pop until I would get them confused and end up saying goodnight to Pop and quietly whisper hush while hopping. Once all of this was done, I would try to figure out what I was going to do for the rest of the day, because it was only 10:00 am.

Grocery stores were the worst, because the kids would be tired and hungry and would develop a desperate need at the cash register for a pack of gum, a mini-flashlight or Triple A batteries.

And the cashier would inevitably say, I wish I could be home with my kids. Just as I was about to hand them over and congratulate the cashier on her new family, my kids would quit crying and we would wander out to the car to drive by the house that we drove by every day because it looked like a castle and it took five additional minutes off the clock.

So, forgive me if I'm not just wowed by the marketing of motherhood. Men have gotten more involved, but women still do most of the cooking and laundry and accept blame for everything that goes wrong with the kids while fathers get credit for their strength or sense of humor or success.

If Hallmark wrote honest cards for moms, they would read like this:

To Our Mother
Thank you for wiping counters and ass,
Thank you for releasing any semblance of class,
Thank you for staying awake without sleep,
Thank you for not calling my best friend a creep,
Thank you for hopping on pop once a week,
Thank you for ignoring the solace you seek,
Thank you for reading us story after story,
And accepting a job that takes guts without glory.

Yes, I love my children, but motherhood is not the same thing as being a mom. Motherhood is a state created by guilt and judgment and is reinforced once a year with bad breakfasts and corsages.

Women, if you love your kids, but aren't so crazy about the state of being a mother, don't feel guilty.

Because it's the toughest job you'll ever do, and it doesn't need to be as tough as it is. Others around you have arms and legs, and can pitch in. Other mothers don't get a right to judge what you do. Remember, they're secretly as miserable and tired as you are.

Stand tall and repeat after me:

I love my children, but if you insist that I love the 24-hour a day state of guilt and activity and exhaustion called motherhood, then I'm going to show you what a mother I can be.

There -- I feel much better.