It always starts in the same way. An exasperated mom posts a picture on Facebook of some disaster that her toddler has wreaked in her house like, for example, dumping a giant canister of rice all over the kitchen floor. Or, covering the television in glitter glue. Or, cutting half the dog’s hair off with found scissors. Sometimes, a mom bemoans a particularly long sleepless night with a child that demands to watch Calliou and eat scrambled eggs at 2:00 a.m. Sometimes, a mom rants about having to carry a screaming, tantruming kid football-hold-style out of Target for some absurd reason like, their kid dropped a piece of popcorn on the floor or the lights are too shiny or that dog statue on the bench in the shoe section is terrifying.
Kids are absolutely ridiculous and, quite frequently, so is their behavior.
Seeking a little virtual fist bump of solidarity, a mom complains on Facebook about [insert completely ludicrous thing her kid has done NOW] and, inevitably, there is always that ONE person that responds to these complaints with an admonition to stop complaining. You know that person. Their comments are ALWAYS some version of this:
“I remember those days when my kids were little. Such a precious and special time. Before you know it you’ll be looking at colleges/planning weddings/selecting your own nursing home together. Don’t complain about any of this. TRUST me. The time just goes so fast.”
Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut UP.
Well-meaning people on Facebook, you HAVE to stop doing this. You are not being helpful. At all. In the slightest. And, by that, I mean I kind of want to punch you.
Look, it’s kind of like this. Let’s say you have a job. You work in marketing. Your hours are long, from about 6:00 in the morning until 8:00 in the evening. Every single day. Even weekends. Now, let’s say you have a co-worker, Mark. Mark is cute and funny and you like him a whole lot. You even love him. But, the problem is, Mark always shows up to work drunk. Each day. He stumbles around a lot, knocking into furniture, falling into walls. He’s frequently hard to understand and often makes irrational claims, like he doesn’t remember how to wash his own hands. Also, he’s always spilling stuff at the staff luncheons, leaving crumbs all over the floor and half-eaten sandwiches on his plate. Every once in a while, he’ll vomit on the carpet in front of the copy machine. Sometimes he pees in his pants right in front of you when you’re just trying to get a cup of coffee. Working with Mark is challenging! But, Mark isn’t going anywhere. His employment is virtually guaranteed. So, you just have to put up with Mark. And, clean up all of his messes with the knowledge that one day maybe Mark will probably not act so drunk.
Now, if you came to me complaining about your coworker, Mark, I would never say, “Listen, Susan, you really need to stop complaining. Someday, Mark’s going to be promoted to Vice President and you won’t get to spend so much time with him, straightening up his office and monitoring his bathroom breaks. Someday, you’ll miss him. You really will. TRUST ME. Also, Mark will probably be in charge of your retirement, too, so, there’s that.”
I would never, ever say that to you. Because that’s not helpful. Instead, I would say, “Wow, Susan. Mark sounds like kind of a jerk. Tell me more so I can sympathize with you about your situation.” Then, we would sit and laugh and laugh about Mark’s antics and Susan’s crazy workplace.
So, why do we demand that mothers never publicly complain about mothering? Why must us mothers never issue anything other than a glowing summary of our work? Why is motherhood this one thing we’re not allowed to occasionally bemoan? When we admonish mothers not to complain, we’re telling them mothering should only be about the highlight reel and not the nitty-gritty. We’re telling them their problems don’t matter.
And, don’t get me started on how fathers do NOT say this crap to other fathers. This is a specific thing that mothers do to their fellow mothers. I NEVER get the “cherish every moment” treatment from the men in my life. This one time, when my parents took my family of five on a vacation with them to South Carolina (I don’t know why they agreed to do this, either), things were getting a little tantrum-y with my three wee kids around the pool. I looked at my father and asked him what it was like to raise four kids of his own. What life was like when us children were little. He got this far-off look in his eyes, like a combat veteran, and said, “It was… chaotic.” He fell silent. Then, we never spoke about it again. He certainly didn’t tell me to cherish the fact that my daughter was pooping in her swimsuit four feet away.
Listen, it’s okay for you to think all of these thoughts. Just don’t give it voice. Especially don’t give it voice to a mother that maybe needs support instead of admonition. You and I both know that one day, I will reflect back upon the mothering of my three children with such fondness and nostalgia that it will take my breath away. I will miss the smell of their freshly-washed hair and the way they hold their little toddler spoons and how unabashedly silly and funny they are. I KNOW I will miss those things. Mothers are ACUTELY aware of the passage of time. We don’t need reminded of it.
Instead, right now, in this moment, I want to complain about the fact that my kids, during a particularly raucous game of hide and seek, destroyed the storage compartments in my closet. Like, they broke my closet. Clothes off hangers, shoes everywhere. Absolute destruction. What the hell, kids? I’m going to complain about that loudly. In fact, I’m pretty sure my neighbors two doors up heard me complain about that loudly.
Just because I complain about aspects of my job doesn’t mean I need repeated, condescending reminders that I should be grateful I HAVE a job. That’s… not how any of this should work. Part of our job as mothers should be to support and bolster other mothers. We have the most difficult and unrelenting of workplaces. So, let’s all take a pledge to ease off in the comments section, okay?