07/24/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Bliss Myth: Cut the Crap, Mommies

When I was pregnant for the first time, I was accosted by women of all ages with all manner of predictions, most of which boiled down to the promise: "Motherhood is bliss."

I have one thing to say to these women: cut the crap, Mommies.

I encountered the same thing after giving birth. "Isn't it the best?" strolling mothers would swoon.

Please. Gag me with a spoon.

Four years into my own experience as a mother, I finally know the truth: mothers of young children are not in a state of bliss; they are in a state of chaos. If you are a working mother, change "chaos" to "crisis."

I, for one, have struggled enormously to juggle mothering and my career. I have felt bliss on one or two occasions, when I finally lost the baby weight (two years after my first was born), when I first gazed into the eyes of my second, and when my partner and I had sex for the first time (six months after I delivered). But the emotion I have felt most frequently is guilt. When I'm working, I feel guilty for shortchanging my kids. When I'm with my kids, I feel guilty for shortchanging my job. The guilt is all-consuming, incessant, oppressive. The feeling of being rushed, late, frazzled is constant. The transition between work and home is as graceful as the gearshift on a '76 Jeep. I am only truly at peace when my kids are asleep.

A recent visit with family summed up the situation. I was enjoying a Saturday brunch with my father and my kids when my cell phone rang with an important work call. I attempted to leave my kids with my dad and escape to a nearby bathroom. But the escape was thwarted by my four-year-old daughter who, seconds before, had discovered an abandoned toy xylophone at a nearby table. My whispered pleas for silence failed, as did frantic jabs at the mute button. Simultaneously, my one-year-old son, whom I'd hastily thrust in his grandfather's arms, began to wail. With the fail-proof logic of the desperate, I resolved to enclose all three of us in the nearest bathroom.

I completed the call, both kids in tow, in the women's bathroom, mustering my most professional voice and muting the phone at strategic moments. At one point, the baby, desperate for freedom, lost it again, at which point I decided the best recourse was to set him on the bathroom floor. The disaster was scored by my increasingly shrill voice, my four-year-old's impromptu xylophone concert, and the baby's discovery of the toilet's flush. Wholly defeated, I hung up the phone and attempted to sanitize my children.

Isn't it the best??!!!

No, it's not!

So, why the elaborate spin-job, the culture-wide cover-up? I turned to other mothers, hopeful they would level with me. When I asked my working mom friends, 'do you ever regret working?', every one responded with a resounding 'no'. They wouldn't have it any other way. One confided she had hated play-dates so much that even during a stint away from work, she had sent her nanny in her stead. Another shuddered at the monotony of the playground, confiding the rhythmic screech of the swings put her into a trance. Another confessed she'd nearly bedded the family dentist, so frequent were their visits. Each one described the toll taken on their sanity, looks, marriages, but none yearned for the alternative. And every one claimed to know a stay-at-home mom who regretted leaving her job.

A casual poll of my stay-at-home friends yielded a similar result. Though these women complained of less frenzy, and arguably looked better, they expressed the same satisfaction with their choice. And they conveyed the same mild condescension for working women that they had expressed for them. One confided she'd spent her time at work staring at her baby's photo, escaping to the ladies' room to weep into her breast pump. Another boasted she accomplished more when she finally left the office. All had come to see the rat race to be just
that, deeply unfulfilling. Each enjoyed the satisfaction that she'd done right by her children. And every one claimed to know a working mom who regretted missing the time when her children were little.

So, if moms of all types express these frustrations behind closed doors, why do they give the party line when we're in public? Why not acknowledge that frustration, boredom, guilt, and ambivalence are universal, unavoidable facets of motherhood? Sharing will make us better and happier mothers, affording women the comfort of community and the benefit of shared information -- the very tools we need to transcend motherhood's challenges. Let's trade tips, not lies: pack your diaper bag the night before, put carrots out before dinner, cut paper dolls out of old book jackets, work out in the morning.

And let's lose the shame we feel when confronted with the blissed-out set.

Then we could answer honestly for a change.

"Isn't it the best???!!"

Well, yes. And no. But stop faking!