The Unending Weariness of the Best Job


Originally published May 2016, republished here with the express permission of the author.

The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. The mother is something absolutely new.”
– Osho, Indian mystic and spiritual leader.

How many times do we hear that parenting—especially mothering—is a 24/7 job? The phrase rolls off our tongues and we associate some vague notion of “being on call” around the clock. And yet it is not so much a matter of “being on call” as it is “being called upon” 24 hours a day, every day of the week. If you doubt that, talk to a new mom devoted to the care of her newborn. And check back with her a few months later.

It’s an incredibly tiring, incredibly relentless, and incredibly wonderful existence. Let’s not even call it a job. “Job” implies some kind of application, an acceptance and hiring, a boss, a paycheck, and—gasp—vacation! One could argue that making a decision to have a child is a kind of application; that actually conceiving and delivering a baby is the official hiring; that the baby is, essentially, the boss; the paychecks are the smiles and positive responses to our efforts to please and care for this baby. But vacation? Really?

I remember many long days and nights as a young mother. I loved being a mom, I loved my kids, and I longed for a real break. Not the short respites provided by husband and family, perhaps long enough for a shower or maybe the luxury of a nap, but a real break.

But as soon as that baby enters your life and your heart, there is no way to simply say, “Okay, I think I’ll just not be a mom for the next day or so. You take over while I’m gone!” Even if you could find someone foolish enough to think he or she might fill in for you for a day, your baby knows better.

My idea of a real vacation when my kids were little was a trip back in time before they were born. I didn’t imagine that I’d need to stay for long, or that I wouldn’t want to come right back to the same point in time that I left. I just figured that as long as I was a mom, my kids would be with me in some fashion, inextricably locked in my heart and mind, regardless of whether they were in the next room or across the country.

And maybe those thoughts really weren’t helpful, as there is no “going back in time.” Time moves in one direction—I’m willing to accept that as a given. Most choices—including having a child—can’t be unchosen. That was never part of what I needed or wanted. I wanted to be a mother, freely chose to do so, and I needed my kids, and they needed me. My desire to make the clock turn backwards had nothing to do with unchoosing motherhood, and everything to do with just being tired.

As my children grew and became less dependent on me, my need to time travel diminished. I slowly regained my life, and my sense of “just me,” still tempered with “still mom.” I knew that this would happen, even on my weariest of days. I just didn’t know WHEN it would happen or HOW it might happen or even if it would make me feel wonderful or just wistful.

Women—mothers—are incredibly strong. They go through nine months of pregnancy with little clue as to what they’ve really gotten themselves into. They go through labor and delivery and recovery. And they commit themselves to those tiny beings they’ve brought into the world. Being strong and being committed should not carry with it the burden of always being happy about it. It’s okay to feel tired, angry, frustrated, alone—it’s also normal, and part of the human experience.

It’s also part of the human experience to share those frustrations for comfort and support. Women are good at this. We know the value of reciprocal comfort and support. We listen, we share, we commiserate, we celebrate. We find our mentors in those mothers who are ahead of us in the journey, and we become mentors for those not so far along. We don’t seek to solve one another’s problems, so much as to provide a safe haven for a common, shared experience. Maybe we provide a few tips and suggestions along the way: “have you tried this?” or “what about …” But mostly we just provide proof that even with—or despite—time’s unrelenting march forward, that the journey is indeed worth the challenge.

“We all need unconditional support, tenderness, cuddling, time, and attention, some of the time …When you are a mother, you do not stop needing some mothering.”
Paddy O’Brien

MELISSA CLARK VICKERS recently retired after nearly 28 years as an LLL Leader. She is the mother of two, grandmother of (soon-to-be) five, and helps edit the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) Mother Support for Breastfeeding newsletter. She also writes and edits for Family Voices, a non-profit organization dedicated to keeping families  -especially those with children with special health care needs – at the center of health care. She was honored to help LLL Founder Marian Tompson write her memoir, Passionate Journey—My Unexpected Life [2]. Melissa credits LLL for helping her parent according to her children’s needs, and sees that influence moving forward in how her own children parent their little ones.