Early Motherhood Has Always Been Miserable

“I declare if I tho’t I was to be thus occupied for the rest of my life,” one new mom wrote in 1828, “I would lie down & die.”

Comments: 302

  1. I can't help but notice the very Eurocentric emphasis in this essay. The conclusions are drawn almost exclusively on the basis of views of parents and children based on Western, Christian notions of family relationships. Do humans not live in other places aside from Europe and North America? Are the experiences of mothers and children anywhere else relevant for understanding human relationships? The author of this essay seems utterly uninterested in these questions.

  2. @Metaphor I was thinking the same thing. In her research I would like to have heard about stories from mothers who live in tribes. I remember reading an article about how certain tribes helped new mothers, by nurturing them and caring for the extended family. I was so in need of that when my first son was colicky and my family was not nearby to help.

  3. @Metaphor This is, perhaps, a bit harsh. We have read a relatively short piece; she may have other research that crosses cultural lines. Moreover, she is writing for a western audience, and a rather narrow one at that (NYT readers). It certainly would be interesting to read about cultures in which child rearing is more communal and/or less conflicted by external messages.

  4. @chris I agree. Why would this article be more relevant/useful by including, say, various tribal communities of Africa ? It would be useful only in the most academic of ways. This essay focuses on the realities of mothering and parenting young children in western/Euro/North American cultures. That's the focus. Thats what this is about.

  5. We shouldn't forget the late Erma Bombeck's humorous take on the downside of stay-at-home motherhood. Under cover of humor, she spoke to real issues. Nor should Margaret Sanger and her mission to free women from endless childbearing be forgotten. As pointed out, the cult of ideal motherhood hardly applied to most women. Not only were most working class women excluded from it, women in farm families were excluded. The statistic I remember is that around WWII about 40% of the US population was involved in farming. Add to that the dislocations visited on family life by the Great Depression, and the cult of ideal motherhood was more fiction than reality until after WWII. And yet it managed to oppress anyway.

  6. I don't know if I'm allowed to comment on this, but this article does not once use the word 'sacrifice', which seems to me a fundamental concept in all this. It is a sacrifice of nearly all of one's former pleasures, foremost among them sleep, but also culture in general, beauty care and self-pampering, reading and spontaneously leaving the house.... the list is endless. But inevitable. Fortunately, at the end of all of it, there is the undying affection of those you have sacrificed all this for. Women who think mostly about themselves should get a dog first, just to see if they might be able to handle it. And men definitely must pitch in: there's enough sacrifice to go around.

  7. @Paolo Francesco Martini Several young couples I know got a dog or a couple of cats to see if they really liked taking care of living creatures. It's an excellent idea.

  8. @Paolo Francesco Martini Not all child-raising ends in undying affection. And many offspring tire of hearing about mom and dad's sacrifice. In that case, you'd best find a way to still believe it was worth it. And, while a dog might introduce you to being on someone else's schedule, a dog is nowhere near as demanding, expensive, or sometimes annoying as another person. Partly because a dog doesn't talk. I am a wildly devoted and involved dog mom, but that is as far as I have chosen to go.

  9. @Anne It is a good idea, but as a long term dog owner and now grandparent of a human child I can say that the dedication to properly take care of a pet does not approach the responsibility of being a parent. Dogs are a part time job, babies are full time for several years and then still more difficult than pets.

  10. Would NEVER be interested in being a mother unless the father was every bit the equal parent. Motherhood for centuries has always been a nightmare for so many, because women were always left to do all the work of parenting, along with al domestic duties etc... unless they were fortunate enough to have domestic staff and nannies. Inequality will always bring unhappiness.

  11. @Anna, it mostly starts out that way then changes in the course of life due to factors such as divorce, job changes, health & life still has to continue

  12. I agree that the ideal is a partner is one who agrees to raise a child 50-50 with you, but here’s the problem. Neither of you knows what you’re are getting into. At all. The man knows, he KNOWS, if he doesn’t do something for the baby, the new mom full of evolutionary hormones that wire her for anxiety about the kid, will swoop in. She won’t let the baby sit there and cry with poopy diapers, she won’t be “chill about the weird rash from day care. She will sing until she’s hoarse to soothe that baby, She CANT sleep, no matter how exhausted, if the baby has a cough all night. And it’s not the guy being a jerk, we didn’t all marry a bunch of jerks, but if I knew I could’ve walked away from my baby with asthma to take a nap, take a bath, whatever, and someone who loved that baby more than it’s own life would SWOOP in and do a better job than me? I would’ve given up the idea of 50-50 too.

