Mother of One

It seems that there is always something, something, something that women feel guilty about. Or, worse yet, are made to feel guilty about. (A great line from a fascinating New Yorker article on parenthood observes: “all the mothers want forgiveness; all the fathers want applause.”)

Being single, being childless, staying home, working, working too much, living in a messy house, cooking prepackaged meals, letting kids watch TV, andonandonandonandonandon…

Lately, my potential guilt-causing thoughts have been moving to the fact that, in all likelihood, I’m going to be the biological mother of one child. And since, psychologically, more than an 8-year gap between siblings (my step-daughter Rebecca is almost 16) means they turn out like “only” children, it is the reality I have to ponder for myself and Annie.

These past six weeks in Canada have brought a lot of contact with my many friends. (I am rich and blessed in that life department.) And many of these friends are moms who had their first child around the time Annie was born, and went on to have a second. I’ve heard more than once on this trip something like: “I thought one child was hard, but it is a piece of cake compared to having two.”

And a few weeks ago, when I was having one of my mommy pangs and asked  Markus, mostly jokingly, if we should have another, he said with a slight laugh: “I’m not sure you couldn’t handle more than one child.” Despite the fact that this is a very painful thing to hear from one’s partner, it doesn’t make it any less true.

I also very accidentally stumbled on a horrible blog post a couple of months ago (by clicking on a ubiquitous Blogher ad) that railed on about how people should either have no children or more than one, because parents of only children are overprotective, pushy, perfectionists, blah, blah, blah.

I like to tell myself that, should I become pregnant again despite our best prophylactic measures, I would still be a good mom to both my children. I would rise to the occasion and, though complaining often (I was a chronic complainer long before motherhood was bestowed upon me), my kids would grow up loved and relatively normal.

And honestly, I don’t think I’m kidding myself about that. But being over 40 as well as having been told any further pregnancies would be considered high-risk due to my placenta issues after Annie’s birth, I also have to admit that raising a high-needs child might be more than I could handle. The constant time and attention a high-needs child requires would, I think, send me spiraling into depression. I’ve seen moms of these children, amazing, loving, energetic women, and I don’t see myself in them. Maybe I’m underselling myself. Maybe not.

That leaves adopting, which, although I love the idea, doesn’t really seem to be in Markus’ and my future.

So it looks like I will be raising one child. (I don’t feel like I raised Rebecca, as she has two very loving and involved parents…although I do hope I’m avoiding the evil step-mother archetype.)

And frankly, oddly, interestingly, I’ve come to the conclusion (at least for now) that I feel pretty good about that. I’m an intense introvert, in that the only way my battery is recharged is to be completely alone for long stretches of time. I don’t enjoy the basics of running a household. I can’t be a stay-at-home mom, so need to pay for daycare. My stress level goes up when there is too much noise (of any kind, but particularly yelling.) Annie adores Rebecca and will have her to share her adult life with, if not her childhood. I still have a double-shot at grandchildren, which I think will be totally awesome. (Rebecca is an experienced superstar at accepting every single definition of “grandparent”, so I feel confident that I can be involved in her children’s lives.) And, perhaps most importantly, I feel like I’m being a good mother to Annie. Not perfect, maybe not even great, but right now, with one child to raise, I’m confident that I fall into the good mother category. (Thanks, Stacey, for the positive reinforcement of that during my stay in your beautiful home.)

But what all of these comments and articles and thinking has made me realize, is that parenting Annie since she has turned three-years-old, is, in fact, fairly (or should I say relatively?) easy. I loved the first 10 months on maternity leave (although wouldn’t have called it easy), had a very, very…very…hard time being a parent when Annie was two (not all due to Annie, but also external life circumstances compounding parenthood). But these last few months, I gotta say, have been much less challenging. Not every second, not even every day, but overall I have to admit it isn’t that tough. First and foremost, Markus is an amazing and involved father, and often takes Annie alone for dad/daughter time. (Oh, how I missed that these past 6 weeks!!) As well, Annie is a ridiculously happy child who spends most of her life laughing, running, singing and begging to be tickled. Pouting and crying almost never last more than one or two minutes. Her high, high energy can be expended in many ways, as she is open to almost all experiences. I love it when she is in daycare a few hours a day, and she loves it when she is in daycare a few hours a day. When I can’t reason with her (sometimes I can!), bribing almost always works. And, putting guilty feelings aside, when I need a break or want to get something done she is very open to watching TV. Now I know everything in childhood is a phase, and Annie could wake up tomorrow a miserable, difficult child for the next six months, but I certainly can’t say that about her at this time in her life.

