I am being held captive, trapped by a tyrant. He demands that I do as he wishes. If I don’t, if I try to assert my independence, act as a free person, he explodes with rage. He screams, kicks, and wails. I try to outlast him but his will is stronger than mine. Sometimes I try to sneak away while he is sleeping. I hold my breath as I slip my arm out from underneath him. I inch my body away from his, placing a pillow in between us as a decoy. I ease myself up and away, never taking my eye off of his sleeping body. I stand frozen, shocked by my sudden freedom, and am elated. I dance silently out of the room. I am free! In my jubilation I throw open the fridge door with too much gusto, anxious to find sustenance, and I hear the high pitched scream of outrage from the next room. I hang my head in defeat. He has discovered my escape. For a moment I consider ignoring his cries, but inevitably I give in and return to my place on the couch.
This is the scenario I go through every day since Benjamin was born five months ago. Benjamin only sleeps if I am his mattress and I have to nurse him so often during the night I’ve stopped bothering to put my boobs away (much to my almost five-year-old’s horror). But when people ask, I lie. I say he sleeps great, that he is an easy baby. Sometimes I lie because it’s easier. And sometimes I lie because to admit the truth would be to admit my own shortcomings. I can’t get my kid to sleep in a crib. I suck as a mom.
A quick google search of infants and sleep done out of desperation seemed to confirm this fear. Each forum was filled with posts from moms complaining that their babies slept like they were under sedation, and reading this made me feel even worse. I wanted to find one of these moms with a baby that sleeps ten hours at night and takes two three-hour-long naps during the day and explain to her that what she had is what I call a high-end problem. Complaining about a baby that sleeps too much is like complaining that your Mercedes is too fast or your four carat diamond ring is too shiny.
After my initial jealousy and sleep-deprived rage, I began to feel like a failure, like Benni’s inability to separate from me was something I created. Could I really have ruined him by attending to his needs too quickly as some websites suggested? Were everyone else’s babies really sitting contentedly in bouncy chairs, sleeping away the day in cribs while mine transforms into a screaming ball of fury the moment his butt hits the baby swing seat? And then I had another thought: maybe these moms were lying too. Could they be putting on the happy face of motherhood to fend off the judgments of others?
It’s not surprising that moms lie. Just look at the recent brouhaha started by Time magazine over attachment parenting. Mothering is hard and it is only made harder when the rest of the world judges how it’s done. Somehow, in this woman-negative culture, it isn’t good enough that we love and raise our children the best we know how, we are seen as failures if our children don’t conform to unrealistic standards of what is “normal” or we choose to mother in a nontraditional way. And so we tell lies to avoid the scorn. I know I am guilty of telling mommy lies. It is easier at the time to just say great, everything is great and easy and perfect when people ask about the baby. But now I am beginning to realize that these lies not only make moms feel like failures, they also create an illusion of motherhood that doesn’t resemble reality.
So here is the truth: my baby only naps if my nipple is in his mouth and I don’t move or breathe too loudly. I let David have potato chips and chocolate milk for breakfast because I was too tired the night before to go to the store and there was nothing else in the house to eat. On the all too rare occasions that Benjamin does fall asleep on his own, I usually spend that time catching up on Us Weekly headlines and playing Words With Friends rather than wash dishes or fold laundry. While playing a Jonah and the Whale video game during a play-date, David yelled out “God damn it!” when his turn ended. I laughed and said he must have heard it on TV. He did not hear it on TV.
It’s freeing to admit that things aren’t easy, that my parenting style is more survival-mom than tiger-mom. Go ahead, try it. Confess your mommy lies and share your less than stellar moments in parenting. I promise not to judge.