  13. @Anna So look, first of all, if motherhood is a nightmare call me a sadist because it's the best thing I have ever done. But I agree, it's not for everyone. My husband and I are both bright ambitious people. We started out more of less in the same corporate rung. When the time came, though, it was clear who was the more thoughtful nurturer (me). It was clear also who loved being with kids the most (me again) so I stayed home. As intensely happy as I was that first year, and I was, it was not equal and that inequality definitely bugged me from time to time. Life is never perfect, even when you are as happy as I felt. But here is the interesting thing. We are no longer young and shiny. These days our kids are grown. We've come through the other end of that fire, our marriage forged and fused as a result. What happened in the ensuing years is that his skills grew in importance. When the kids were little, I was the sun, moon and earth for them. These days, it's not like that and it's fantastic. One thing I didn't realize was how much my husband was going to contribute as they got older in all kinds of ways I could not. Our children, at this point in the journey, have been equally parented by us both. Things evened out in the long run. As needs evolved, it was amazing to have a partner to share it with and his contributions to the family are every bit as crucial as mine. Sometimes more because, as I have learned, 50/50, is never going to be evenly split down the middle.

  14. What really amazes me is how my children expect me to be thrilled about the presence of my grandchildren- for days on end. I chose to have children in my thirties, and now that I've hit my seventh decade it is very challenging to keep up with the dear grand-critters. As delightful as they are, I'll never forget the constant responsibility and fatigue. It is imperative that I set limits. Unfortunately, the Mom can't.

  15. @Marie totally with you.

  16. @Marie Good for you, Marie. I hope many parents mooching childcare from Grandma & Grandpa read this.

  17. @Marie I had my children young (19, 23, 27) as was more common in the late 60’s, early 70’s. I was married, had a home and could live on one modest income. I loved every minute of it, even though two of my children had some issues. Today I have eight grandchildren, half of whom are grown. I spend time with them, but I have rarely acted as babysitter or nanny. For me, the time to do this is when you are young and resilient. A lot of this complaining about the ordeal of parenting comes from waiting until you are nearly middle aged to have them I think.

  18. My own experience was joyful and uncomplicated. I had a washing machine and dryer. We didn't have disposable diapers. Three years later I had my second child. Same good experience. I felt sorry for women who had to return to work and put their children in child care. No one could do it as well I as I could. Dr. Spock was my bible and it all worked very well. When my children started to school I went back myself. I earned my BA and two MBAs and fulfilled my ambition to become a pastor. I feel sorry for women who have had unfortunate experiences. Marilyn Austin

  19. You should write a book! Be our modern day Donna Reed!

  20. @Marilyn Austin Good for you, Marilyn. There's too much worry these days about keeping up with the Joneses - so both parents work outside the home. I find it heartbreaking that most babies/toddlers are virtually raised by daycares and/or babysitters. Many families could get by on one income if they made it a priority to do so. (Annual vacations and ownership of three vehicles are not necessities of life!) And if you truly can't afford to raise a child, use birth control. Everyone will be happier and more sane.

  21. Your story sounds like an idyllic fairytale, not real life.

  22. Not all women are maternal, just as not all men are paternal. And even those who do have strong maternal instincts don't necessarily want to have a lot of children. Especially nowadays with 2 working parent households barely making ends meet or are just one paycheck away from eviction. Women, as adult individuals, should have absolute authority to govern their own bodies, in all manners!

  23. @Independent American Absolutely, but our rights to control our bodies have been and are being taken away by republicons. Check out your current state laws.

