I’ve seen this before. A mom blogger describes her difficulties with motherhood or feelings of frustration, and out come the sanctimonious comments:
“Why did you even have kids then?”
“Motherhood is a blessing—how dare you complain when some people can’t even have children?”
“Moms these days are a bunch of whiners. Suck it up and quit complaining.”
Yeah, maybe we are a bunch of whiners. But here’s the thing: Voicing frustration about the challenges of motherhood is not complaining. It’s commiserating. There’s a fine-but-important line that separates the two.
To complain means “to lament.” To commiserate means “to lament together.” A complaint is isolated whining. Commiseration is community support. A complaint says, “Waaaah! Life is unfair! Feel sorry for me!” Commiseration says, “This is really freaking hard for me. Is it hard for you, too?”
Sometimes it’s hard to admit that motherhood is hard. That’s why mom bloggers make light of the challenges, cushion our difficulties with humor and sarcasm, exaggerate for comic effect—and maybe that sounds like complaining. But when we write about how irrational toddlers can be, or how sleep deprivation can make you feel insane, or how kids leave wrappers on the counter six inches from the garbage can, or how sometimes all we want is for no one to ask for a snack for an hour—we are sharing universal experiences of motherhood. When I write posts on the challenging aspects of motherhood, I’m not asking for people to feel sorry for me—I’m offering commiseration to other mothers. And maybe sometimes I’m looking for commiseration, too. Is that wrong? Is that the same as complaining?
I don’t think so. I think there’s a healthy balance between focusing on the positives and acknowledging the challenges. When we make motherhood out to be all giggles and gumdrops, moms who are in a phase of fighting for their sanity feel alone. And no one should feel alone when they’re deep in the poop-stained trenches.
Yes, of course motherhood is a blessing. Of course it’s all worth it. Of course there are women who would give anything to be able to have children. But that doesn’t make motherhood easy.
Nobody faults a marathon runner for getting tired during a race, just because some people are paraplegic and can’t run at all. I would hope a struggling runner could rely on other marathoners to share their own experiences with exhaustion, to offer support, solidarity, and encouragement. Telling a runner who’s hit the wall to “suck it up and stop complaining” isn’t very helpful. Telling mothers to stop complaining when they share their feelings and stories isn’t helpful, either.
Some moms need to know that other mothers are struggling, that their kids aren’t perfect, that it’s normal to feel defeated some days. Some moms really don’t know that. Some moms have hugely high expectations of themselves, reinforced by lovingly curated Pinterest boards and a culture of “having it all.” Some moms don’t have anyone to tell them their dark moments are normal and will pass. For some moms, those commiserating blog posts can be a real lifeline.
Imagine the new mom with a colicky baby, feeling like the worst mom in the world because she can’t get her baby to stop crying, thinking other mothers spend their days gazing lovingly at their angelic newborns, and feeling too embarrassed to tell anyone about the moments when she loathes motherhood. (Just for the record, colic is torture in the literal sense. God bless you moms of colicky babies.) So imagine that mom’s relief when she reads another mother’s words reflecting her experience, when she sees that someone “gets it.” That commiseration is huge. There are so many of those kinds of experiences and feelings in motherhood, and most of them happen in private. If we don’t share them, moms do feel alone, or crazy, or like they’re failing somehow at motherhood.
So if you read a lot of mom blogs and feel like they’re “complaining” too much, just scootch on along, because clearly those posts aren’t meant for you. Some moms need that commiseration—please don’t take that away by ridiculing moms who write about the less delightful aspects of parenting.
If motherhood is easy for you, more power to you. But motherhood is hard for most moms, and judgment and sanctimony just make it harder. Let us commiserate in peace, please.