So there’s a strange thing that’s been happening since I became a mother. Specifically, many people seem to have more trouble hearing me than before parenthood.
I understood my time would be tight for a long while, of course, and that I wouldn’t have as much time to speak up, online or in person–most of my writing time is saved for fiction these days. What I didn’t understand is that when I did speak, many people would hear my words–even my words that had nothing to do with parenting–only through the lens of motherhood, and not through the lens of, well, me.
It works like this. I’ll either talk or post about A Thing. It doesn’t really matter what I say specifically–it could be a critique, a complaint, or simply an observation. What matters is that if there’s even the slightest hint of discontent in my comment (and sometimes even if there’s no discontent at all), someone or other will too often proceed to utterly fail to hear me.
Not only fail to hear me, but proceed to tell me how happy they are for me. Even if I was speaking about something I was either unhappy or neutral about.
So maybe I’ll mention my writing time being tight now. Along with sympathetic comments, someone will say something like, “Isn’t parenting wonderful? Enjoy!”
If I mention some parenting challenge (usually in person, because I tend to keep most the actual details of my family life offline), someone will say, “Oh, I’m so happy for you!”
“How wonderful!” “Isn’t it great?” “What really matters is that you’re a parent now!” It seems that if post-motherhood I also express any unhappiness, even passing, trivial, daily-life ordinary-griping unhappiness, even if that unhappiness has nothing to do with my child, someone will often assume what I really need is for them to tell me how happy they are about, well, my unhappiness.
Before I was a mom, those were moments that called for sympathy or empathy, as I recall.
I do get it. This is lovingly done, for the most part, these cheerful responses to less-than-cheerful statements, an attempt to express love and support. I appreciate love and support. But when the words I have actually spoken get ignored in an attempt to remind me to be happy, what that says is not I love and support you but I don’t hear you.
Having my voice heard truly is tremendously important to me. It’s why I write.
I’m guessing I’m not alone. I’m guessing there are at least some other moms–writers or not–who feel the same way, which is part of why I’m posting now.
Parenting is awesome. I love my child, I love watching the day to day changes, I love seeing our family and household grow and change too. There’s a lot that’s amazing in my life right now, and I am genuinely and deeply and beyond-words grateful. Maybe I don’t say it enough, especially online where my focus is more on the professional than the personal, especially when I assume that everyone of course knows I feel that way. So I’m saying it again now.
But the rest of my life didn’t cease to exist the moment I met my child, and the rest of my emotions and observations and the whole of my me-ness didn’t cease to exist the moment I became a parent. Being a mom is an addition to and expansion of who I am, not a replacement for who I am. I am not some generic what-a-mom-is. I am me and I am a mom. There’s a difference.
As mothers, part of our job is to learn to listen to our children. It’s a wonderful part of our job.
But I don’t think it’s too much to ask that those who care about us don’t forget how to listen at the very same time that we’re learning it.
For many new parents, now, more than ever, is the time that we want and need to be heard and seen truly.