Being A Mother Is Harder Than I Thought

By Melodee

My daughter is four and a half. As the youngest child and only girl in my family, she exerts her will on her brothers by crying. She sobs, weeps and screams, in fact, which punctures my eardrums and spins my head on my neck. Her brothers, ages 14, 14 and 9, cannot remember being four years old. They can’t remember being irrational or whiny or unreasonable. They demand that she act fairly, adhere to rules, and never follow them around. They accuse me of letting her get away with everything. They critique my parenting and offer me parenting tips.

They cannot get along with her. So she cries.

This dynamic is driving me nuts.

They whisper insults just to get her goat. She wails. I holler. They protest. She sobs. I lecture. They comply. She stops. Until the next time.

I am a terrible mother, no doubt about it. I thought I would be a dandy mother, a singing in the kitchen, humming under my breath, eye-crinkling, smiling at all times mother.

But then again, I thought I’d give birth to Jo, Beth, Meg and Amy and we’d embroider, play sonatas on the piano and converse in quiet tones about Papa. (In lilting British accents.) I would have been a magnificent mother to reasonable, sane, creative, gentle girls. (I would. Don’t argue with me.)

But I am the mother of whiners and kids who stink. I am the mother of children who have the temerity to point out my faults to me. I am the mother of children who sass me and question my authority on the basis of my flawed human judgment. I am the mother of boys who are digging a coffin-sized hole in my backyard, the mother of a barefoot daughter who refuses shoes outside even on forty-five degree rainy days. I am the mother of children with no interest in contemplation, meditation or quietness. And they leave wet towels and inside-out underpants on the floor.

I am a mother with chipped edges and missing parts, a mother without a map who wonders if she should retreat rather than forge ahead. I am a mother with no clue if I’m doing all right or if I am destroying my children with my temper tantrums.

Tonight I thought of that sunny afternoon in September of 1989 when my dad beckoned my sisters and me into his brown-toned living room. He sat in the rocking chair. Terror filled me because we were not a family who had family meetings or sat around chatting. This meeting must have a purpose and that purpose would be bad. I knew in my thumping heart.

The sun rays striped a horizontal pattern on the carpet. My dad took off his glasses, swiped a hand over his balding head and face. His hands were always rough, his fingertips so dry they cracked and sometimes, I’d say, “What did you do to your hand?” and he’d shrug and say, “I don’t know.” I couldn’t imagine not knowing why I bled, but now I’m a mother. My hands are dry and sometimes, I find a streak of blood and I have no idea why. I don’t even notice the pain.

He began at the beginning, describing the time he couldn’t read some writing. This puzzling event led him to the ophthalmologist, who sent him immediately to a neurologist who ordered tests which revealed a brain tumor. That news resulted in a grim prognosis: four months to two years.
Then he crumpled, broke down and sobbed. I circled his shoulders in an awkward hug–we were not a hugging family, but this news demanded a hug, even an awkward one. Some time passed while we all cried.

When we stopped, he mentioned a hidden two-pound bag of M&Ms. We tore it open and ate M&Ms in defiance of his impending death.

I wondered for the first time tonight if he wasn’t crying for himself. I don’t think he feared death at all. But as a father, did he look at us and see orphans, victims of his cancer? He knew we’d suffer the loss, that we’d be broken, that we’d have to find our way through his illness, his death, his funeral, the grieving, the unknown.

He’d miss meeting his grandchildren, reaching retirement, and pleasures of vibrant colors of autumn, Kringle at Christmas-time, hot-fudge sundaes, bratwurst you could only buy in Wisconsin. But beyond that, he was a father. Did he cry because he knew his death would cut us to the bone? Did he cry for himself? Or did he cry for us?

Almost twenty years later, I wonder.

What shocks me is how keenly I feel the loss of him the older I get. He was the guardrail, keeping me on the road, protecting me from falling off a cliff. And although I can stay on the road without a guardrail, I drive so much more carefully, I worry so much more, I fear sliding off the road. I resent the fact that my father was taken from me when he was so young, while I was so young, just when we were getting the hang of being father and daughter.

Maybe this has nothing to do with feeling feel like a substandard mother on days like today when I said too often, “Please! Go play!” and rushed to judgment instead of investigating the crying.

Being a parent is hard. I thought that my parents were just not very good at parenting, but as it turns out, they did the best they could under the circumstances. The job itself is difficult. Especially when you aren’t parenting little women, but real kids who forget to brush their teeth unless you steer them into the bathroom and point at the toothbrush.

Melodee can also be found writing at Actual Unretouched Photo.

20 Responses to Being A Mother Is Harder Than I Thought
  1. Hannah
    August 31, 2008 | 12:21 am

    Wow, I so appreciate your honesty, especially because I imagine many of us feel this way often (I know I do). Your post was brave and raw and beautiful all at once.

