I once spent a month keeping a dead praying mantis in a shoe box as a “pet” for my five-year-old son. We’d all pretend to feed it and play with it, and we even constructed a playground so it could get plenty of exercise. At one point I had to glue it back together when its brittle carcass split in half. For that month, the dead praying mantis was part of our family.
Every mom has a dead praying mantis story. We think nothing of trekking to the ends of the earth to protect the innocent hearts of our children. But for every tender dead bug moment there are moments of guilt, desperation, and the relentless pressure to always be doing more.
Motherhood is so rewarding, but… why does it feel so hard?
Because it is. And for the sake of our own sanity, we need to stop gaslighting ourselves about it. The pervasiveness of technology, our advanced understanding of child development, greater awareness of mental health, a sharper focus on inclusion, our volatile relationship with social media… It’s all created distinct challenges for raising happy, healthy children. I think it’s helpful for the moms who are currently in the thick of parenting to recognize we're facing obstacles that our Boomer parents didn’t.
“The last ten years have brought extraordinary changes to the difficult and rewarding work of parenting,” says Laura Clark, editorial director of Mom.com. Sure, with each new era come challenges that uniquely impact being a mom: war, the women's rights movement, the invention of the television. But as a member of the Oregon Trail micro-generation – sandwiched between the cynicism of Gen X and the optimism of Millennials – it’s very on brand for me to claim that it’s harder to be a mom now than ever before in history.
Here are the primary reasons modern-day momming is significantly more difficult:
Moms are older. Women are becoming mothers much later in life, and despite what biology tells us, I think it’s a beautiful thing to unapologetically “do you” before having children. I had my first child eight years later than my mom had me. She moved directly from her parents’ home into her home with my dad, whereas I spent my twenties earning my degrees, establishing a career, traveling the world, and relocating multiple times. When I got married and planted roots in my thirties, the transition to motherhood was jarring. Modern moms have a wider jump between seasons of life, and we’re slower and more tired while we’re doing it.
We can’t stop sharenting. We all want to feel confident in our choices as mothers. It’s a strong part of our identity, and as humans we care what others think of us. Yet we habitually set ourselves up for criticism with every milestone photo and video we share with our social networks. I caught myself literally deleting a photo of my son eating ice cream in the car for fear of the persecution I might receive if the car seat straps weren’t properly placed. These online forums can be a great source of support, connection, and information, but they’re a slippery slope that can be harmful to our self-worth. No one is holding my feet to the fire, but… [shares adorable photo captioned “#boymom”]… I wonder if motherhood would be a better experience for me if I didn’t know about clean sunscreens, the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding, or the Pinterest-perfect birthday parties. Then I could just focus on fiercely loving my kids.
Our village looks different. Speaking of parent communities, I was told there would be a village... I love the notion that it’s the responsibility of the entire community to wrap its arms around the next generation. But the ways people outside the nuclear family interact with our kids looks a lot different than it did when our parents were growing up. In 1960’s suburbia, all the neighborhood moms knew one another and everyone else’s children. You could trust that when your child left the house, everyone from the corner butcher to Jimmy’s mommy down the block would look after them. The days when kids could pedal away on their bikes in the morning and return when the streetlights came on have been replaced with fears of abduction, sports and activities, and more transient neighborhood residents.
Because I’m an older mom, I inadvertently spent my pre-mom days making decisions that have made a traditional village less accessible. For instance, I relocated several times until landing in a trendy urban neighborhood dotted with beautiful city parks and busy six-way intersections. As a result, my neighbors are a mix of families, college kids, and random renters; my family and friends are sprinkled across multiple states; and my kids can’t leave the house without adult supervision due to traffic and crime. I love my village, but it’s less hands-on than the village that raised me.
There’s more economic anxiety. Every generation wants their children to have more than they had, whether that means wealth, opportunity, options, inclusion, or all of the above. But for the first time in recent history, it’s as likely as not that our kids will be less prosperous than us. Stagnant wages, a broken healthcare system, and the personal cost of education have created a parent rat race. We’re aggressively thrusting our kids toward our vision of success to cope with our own economic angst. My boys are just starting their education journey, and I’m already overwhelmed. The popular opinion suggests that it’s my job as a mom to forcibly secure my kids’ future, and the stakes are high if I screw it up.
We set ourselves up for failure. I recently learned that the word “parent” wasn’t used as a verb until the 1970’s when parenting books became all the rage. From there sprouted helicopter, lawnmower, tiger, attachment, and free-range styles, indicating there’s a right and wrong way to do things. And now in 2021, the previously mentioned factors – moms are older, the perils of social media, a more remote village, economic anxiety – have been the perfect storm for the prevailing trend called intensive parenting: child-centered, time-intensive, financially indulgent parenting that’s basically impossible to achieve without feeling like you’re running on a hamster wheel.
My point here is not to vent or complain, but to recognize and adjust. I had children to bring more meaning and purpose to my life. I knew it would be hard, but I didn't anticipate how external forces and seemingly unrelated life choices could have such a profound impact on my experience as a mom. When I start to question whether I'm doing enough for my kids, I get back to basics:
- My kids feel safe and loved
- Quality time apart is just as important as quality time together
- Spending time outside can be just as valuable as spending money on lessons, sports, and activities
- Inclusion is a better quality to nurture than competition; it’ll make them more successful adults and it’s less labor-intensive for me
- Nothing in life is guaranteed
- Being a martyr will not make my kids’ lives better
- The only prize for best mom is enjoying the journey
To all the moms out there, I’ll be bold and say that if you ever question whether you’re a good mom, you’re a GREAT mom. We’re all riddled with self-doubt and the sense that it could all just fall apart, so find comfort – and maybe some vindication – knowing there are real reasons modern motherhood feels so hard. Don’t miss out on enjoying yourself along the way.