I get the feeling, because I have had the exact same thoughts, that many people see life as a contest. Whoever is the busiest or makes it through the hardest times or rises to the most difficult life challenge wins. If someone comments how easy it is with one child, my reaction is always to think or say something like: “well, you have family nearby, or you have lots of money, or you have [insert excuse why I can claim that my life is just as difficult.]” I actually talk myself into thinking my life is sooooooo hard. I really think that it is time to let that go. I don’t need to believe this life is that kind of (con)test and even if it is, I’m O.K. if I don’t win. (You people, all you commenters who want me to know  you are superstars because you have more challenges than me, you win. Because, in honest-to-goodness fact, I think you are superstars too. Good job!) What I do need to do is complain less, appreciate my life more, accept myself and other people for who they are, and love my family. Not easily done, but I’m going to start putting in more time working on just that. And the next time a friend asks how is it going with Annie, I’m going to say: “Delightful, thank you. Now tell me about your parenting troubles. Right now I’ve got lots of time and energy to listen.”

5 Responses to “Mother of One”

  1. Ant says:

    Oh my gosh Hillary – so well put! You should write a book!
    I identify with so much you said – I wish you well and truly wish that this next year is easier for you and your family!!

  2. Lesli says:

    First of all, got your message and will call you today – not sure we can get together but let’s try!

    As for this post, boy do I hear you – but from the other perspective. As a single, childless 40-something (with no immediate prospects for change in either), I’ve come to terms with the likelihood that I won’t have my own biological child. I’m fine with that – I never did have that genetic “baby beacon” that other folks do.

    Here’s what I do know about: thinking my life is sooo hard. Thinking that moms and parents generally have it worse off than I do (which basically drove me to put my friends with children’s needs first before my own for much longer than I care to admit). Feeling guilty because I do/don’t have what other women my age do/don’t have.

    The grass is always greener, and no one is as perfect as they appear to be from a distance. We’re all just doing our best to get by, we’re all questioning the decisions we could’ve/shoud’ve/did make and how they’ve played out in our lives so far.

    Stop beating yourself and point your compass towards the future you’d like to have. And go with me to Berlin next year when I (hope to be) in Europe (if I’m not getting married/having a baby/buying a condo/starting a business/am too busy/am not busy enough….) xo Les

  3. Lori says:

    Ahhhhh, the power of reflection. Right on, Hils … some great things on which to focus in the coming months. And I agree with Stacey … you are a VERY good mom. Annie is thriving and that says a lot about you & Markus, as individuals and as a parenting unit.

    PS … life with Matheson is also delightful, and I’m loving every minute of it!

  4. beth says:

    i’m taking a page from your book. so well said hilary. i had two kids – it wasn’t hard or easy – there were some real hard times (first child had colic) and real easy times (2nd child didn’t) and those have come and gone through the years. parenting teenagers is wonderful and challenging and but not harder compared to someone else or easier, its just what it is. i get as much inspiration to be the best i can be from mum’s with pre-schoolers as i get from mums with teenagers.

    I’ve felt like its a contest too sometimes, through the years… two kids are way easier than three. girls are way easier than boys until they are teenagers then boys are way easier. huge familes are more fun…single children get such great undivided attention and really flourish. it doesn’t seem to matter what i have done or what i haven’t done, there is always someone out there who is either winning because they are having more fun than me or winning cuz they are have less fun than I am…

    no child will ever have it all – that’s why its so cool. they will compare notes with their friends and learn from them and make whatever decisions for their own families later on. my only wish is they look back at their childhood fondly and learn from that.

  5. Hillary says:

    Wow…what brilliant and insightful comments! Thanks for all of your thoughts and feedback.