  24. A. If you don't want children, there are plenty of ways to avoid that inconvenience. B. If you DO want children, make sure you want them for the right reasons--not because it's what you think you're "supposed" to do (if you honestly feel that you need to do it to satisfy anyone else, including "the patriarchy," or your Instagram followers, then you have some things to work out before you decide to make that commitment). And yes--it is a commitment, and yes, parents are responsible for doing everything they can to raise happy, healthy, secure, curious, compassionate children. And no--it's not easy. It is, sometimes, really hard and frustrating and exhausting and scary, and sometimes it requires that you unglue your face from your phone. If you can't see yourself dealing with all of that, return to (A), above, and don't try bringing into the world a person who will eventually realize that his or her parents thought of him as a burden who was somehow forced upon them by "society." Maybe that's where we get people like Trump and Charles Manson, or just sad, hurt adults. C. I wanted my child very much, and not because anyone thought I should. His 21 years on earth have been the most fulfilling of my life, and some of the hardest. There was never a moment I regretted that his father and I conceived him, tired as we may have been at times, and there is nothing that was left unaccomplished in my life because of him. He has enriched my time in the world--not detracted from it.

  25. @NGB "If you don't want children, there are plenty of ways to avoid that inconvenience. " I'll be sure to share that with the friend who became pregnant when her triplets were nine,

  26. @NGB Thank you for the beautiful and practical commentary. In addition to societal expectations, I would note that political policies at the local, state & federal levels can constrain individuals' agency in their reproductive choices. Some helpful preventative programs to lessen the potential burden on society in providing for unwanted babies or vulnerable parents may include: unimpeded access to birth control for all girls and women, with health provider counseling; scientifically valid and age-appropriate sex and parenting education (including household budgeting & management) for boys & girls, with requirements for all schools and homeschoolers to provide this to their students; ongoing, positive public service announcements & a social media presence supporting personal responsibility and local programs available to help persons of any age needing information & assistance in caring for others; and promoting the work of local volunteer organizations & small businesses to mentor youth and vulnerable parents in their communities. Money isn't the only resource that can uncouple individuals and families from dependence on government monies.

  27. @goonooz When I was 12 and 13, I was forced to take Home Ec classes. Only girls took Home Ec. We learned very little sewing or cooking, just a constant stream of comments about how this or that would make us good wives and mothers. It was highly sexist, the messages were nauseating, and I hope never to have them inflicted on today's youth. I was not then, and never have been, interested in having children.

  28. While I have no reason to doubt the overall premise of this article, the historical summaries seem extremely simplified, and in fact aren't necessarily what I've encountered in my own readings of historical texts - I'm probably not going to read Ms. Hays' book, but I question what sources she is using for the earlier periods. For example, to base a claim on what "many educators" said in the Middle Ages is odd - what educators does she mean? If she means scholastic/university types, they were not educating mothers. If she means priests or monastic types, then that's something different, and it would be an odd theological position to single out children like that. I've never seen a medieval text refer to children as demons, personally - I'm sure some must, but obviously that wasn't a universal (or maybe even a common?) viewpoint. And I know that in the 18th century, there were women who were quite involved in, and wrote about, children's education and upbringing. Perhaps that was a man's perspective? If so, it's not a good corollary to how *women* experience motherhood. It might be this article and not the book that's the problem here, but it's hard to square what I know about history and all the old texts I've read with these generalizations.

  29. @reader See St. Augustine in his _Confessions_ about how nasty babies can be. It's called the doctrine of original sin. Granted Augustine wrote in the late 300s, he was still (and is) venerated as one of the great Fathers of the Church.

  30. The description of motherhood in the U.S. past and present is a reflection of the social and economic culture. It's a privilege and not a right. And a huge responsibilty. I empathize with the women who struggle to raise children without help of husband and grandparents but how is that lack of assistance and attitude of indifference by people without children any different than what most people show toward any group that struggles? In America, raising a child is fairly easy if you have money and resources. If you are lacking in either, it's not surprising to feel resentment and struggle. Unfortunately, our culture no longer follows the precepts of family planning. We want what we want today and we'll worry about the consequences some other time. You reap what you sow.

  31. @PeterW I agree with your comment that raising a child is easier if you have resources. Poor people never seem to think twice about family planning; they just keep having babies for the rest of us to support via welfare etc. Same for new immigrants; no birth control at all. To respond to your third paragraph...Although I am white, educated and middle class, I recognized that when my child was one year old that I could not mentally or financially raise any more. I did worry about the consequences.

