• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


The Dark Side of Motherhood

When things don't work out as planned.

September 21, 2014

When I was younger, I thought my ideal "day job" (while I pursued acting) was as a book editor. I loved to read, I loved the physical appearance, texture and smell of books, and I spent almost all of my discretionary income on them. What could be better than being paid to read all day, being surrounded by book lovers, and getting free books? I had read memoirs and biographies of well known book editors and they seemed to always be corresponding with genius writers who stimulated their own creative juices.

Then I finally got a job in a publishing house, and it was clear immediately that this was the wrong profession for me. It wasn't just that, back then, women tended to have to do a lot more typing and coffee fetching than actual editing; I didn't much like the actual editing. Copy editing was just intense proofreading with stringent and seemingly arbitrary rules, and authors got angry if you either missed a mistake or questioned something that wasn't a mistake. Acquisitions looked like more fun, but friends assured me that it wasn't; unless you were a big name editor, most of what you had to do was wade through unappealing, food-stained typescripts with confusing plots or bizarre theoretical viewpoints. Promotion to the interesting stuff was rare and usually dependent on membership in the old boys' network. I found another job quickly and never looked back.

Similarly, once when started dating a man I had had a crush on for over a year, our incompatibility was evident in a matter of weeks. He was great; we just didn't have much to say to each other. We friendzoned one another and moved on.

New mothers don't have this option. No matter what you think the experience will be like before the fact, you are always wrong, and if you are wrong in a bad direction, tough luck, you are in for at least 18 years.

I am one of the lucky ones, which is why I can write about the issue on a public blog under my own name. I have adored Ben since the pregnancy test first came back positive, and I love being his mother. This may be because I am some sort of "natural" mother, but I think it is more likely a combination of the facts that he was a later life baby, after years of miscarriages and spontaneous abortions, and thus has always seemed to be a miracle; and that he was an adorable baby and a wonderful kid, and is now a superb young adult. He made it easy.

I don't mean that it has always been smooth sailing. I have chronicled some of our struggles here, and I won't deny there were moments of extreme anger and despair. Sometimes when he was small, the tedium and isolation were crushing, and when he was a teenager we had some epic battles. Even at those times, though, I wouldn't have traded him in. I wouldn't have walked away for a better offer, even if I could have done so with impunity. I couldn't imagine a life that didn't include him.

But what happens when it goes the other way? When what you thought was your dream job, or dream date, turns out to be a nightmare? I have had clients who have dealt with exactly that, and there is practically no social support, and no relief for mothers who discover that they just don't love their kids, or who simply have no vocation for this very difficult, specialized job.

That is why articles like this are important, and also dangerous. Isolating and shaming women who don't fit the "maternal" mold is destructive to both the mothers and their children, who will bear the brunt of their mothers' misery. Women who find out, too late, that they are in the wrong field need support and their kids need other adults who can give them the care they deserve. None of this can be accomplished if mothers don't feel able to acknowledge their struggles. Yet publicly announcing that your kids have ruined your life can have even worse results.

For now, hotlines, empathetic therapists, and chat rooms where it is possible to log on anonymously and speak one's heart seem to be the best solutions. Maybe there are better ones out there — any ideas?


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