It’s 3:30 in the morning and I haven’t slept. Another cup of coffee is sitting by my side, cooling as I laboriously finish another article and successfully meet another deadline. The dishes are finally put away, the laundry is haphazardly folded, the living room is relatively clean and my family is sleeping soundly in the next room; my son and his father’s faint snores can be heard in adorable unison.
I haven’t showered. I haven’t eaten. I haven’t had a moment of thoughtless silence. I haven’t been alone or experienced an ounce of personal space and no, I definitely haven’t felt like myself.
And when I share this sense of exhaustion and stress and overwhelming inadequacy with others, especially other mothers, I’m told that this is part of motherhood. In fact, more often than not, the same tales of exhaustion and borderline-insanity are shared with an odd sense of pride and accomplishment.
After all, this feeling — this displaced sense of selflessness — is what motherhood is all about.
I’m told that we're doing it right.
I, in my exhaustion and hunger and my devastated self-worth, am doing motherhood right.
And I'm told that if I really care about my family and their well-being, this feeling is bound to be a normal, every-day part of my life for the foreseeable future.
I will continue to be sacrificing to the point of insanity. Everything I do — from my career to my house work to my personal choices to my impending purchases to the tiny details in between — should be, and will be, for the betterment of my family.
I will constantly remind myself that it just isn’t about me anymore and if — for some horrible, selfish reason — I end up making it about me, I am hurting my son and my partner and the family we have created.
But in this moment, at 3:30 in the morning with another cup of coffee and another deadline looming and another endless list of necessities I just have to complete to feel successful, I’m wondering why?
Why do we treat motherhood like martyrdom?
Why is it that we have convinced women that being a decent mother means engaging in what can only be described as carefully calculated self-destruction?
Why does the deterioration of mental and physical health stand as a benchmark of parenting success, even if it is presented as a joke or a hilarious part of parenthood?
Why do my friends — hell, even myself — carry around our fatigue like badges of honor, worn by veterans of a war we are destined to continue, day in and day out?
So, in this moment at 3:30 in the morning, I have decided enough is enough.
Mothers don’t need tips on how to continue to push themselves to a limit they would only actively avoid if they did, in fact, reach it.
Mothers don’t need “time savers” or “organizational tools” to squeeze every second out of their day, when not a single one of those exhausted seconds will be spent on themselves.
Mothers don’t need to be told that forgetting who they are or ignoring what they need or deciding they are of no importance, somehow makes them better mothers.
Mother’s don’t need to be convinced that losing their sense of self is indicative of their undying devotion or unfathomable love.
Mother’s don’t need to believe that “living their life for their family” makes them more responsible, more loving, or more caring parents.
Instead, mothers need to be reminded that they cannot take care of anyone if they don’t take care of themselves first.
Mothers need to be told that it is okay to be selfish. In fact, an act of selfishness could not only benefit them, but their entirely family.
Mothers need to be reminded that their personal happiness will only aid their family, for it is their laughter and prosperity and exhilaration that can create an environment where their family is sure to thrive.
Mothers need to be assured that having something outside of their families — a hobby, a career, baby-free friends, a moment of celebrated silence — is not only something that is vital to their mental and physical well-being, but something they just plain deserve.
Mothers need to be okay with having a life that is lived for them, and while taking care of and nourishing and providing for their family might be a big part of that life, that life is still their own.
It’s 3:30 in the morning and I feel rejuvenated. Not because of the fourth cup of coffee I just had, or the sense of accomplishment I feel after meeting my final deadline, but because I have decided that my happiness is just as important as my son’s or my partner’s.
It's because I've finally realized that I’m a mom. Not a martyr.