  32. @PeterW It would help us all if the US were more family-friendly. Like France, with its support for children from birth through schooling. Yes, that comes from taxes, but it helps everyone -- because everyone has been a child.

  33. @princetonliberal Those poor people might be having those babies because birth control and abortion are difficult to get in America without money. Perhaps if more men kept it in their pants less babies would be born to people who can't afford it. Remember what Gloria Steinem said many years ago. "If men got pregnant abortion would be a sacrament." And I would add, if men got pregnant birth control would be free and abortion would be available free on every street corner, as would child care and health care.

  34. This is more than a little ridiculous and historically distorted. Most mothers, at least in countries that are relatively well off economically and relatively democratic and respectful of womens' rights, are mothers because they want to be. And most of them realize that it requires hard work, struggle, and pain, as is not just frolicking delight and joy. Most mothers (and fathers) know before they consciously choose (as most do) to become parents, that sacrifice is involved. Most parents realize instinctively that is absurd to give an addictive screen to an 18 month old, instead of a healthier toy. And that children who are read to can learn to read on their own better than children taught to read by apps.

  35. @sage, I don't know if you are a parent, but in my experience,there was absolutely nothing that could have prepared me for the complete and total devotion, exhaustion, love and anxiety that came with being a mother. For me, the absolute love I felt made me want to be perfect, which, of course, is impossible. This quest for perfection is only amplified in the age of social media, where everyone is pretending that they have no negative feelings about motherhood. I think it would be best if everyone could speak more honestly about the realities of motherhood. Being responsible for the emotional and physical well-being of a tiny, helpless human is a daunting task and I think less judgment and more honesty, support and compassion would benefit mothers and their children.

  36. Other countries also have maternity leave. While some businesses are beginning to give that in the United States, paternity and maternity leave should be mandated as the 40 day work week. All women, regardless of their job or income have the right to bond with their new children (born or adopted) and rest from childbirth.

  37. @Susan Speaking as a father, not mother, I never expected to be fully prepared for or perfect at parenting, but the example of my own parents and parents-in-law certainly was helpful, as I think it is for most parents to some extent. I am all for support and honesty, but when it comes plain old poor advice, such as having a laissez-faire tolerance of kids being accompanied frequently, and with little hesitation, by distracting screens and apps (check out other writings of this same author), the whole society could very urgently do with a lot less of that.

  38. my own mother told me that having children would make a person poor and miserable. She was not poor, but she was miserable. I heard her and chose not to have children of my own. The best decision I ever made in my whole life. I’m very happy for the women who have enjoyed motherhood. I suspect their children are psychologically healthy and grounded. But it surely is not for everyone, and everyone needs to know that.

  39. @Diana - As the youngest of three, the only girl and a late in life surprise to my 39 yr. old mother (who also worked outside the home - we were blue collar) I sort of grew up by myself. Some time in my late teens she and I were talking, looking at old pictures and I expressed that I didn't think I was mommy material and thought something wrong with me that I didn't want children - all my friends did. She told me that she would never give one of us back if she could, but that motherhood was no "glory ride". It's 24/7/365 job for at least eighteen years, and unless you had outside help or an unusually involved father, very long hours. And, to never let anyone pressure me into the job. She was right, I didn't and it was a choice I've never regretted.

  40. My mother said exactly the same thing! Neither me nor my sister have children. We are 43 and 38. I don’t know about my sister, but no regrets here!!

  41. Well-said. When I asked my pediatrician when a child sleeps through the night. he responded, "I always tell parents that if they are not prepared to get up at night with their children, they should not be parents." He was Canadian.

  42. I've never been a mother being a man, but I did raise two kid on my own after my wife walked out when they were just babies. My own mother raised 5 of us and never seemed to whine about it, but that was also back in a time when mom's maple switch was the law of the land and not even supreme court justices would question it's authority. There was something to be said of mom's unyielding authority with parts of a tree in her hand. She didn't often use it, but when she did it most definitely got out attention. She chased my goody two shoes sister down a half mile with a switch once and my sister was mom's unofficial neighborhood snitch. I'm 100% positive mom got worn out as I did as a dad, but mom's biggest disappointment had to be after we all grew up and went about our separate ways, not getting along, getting in trouble with police and so on.

