This is the ridiculous assumption that western society puts on us as mothers. We think/feel about mothering as if it were a hobby (akin, I guess, to having a pet), something done solely to fulfill oneself. Like Siobhan said, the language of "choice" creates its own baggage and lets society off the hook when it comes to supporting families.
I most definitely do not always enjoy parenting. I am extremely fortunate, though, to be parenting cooperatively with many other people. Our eldest 3 children are from DH's and my first marriages, so we share parenting with our ex-spouses and our children's step-parents; my sister lives with us; and my parents live just 6 blocks away. So that takes tons of the pressure off. All my kids are in school (even the little one goes to preschool 5 mornings a week). Yes, sometimes I succumb to the guilt, wishing I were more like I imagine (imagine
) other mothers are, spending tons of time with my kids, baking, doing projects, playing, etc.
Fact is, I'm an adult. I have no desire at all to immerse myself in a child's world for however many years it takes to raise these children. And it's not necessary. Honestly, when my big kids were younger, I used to rake myself over the coals about how I never played with my kids. I couldn't stand to sit down and push cars around or play dollies or build with blocks. Know what? They're 13 and 11 now, not grown by any means, but very well-adjusted, creative, happy people. They speak very fondly of the things we did together when they were little. Everytime DS4 gets out the book that was DS13's favorite, DS13 gets all misty and comes to sit with me, remembering the hours we spent cuddled on the couch reading.
Beyond providing all the basic needed care whether I wanted to or not (you know, clean diapers, good meals, etc.) I did with my children the things that I
enjoyed doing with them. Yes, I'm one of those mothers who takes her children to the park, then sits in the shade and reads a book. I don't ignore them, of course. They're safety was/is always my first priority. But I don't want to swing and slide and build sand castles. I've asked them about those things recently (I was inspired to have that conversation with them by all these sorts of posts at MDC!) and they don't recall having ANY negative feelings about that. They remember many happy hours at the playground, digging, playing with other children, climbing, and coming to my blanket for a drink of water and a snack. They didn't need me for a playmate.
Not that I didn't do things with them, but I mostly involved them in what I was doing, not the other way around. IME, a 4 yo is just as happy to help fold laundry as to play blocks! I read to them a great deal because it's my favorite thing to do in the world, it's the best thing you can do for their developing brains, and they loved it. My kids are both now avid readers, even DS13 who has a learning disability that made it a huge challenge for him to learn how. He knew, though, how much value reading had as a way to entertain oneself and was extremely motivated. I don't take all the credit for that, but I'd like to think I had something to do with it.
Anyway, I'm getting off track. It helps now that I don't expect
to get lots of pleasure and self-fulfillment out of parenting. It's part of my life; I love my children beyond my ability to express that love. They're not my everything, though. I'm me, and I need to live my life in a way that satisfies me spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. I'm a much better mother when I put on my own oxygen mask first, so to speak.
And let's face it. Lots of parenting is tedium. Make another grilled cheese sandwich. Wipe her nose for the 46th time this morning. Get him buckled into the carseat while he screams. Try to get the housework done while she takes her ever-shortening nap. It's this huge cultural fallacy that this should be one endless bliss-fest! Cleaning puke out of a carseat is not fun. Neither is getting phone calls from my DS's English teacher, saying he won't stop drumming on his desk. Going to IEP meetings is not fun. Managing asthma. Breaking up the fights. Making a meal, and having my kids pick at it. Why should this all be so wonderful?
I guess I'm saying I enjoy it more after I let myself off the hook and stopped expecting myself to enjoy it so much! And it DOES get easier in some ways. Parenting my older kids is more challenging emotionally now than it was when they were little, but it's not so relentless, and not so physically draining. I can sleep in on Saturday mornings (or could, before we decided to add two puppies to the crew!), they take their own showers, tie their own shoes, etc. My youngest will be there soon. And when they're older, they can have real conversations. I can talk to my daughter over a hot drink at a coffee shop and it's pleasant and I get a taste of the relationship we'll have when she's an adult, the kind of relationship I value so highly with my own mom. And you know what? My mom never played with me, either!
I invite everyone to get down off the hook that we've hung ourselves on. Parenting is hugely important, deserving of our devotion and effort. But children are not fragile. We will not break them by not loving every instant we spend with them. We can, however, hurt them badly if we expect so much of ourselves that we begin to burn with resentment over our own unrealized potential. None of us were born to be mothers. We were born to be ourselves, and mothering is only one piece of that.