Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Just asking

Ever since Swee'pea was born, people, acquaintances mostly, and sometimes barely that, have asked me, "So, how do you like motherhood?" or "So, are you enjoying motherhood?"

I never know how to answer.

Motherhood seems way too intense and all-consuming for such mild words as like and enjoy. These questions make it sound like motherhood is a passtime, something you can pick up and put down at your whim, something you can use to while away a few hours on a rainy afternoon, then pack away into a cupboard until the next rainy day. I think motherhood is much more like a calling, a vocation; something you commit your life to, for better or for worse (and there will definitely be both).

Even if I overlook the poor word choice, and try to answer simply, I don't know how.

I just don't get what they're really asking. If they were really asking whether I like being a mother, they can't actually expect me to answer anything but yes. I mean, if I didn't like it, would I choose to confide that in the grocery line-up? To a passing acquaintance? Am I really gonna say, "No... I'd sort of like to give the kid back."?

I can't quite say I like motherhood. I LOVE being Swee'pea's mother, but the actual job is messy and intense and exhausting. It's the hardest yet most joyous and amazing thing I've ever done. And since it's always acquaintances I haven't seen since I was pregnant who are asking, I don't quite feel comfortable explaining all that.

As Mad says, "Having a kid has changed just about every thought I have and just about everything I do--not in an infantalized happy Mommy sort-of way but in a cranium-exploding in a million shards of light sort of way."

I was not prepared for this kind of change in me. I spent all of my pregnancy focusing on the birth of the baby that it never occurred to me to expect my own rebirth, as a mother. I figured we'd slot the baby into our lives and away we'd go. We have done this, I suppose, to some extent, but I really had no idea of just how much our universe would shift.

I guess the simple, and perhaps expected answer, is, "Yes, thanks. And how are you?" but that feels like a lie at worst (and like Bubandpie I can't lie) or an oversimplification at best. I feel like if I just answer yes, then I'm minimizing what it is to be a mother. Which could in turn contribute to the devaluation of mothers. If I act like everything is not only fine, but easy and likeable, I'm not helping other mothers who may be struggling, not doing anything to combat the idealization of motherhood...

Or am I overthinking this? Does anyone else struggle with this question or have a better understanding of what's expected?


Mary G said...

I've had the question. I think it's like 'how are you' in that the answer expected is positive, and the asker is not very articulate and trying to relate to you in a clumsy way.

Depending on who is asking, you could:
1.) make up a stock one sentence answer that rings true to you, or
2.) ask a question back, something like 'How long do you have to listen?'
3.) Just say 'I love it, but I'm tired.'

I had two kids in fifteen months, and people would ask me 'How do you manage?' The true answer was 'Not as well as I thought I could.' But I usually went with #3.

I love how you're examining what you feel and how you're writing about it.

Kyla said...

I'll usually say "Well, it certainly keeps me on my toes!" or "There's never a dull moment anymore!"

I struggle when people ask me, on the fly, how my daughter is. There isn't an easy short answer and I doubt they really want the whole thing. *lol*

NotSoSage said...

Ah, crap. I just wrote this long comment and Blogger ate it. Blogger is hungry these days.

The short version: I try to gauge whether the person really wants to know or whether they're just being polite. If they're just being polite I say, "It's amazing." (Not, "It's amazing!" But with awe and maybe a shake of my head.) That way I'm not lying and they can take it whatever way they like. I'm sure most think it means "It's great!" But some get it.

NotSoSage said...

Oh, the last part of the swallowed comment was, "I love your brain."

bubandpie said...

Awesome post. I love Mary G's second option - and you could modifying, depending on how much of a deterrent you want, like, "How many hours have you got?"

banana said...

what if you just figure out one true thing to say and stick with that? like, I love being Swee'pea's Mom.
Truthful and does not undervalue.

I would also say that though I am sure many people expect a positive quick answer, I am sure some are really curious as to how you like it - some people take to aspects of motherhood differently - maybe you could think of what you would want to pass on and say that?

metro mama said...

It's a stupid question. Try responding with, "it sucks, I hate it" and see what they say.

Mad Hatter said...

Oooo, I think Metro Mama is on to something.

I sometimes reply, "it's the toughest job I've ever undertaken and I don't know yet is the project will be a success." Pause "And, yes, I love my daughter to bits."

Great post, Sin.

Aliki2006 said...

I do think it's a bad question. I hate questions that really need long and detailed answers yet the question-asker is looking only for a pat sentence or two.

Do I like being a mother in general? Sometimes yes, many times, no. It's hard work and I've given up a lot of myself in the process. Would I do it over again? Yes! Yes! I love being a mother to *my* kids--I love being a mother AND a parent. I love seeing what parenting has done for the two of us.

What would I say to that flippant question? I would answer "yes--I am enjoying the challenges of parenting."

Beck said...

I always just say "Who wouldn't love this?" while gesturing at my child. It nicely sidesteps the "ARE YOU DELIRIOUS WITH JOY?" part of the question, while emphasizing that I could not be more pleased with my many, many children.

Jennifer said...

My kids are now 12 and 13 years old (not months, where has the time gone!) and I still find myself pondering the same issues. Being a mother is my largest, most important role, yet sometimes it seems to have subsumed the rest of my personality. This doesn't seem to be such an issue for men, for example, I wonder if men even get asked how they are enjoying fatherhood?

cinnamon gurl said...

Yes, I asked Sugar Daddy before I posted. He does get asked, though maybe not as much. And he trots out something like it's hard but rewarding.

Mimi said...

Sweet Jesus YES I think about this ALL THE TIME. Sorry for the shouting. I think this is really important. You're exactly right that of course you can only answer 'yes' but it's kind of a lie in a way, and it does trivialize the godawful upside-down throwness that is that transition from not-mom to mom.

I'm reeling, thanks for asking.

I love her and thank god I do because some days she's not very likable?

She's great and I'm trying to live up to her?

I have never laughed so hard or cried so much in my whole life?

Everything is new and wonderful but I'm so so tired?

Hm. Good luck. If you figure it out, please let me know, ok?

Mimi said...

oh ... and I'm doing the music meme tomorrow. i've been figuring it out.

Mad Hatter said...


jen said...

you nailed it. it's not even an appropriate question.

i've been asked that, and i've responded with, define like? i like cake, is that what you mean?

not as friendly, but you can't small talk about motherhood like that.