  43. Please remember the death rate of women in earlier times. Most husbands had two or three wives over the years after death of a wife. Thomas Jefferson's wife made him promise not to remarry after her death because she did not want their assets to be divided among the children produced in a new marriage. The rest is history.

  44. @Susan Kuhlman Interesting that some of the assets included Mrs. Jefferson's own half sister. But since Sally and her children who remained with, her other children spirited away to pass as white, I guess not quite all the assets were as neatly kept intact as Mrs. Jefferson would have liked. I wonder if Mrs. Jefferson's daughters were miffed that their father had cheated them of the value of their half brothers and sisters and half Aunt. Family values and all.

  45. @Susan Kuhlman More compelling reasons for Martha Skelton Jefferson's plea (for her husband to stay a widower) were memories of her own unkind, even cruel, stepmother. She did not want her two daughters to suffer in the same way.

  46. Most of these comments miss the point of the story, which is the ridiculous expectations we put on mothers. I stayed home with my 2 children (stay-at-home dad) for the first 10 years. It was great for me, but I did not face all the expectations women do - especially the pressure of (anti-)social media. Also, my children did not have any serious issues. Now, at 63, I must help babysit my 5 grandchildren (in one home). Some of them (adopted) lived through trauma and abandonment - and it shows. My daughter dearly wants to meet social media goals of the beautiful life, but it's just not possible. She suffers as a result. So, this is a timely piece, letting women know they are not alone, and it shows part of how this cult of perfection started. Thank you.

  47. @Dan Barker, I really appreciate your insight, along with your willingness to recognize and acknowledge that even stay-at-home fathers will never feel the same societal judgments that mothers do. My husband and I used to laugh at the fact that when he performed the most routine, mundane parenting tasks, e.g., changing diapers, bathing our daughters, or taking them to their doctor's appointments, people would often comment about what a great Dad he was, or worse, how "cute." I feel that it's safe to say that no one has ever applauded a mother for doing these things. The pressure on mothers to be perfect,(as though that's even possible), is at an all time high right now. I'm glad my children were pretty well grown by the time social media reared it's ugly head and I feel bad for mothers who now have this additional burden as they adjust to parenthood. Your daughter and grandchildren are fortunate to have you in their corner.

  48. @Dan Barker While my father was not a stay-at-home daddy, he was very much there at very weird moments. He was the one who went to he store to get my first sanitary supplies. I never thanked him for this (too weird for both of us), but I will tell you well done for being there for daughter and grandchildren.

  49. @Dan Barker perfect comment.

  50. It might also be noted that every single human being to ever draw breath, past, present and future had, has or will have a mother at some point. There's no such thing as one size fits all except for the basic biology part and even that part has changing variables to some degree or another. Motherhood comes in just about every form imaginable for the female part of every species. It really does range from laying eggs for millions of offspring at a time to raising their young at the bottom of oceans. To say I'm glad to be male is an understatement of unimaginable and monumental proportions.

  51. Here's another thing for new moms to know, and my apologies in advance: They are likely to still be children themselves and may not be psychologically ready to move into "altruist mode": moving away from self to other, the baby, infant, child. Having responsibility doesn't make one ready for it. No different for many new fathers. So it might serve them to be aware of never-met needs from their own childhood that may need to be recognized, empathized with, grieved, raged. I am convinced that this is what a lot of post-partum depression is.

  52. @Fred That very well could be so. I had post-partum after my first child, but didn't know it had a name until years later. I simply thought my life was over. After all, I was a mere 20 yrs. old. I was very fortunate to overcome it within a year. I didn't mention how I felt to anyone. It is unlikely that a doc would have been any help, they couldn't even advise a new mother about breastfeeding.