    The incident with your dad reminded me so much of the family meeting we had when my dad broke the news to us that he had ALS (Lou Gehrig’s), with a similar prognosis.

    I don’t know what to say to comfort you, but thank you for sharing.

  2. Stephanie
    August 31, 2008 | 1:27 am

    Oh Mel, I love this post.


  3. Janice (5 Minutes for Mom)
    August 31, 2008 | 1:30 am

    Oh yes I agree Steph. I just love this post.

    And wow – does it make me feel so much better that I am not the only one who feels this way.

  4. SarahHub
    August 31, 2008 | 9:17 am

    This post was wonderful.

    I’m sorry for the loss of your father.

    I often feel the same way as a mother. It’s such a wonderful and difficult job. I know my daughter will one day judge my performance, as I judged my own mother.

    But then she’ll have children of her own, and she’ll suddenly understand. I am human, but I love her fiercely.

  5. Lucrecia
    August 31, 2008 | 10:53 am

    Wonderfully written! I can relate to the out of control feeling of having know it all teens as well 4 yr olds. I look forward to my children having children, I can’t wait to just smile knowingly when they complain about how hard it is.

  6. casual friday everyday
    August 31, 2008 | 12:00 pm

    You’re not alone. Not in the least. No one ever told me how hard parenting would be. How many times you might want to run away but you cant because you’re there life line. No one ever told me that some days I might not even like my kids and they might not even like me.

    Had someone told me those things I’m sure I’d still have kids. And thank God I had the desire to. I love them. And there are moments as a Mother that wrap me in love and peace and wonder.

    They are beautiful little boys. They just happen to like drama, fights, loud voices and back talking. I question if things will get easier and then I think about the teen years.

    What gives me hope is that all the sacrifices – and chaos will pay off when my three boys are grown adults. When they are successful happy people with families of their own. When they talk and share the great memories of their childhood. All of it then will be worth everything.


  7. Steph
    August 31, 2008 | 1:22 pm

    Beautiful post, Melodee. I’m not yet far enough into this parenting thing to fully understand what you’re going through there (only one so far) but I’m getting glimpses of it as my daughter begins to embrace the “terrible twos”.

    I can relate to losing a father too soon, and to how the feelings of loss change as you grow older. I ache for my daughter to know her grandpa, for what a wonderful warm and loving grandpa I know he would have been…and for the chance to go to him with frustrations or to seek parenting advice.

    Thanks for the reminder that I’m not alone in my “feeling like a terrible mom” days, and that this mothering thing is not for the weak!

    Hugs to you,

  8. To Think Is To Create
    August 31, 2008 | 2:16 pm

    What a stunning piece of writing. I thought I was reading about myself in the first part, and then you took me to a place that I don’t like to visit, yet must, from time to time. Thinking about the loss of a parent, or my children losing a parent. So profound.

    Thanks for this small journey today.

  9. Gill
    August 31, 2008 | 2:29 pm

    I am so sorry for the loss of your Father :'(
    As for your sure you aren’t raising mine?
    I guess you are a great Mum…they are comfortable to row, holler, moan and whine in your company….they won’t act like that for many other people. Not because they can’t, but more because they wont..because they know it wont feel right. But with you. Well with you..they can be themselves! That my friend is the sign of a great Mum!

  10. Naimah Gibbons
    August 31, 2008 | 8:23 pm


    What a touching post, It almost had me in tears. I’m sorry to hear of your pain.
    But how you described your kids,they sound so much like mine, I have 4, 6mths/4 yrs/6yrs and 7 going on 8 yrs old. They are all very active and when they all get started,giggling and being silly, I find it very testing. Raising kids is a big challenge, we just have to try our best, and we won’t always know the answers, and it’s ok to admit we don’t know. The key is not to give up, and try to instill in them the best of manners and character, and to feel peace inside to know that we tried.

  11. Erin
    August 31, 2008 | 9:38 pm

    Oh man, I could not agree with you more. I am sorry that you lost your dad at such a young age, but I appreciate your honesty – I know I feel exactly the same way so many times and I wonder if I am the only one. Thanks for your encouragement!

  12. feefifoto
    September 1, 2008 | 1:17 pm

    I can’t imagine what you’re thinking because the rest of us are perfect parents.

    Seriously, we all malpractice on our kids to a certain extent. The key is in learning from your mistakes and, more important, admitting them to yourself and you kids so you can all work on making things better next time. I thought I’d never get through to my son but these days I see hints of responsiveness and responsibility I’d practically given up hoping for.

  13. Melodee
    September 3, 2008 | 3:55 am

    Thanks, everyone, for your kind and supportive comments. I appreciate it.


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