At some point I was taught to lie politely. OK, not lie perhaps, but keep the truth to myself. Say fine when the person was only asking politely how I was.
When I was in my freshman year of high school people asked me how I liked it and for the first few weeks I said, it was exhausting. Because it was and I was. The work load was heavy. For the first time I had 7 or 8 different teachers expecting different things of me. But my mom told me that I needed a better answer because no one else seemed to be having any trouble except me. So I came up with a nice party line about it being different but I was enjoying it. It was probably a little true. But it wasn’t really the whole truth. The whole truth was that I suddenly felt very grown up and yet very little. I was trying to figure out who I was and what was expected of me. I was meeting new people, making new friends and in some ways for the first time, enemies.
I think it is very hard to be honest about your struggles when you feel like you are the only one having them. Part of why MOPS is such a great organization is because it’s a chance for moms to support each other in the difficulties of mothering. But we all know that moms get hit with the constant reminder to “enjoy every minute”,” as though anything less makes you a bad parent. As though not being blissfully happy with every horrible thing that your children may do means you must not be doing it right.
So as Lisa Jo Baker pointed out, we keep it to ourselves. Even among other moms, we tell the truth but no the whole truth. We say we love being a mom, because we love our kids but we may hate the fact that they get up at 6 AM and won’t go to sleep until 9 p.m. We say we like being at home, when what we really mean is that we’re glad not to be coordinating a full time job outside the home with laundry and dishes up to our eyeballs but the idea of a few hours a day away from our kids doing just about anything that might bring in extra money sounds really appealing sometimes.
We need to create spaces in our lives for the whole truth. I’m not saying that we need to necessarily spill our guts to the check-out clerk at the grocery store. But we need to have someone, somewhere that we can be truly honest with. Maybe it will be at your MOPS group or maybe it’s on the front porch with your next door neighbor. Maybe it’s by email or text message to a faraway friend or long phone calls to the listening ear of a caring relative. But we need to seek these people and these places. Trying to mother in isolation is a recipe for exhaustion and depression. We need each other. I love C.S. Lewis’s definition of friendship.
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
Maybe one of the reasons we are more isolated than ever in U.S. society (in spite of our massive use of social media) is that we never break through and admit what is really going on in our hearts. I think many of us feel like the only one in our situations. The only mom who hates being at home, loves going to work, or isn’t planning on going back to work, ever. The only one who is just scraping by financially while everyone else seems to be moving on to bigger and better things. The only one still planning to have more children when everyone around you seems to be finished and thinks you should be too. But I don’t honestly believe that any of us are alone. Maybe there isn’t anyone else on your block who shares your heart’s desires or fears. But there probably is in your church, at your job, in your playgroup, your MOPS group or your library story time.
Start by encouraging those who dare to share themselves, even if your experience was different. Emphasize “Wow, I’m sorry your daughter still isn’t sleeping through the night. It must be hard for you,” instead of “Gosh, my all the kids slept through the night at 6 weeks. All you need to do is . . .” or even worse “You think that’s hard wait until . . .”
Offer help when you can. “I remember how hard it feeling like a 24 hour a day milk cow. It’s exhausting isn’t it? Is there anything I can do to help?”
Or be an active listener. “It sounds like things are a little rough right now. Do you want to talk more about it?”
By all means share your own struggles and be honest about your own pain, but try to draw others out as well.
“This is such a busy time of year. How are you feeling? I’d really like to know.”
We need to be mothers of truth, the whole truth. How can we desire our children to share their deepest emotions with us, if we can’t even share our own with each other?
I challenge you to pursue the whole truth with those in your life and leave room for new faces and friends who need to know they aren’t alone.