  53. @Fred Fred, it seems you are not aware that fathers of newborns often experience post partum depression. As you say, new fathers are also not psychologically ready to move into parenthood, even if they don't have the hormonal changes that women who give birth have. So it would also be serve fathers to be aware of the never-met needs from their own childhoods....you say apologies in advance to mothers, but I don't understand why you inights which may be very helpful for many, aren't also advised for fathers?

  54. @E C Scherer I'd recommend Lloyd deMause's speech, "The History of Child Abuse," section: "The child as poison container." One paragraph. It addresses the intergenerational effects of mothers carrying "baggage" from their own childhood. I am glad you overcame.

  55. Not worth it anymore, in the time of environmental crisis we are living through now what is the value of bringing in another generation of humans? We don't even know if adulthood is even reachable for babies born today, so realistically this topic is moot.

  56. @Rose Have one. Do the best you can for that one. If everyone agreed to do the same, we might have a chance to survive the ecological disaster of overpopulation and still continue as a species, maybe, if we can find a way to cope with rising oceans and eradicated wilderness and wildlife.

  57. @Rose What a great point, I am in my 70s and have a grown up son. It never occurred to me what I would feel if I was a young woman now and deciding to have a child or not. It does seem terribly irresponsible right now, and cruel when the future is so uncertain. I would not I think have a child. I would adopt a child already here and give it the best life I could for as long as I could.

  58. @Rose Saddly, I agree. I don't know if I am the only one but I have always felt that if you are emotionally attached to another person the last thing you do is set them up for failure and annihilation.

  59. Motherhood is wonderful, but it can be one of the loneliest and most trying periods of time in a woman's life. There is little discussion of this and one can only hope that this topic will become a centerpiece topic in women's circles.

  60. @Jf I think that we have made it unnecessarily lonely and trying. It wasn't that long ago that almost all human beings lived in the villages where generations had been born, live and died. There was always someone around to help with the babies, or do the drudge-work, or help with the farming or ranching, be that person a great-grandparent, a great-aunt, a great-uncle, an aunt, an uncle, a sibling, an itinerant farm-hand, an orphan, an apprentice, a neighbor, another wife or a slave. There was little access to birth control, so families were big, and there were always people around. This is still the situation in large parts of the world, and while they have their troubles, they're also probably mentally-healthier than those of us in more isolated communities in the more industrialized nations.

  61. I agree. Community would Make a huge difference in helping during those lonely times. But life today leads many to be isolated and without support — it is a sad reality.

  62. @Jackie The wistful comments about the mythical "village" always assume not only that there are plenty of people around, but that they are always available at any time to take care of your kids. In fact, such societies tend to be economically marginal and everyone has to do as much labor as they can, including children. So the relatives, neighbors, etc., are not just available babysitters. They have to lead their own lives.

  63. I appreciate the historical research and quotes from mothers of long ago. Thank you for such an interesting article!

  64. Parenthood, the most important job in the world In particular mothers. Underpaid, overworked, and too often still … not truly acknowledged or appreciated for the priceless work they do, raising a child.

  65. I have a hard time relating to the negative comments. Sure it’s hard work and sacrifice, but love and the overall amazing experience of raising a human being does enter prominently into the equation.

  66. @Jean Thank you for this. It's good to know there are some good Mothers out there.

  67. I don’t think the comments are negative. I think women are finally able to talk about it without feeling like failures. I’m the mother of four.

  68. @MamaR at the time I wrote my comment, not one person had mentioned love! As the mother of a bipolar child, I know how difficult parenting is, but the depth of love I feel for this difficult human has kept me going for almost 40 years. I don’t feel like a failure, no mother who has done her best ever should, but often times I have felt as though living life in survival mode. It has been ups and downs, adventure, grief and a challenge. In otherwords, I am a mother. It is the most important anf rewarding job of my life.

  69. I find this piece a bit simplistic, and I'm bothered by the use of secondary sources. It's a fascinating and very complicated subject.

  70. The article attacks the idealistic concept of taking care of children with uniform negativity, completely missing any and al positive aspects of having children. Children require enormous investments of the parents (or, at least someone) without which none of us would be here. After being here and doing that, I better appreciate how the infants in government and ok.wallstreeters fail to understand that without children, none of us would be here. While the attack on the idealistic view has merit, failing to recognize the positive aspects fatally flaws the commentary.

