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Jennifer Cowie King Headshot

Mommy Bravado and the Darkness of Motherhood

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Motherhood, it's complicated. It's easy to talk of the joys and wondrous moments. There are many, and they are indescribably luscious. But, there is a dark side to motherhood, and it has relevance, too. We don't talk about it, because it appears unseemly. Or worse, that any revelation of dissatisfaction means we lack the natural born, ever ready, always present... maternal instinct. What hurts us most is our Mommy Bravado. We have a need to look as if we know what we are doing at all times. When what we really need is to confess to another human being that we're flying by the seat of our well-worn pants, and may not make it through the day.

I have been a stay-at-home-mom for seven years. It was something I chose to do, and I was lucky to have the choice. Yet, it's been a struggle for me emotionally. At times, a quite desperate battle for self, because the work of a stay-at-home-mom is invisible. Our society does not put a value on family work. A stay-at-home-mom has no paychecks to cash or co-workers to high-five. In a world driven by money, the value of a paycheck cannot be overrated, and the resulting loss of self can be quite extraordinary.

If you are lucky, you don't let that feeling of invisibility take over. It is cloying and contains a howling darkness, a black hole whose reach is long and relentless. So, you cover yourself in the sweet, handmade notes of stick figures and wobbly letters -- proclamations of loving mommy forever. You sit on the side, heart in throat, watching your tiny daughter streaking across the pool. You're present to see the moment when your son recognizes that he's really good at building. Really good. You cook dinner, listening to your daughter reading aloud, because she can now. Her voice blending with the Star Wars theme song, hummed by your son in the next room. Those are the moments that keep you going.

Motherhood doesn't have exclusive rights to darkness. There is darkness to everything in life. But mothers should be allowed to talk about the lows and not be judged for it. I leaped into motherhood with eyes open, arms wide, and toes poised for landing. And, I fell on my ass, because parenthood is messy. Parenting is an adults-only club, and there are some days you don't want to be the grown-up. The "right" path is often unclear. You rely a lot on gut instinct. Sometimes you can sprint forward, but with children you also have to learn how to meander.

Somehow we need to give voice to all aspects of mothering. Motherhood is not a tidy little package. It is often mind numbing in its ordinariness. But, it's the Mommy Bravado that kills us. Our inability to talk about the dark side of motherhood perpetuates our isolation. We live in such denial that sometimes the only way we know how to break free is to jump on the back of a motorcycle and not look back.

My children are getting older, which enables me to stretch and grow in new ways. It will take a while, but I find myself sifting through the layers to look for myself again. Today, I am burrowing into the rediscovery of self. Tomorrow the loss of self will feel quite extraordinary. The ebb and flow is visceral. I try to remind myself that out of darkness comes light, and that light... turns into darkness. Such is the cycle of the world. But I gorge myself on the lightness, and often get side-swiped by the shadows. It is a stealthy ambush that leaves me contemplating my own feelings of isolation. Yet how much better would it be if we could talk about what's in the shadows...