  71. Perhaps the real point of the article was to show how the experience of being a child and parent, and family-work life has evolved, and by implication will continue to do so. I took a college course or two that covered this history, so the information was not new to me. As the article pointed out women were not always the primary authority over children. Did myself, I had my children early twenties and enjoyed that time, although they were 13 months apart, I notice most of the commentators totally miss this main point of this article (that had been and continues to be a changing). As a baby boomer one of five I do appreciate the devotion, through both joy and sorrow that my house wife mother gave to her roles as parent, homemaker and heart and soul of extended family and friends.

  72. For a time when I had two small children, I was able to afford a babysitter from 2-6pm on Fridays. I would often sit in a restaurant and read. Once a woman came up to me and asked if I had young children at home. I said yes and asked, "How did you know?" She said she recognized that crazed look of utter exhaustion. My children are grown now and I have been rediscovering the self I thought I had lost forever and having a lot of fun, but also missing our family times together. Every mother's experience is unique and complicated and based on so many moving parts. We should not judge other moms or those who don't have children. Any ideal or generalization about motherhood is likely to be false.

  73. @Diane I identify with your comment...I did the same on Monday afternoons when my kids were toddlers. Mostly I just sat in the local coffeehouse, sipped my drink and stared into space. It was the respite I needed. I recommend to all moms of young children if you can afford it (or barter with another mom). One morning a frazzled neighbor mom asked if I would keep her kids for a couple hours so she could go to Costco alone. I obliged, but she did not return until dinnertime. I never held it against her...she was obviously at the end of her rope and needed the break. And she brought my kids books from Costco as a thank you.

  74. @Diane best reader response here. Truly resonated for me.

  75. I appreciate, as a male, this information and ensuing comments. While women certainly are engaged in this discussion as expected; what is equally important is that men need to read this column and the ensuing comments. Men cannot possibly relate to the complexities of these issues; but we need to learn about them and then develop empathy for the women who struggle with these expectations.

  76. If only, as a mother with young children, you had the ability to look into a crystal ball and watch how quickly it would all go away. If you could, it would be easier. The day-to-day frustrations of child-rearing would take a backseat to your appreciation of the fleeting time of childhood. As a mother to an adult and teenager, I look back now and wonder why I "sweated the small stuff" instead of recognizing how lucky I was to experience the real joys that come with being a mother. My advice to young mothers is this: Life is short, and childhood is even shorter. Remember that every day and don't sweat the small stuff. They'll be grown and gone in the blink of an eye and you'll hardly remember these days, even though you'll try.

  77. @Mojo Oh so true. I have three children ages 2, 5 and 7 so I'm really still in the thick of it. But my goodness, not sweating the small stuff is oh so difficult when it's 8:30 and the bus comes at 8:32 and the children are standing at the door without shoes / socks or coats on. But yes, I agree.

  78. As a new mom, women would look at my babies and remark how fast it goes. At the time there were many days I felt it couldn't go fast enough. Now in my 70s I look wistfully back in my children's childhood and now know how true that remark was. If we only knew. Makes me sad.

  79. @Mojo - It's hard to remember that your goal was to clean the bathroom when you're up to your butt in babies.

  80. I agree with women who are mature enough to recognize motherhood is not for them. It's disheartening that their reasoning revolves around the difficulties of raising children and its associated work requirements. It is better that children aren't saddled with parents who are constantly torturing them with tales of the horrors they faced raising them. I never heard of anyone who was promised an easy life after they had children. Children often cry, scream, have tantrums, refuse well made food, refuse to do their chores or homework, and sometimes become ill or disabled. If that is too hard to you don't get involved. Here is a quote from the film 'The Big Chill,' which addresses the choices we make in life. "Richard: You set your priorities straight and that's what life is. I wonder if your friend Alex knew that, one thing's for sure, he couldn't handle it. I know I shouldn't talk about him, you guys knew him. It's just that... no one ever said it would be fun, at least... no one ever said it to me." I think that expectations today are too grandiose. When my father grew up during the Great Depression his family was really happy that my grandfather, a coatmaker kept his job. Still, things were hard, and there was no sense that they should or could be easier. So too with parenthood. Bring life into the world and your must raise them to survive on their own. That's the job, so choose carefully.

  81. @Joel Friedlander Richard was the jerk in the movie, talking about a guy who committed suicide. People don't commit suicide just because life isn't fun.

  82. Mother of four here, I can admit that motherhood is the most challenging and important vocation on the planet! My heart goes out to all the Mamas in the trenches, doing the best they can. Sure not everyone is perfect, ideal or even “good” but the vast majority of Moms are doing their best. All we can do is our best, at the end of the day. Blessings to all Moms, new, in between and us, grandmothers! Bless you!

  83. You said it! Even when I was a young mom a couple of decades ago, I thought we were past all those 50s - or 80s ideals. I happily signed on to the notion that the best parent is the “good enough” mom or dad or guardian or carer - good enough to supply the basics for the child, but imperfect enough (and relaxed enough) to keep the family momentum open to adapting, speaking up, listening, being patient, resilient, aware of important goals and what they might cost. (There may even be a book with “good enough” in the name, or maybe it is “The blessing of the skinned knee” which I also haven’t read.) My favorite frustrated mom of a working spouse even coined the low bar of “alive at five!” as a daily goal: when her partner got home at around five, if she and baby were still breathing, that was another day won. (PS isn’t the real problem that you are even letting those Instagram pics - of whatever era - get in your head?? Get a grip, have a thought to your own reality and what works!)

  84. Thanks for this article. Luckily, no one told me raising children would be easy. Also luckily, I always had the support and company of other mothers. I learned a lot, and now I love being adults together in the world with my grown children and their friends. One anecdote about expectations: My first baby was a terrible sleeper. I'm reminded of a time she cried much of night because something made her uncomfortable. That night, I couldn't figure out how to quiet her. In the morning, I was tired and cranky and complaining. My uncle said, "She's not a machine, you know." "Yeah," I said. "Neither am I."

  85. My Dad was in the Special Services band in the Army, 1941 to 1945, so my mother and I lived with my maternal grandmother, along with two unmarried aunts and one uncle! I LOVED being in that house with all those people! When I had children, I was rather loose in their upbringing. Housework took a second place behind everything else. Did not trip over what I could not accomplish. I find the "A women" do worse than the more relaxed. My husband did little, being a spoiled brat and I got rid of him very soon. It was then peaceful in the house. If I were to do all of it over, I would have children and forget marriage.

  86. Early babyhood was hard - did it ALL by myself. Later, as single mom, working & "moming," I felt forced to give up my "off time" etc. for kids. -Not to mention supporting our very modest lifestyle by myself. 2 kids ='d no weekends out of town, very few evenings out, pinching pennies. Not pleasant, and no great later pay off! Now 2 adult kids have "gone their own way" as they have the right to. No "payoff" in this - just continuing of the species.

  87. @Merrily We Go Along I dunno..Not every man is horrible with raising kids and some of us are actual participants in it. I had thought of myself as a lousy dad since I used to drink heavily when my kids were little and said as much to them both when they were old enough to be on their own, but both of my kids separately reminded me that at least I was always there for them even drunk. I'm in no way proud of my past behavior, but i am proud of my kids and more than glad I got to share most of their younger years with them. I can't even imagine how it feels to have kids who resent your very existence and absence in their lives. I can't even imagine what its like to grow old knowing your offspring will never want a thing to do with you. For me that's a completely foreign idea.

  88. These kind of motherhood articles are very regressive. The author bashes the ideal of a blissful mother, yet assumes throughout that fathers are not even in the game. Let’s be clear, involved male parents can be just as nurturing as any female parent, and to pretend otherwise is sexist. I was a stay at home dad and I loved every minute of those early years.

  89. @Stephen It depends on the dad. Mothers can hope that the "Good Dad" hormones or mind-set kick in as soon as the baby is born, but that doesn't always happen. If my ex had been offered six weeks of paid paternity leave, no power on earth would have gotten him to stay home, bond with our daughter, pick up the slack at home, or provide emotional support for me as a post-partum mother. He would have considered his paternity leave as a paid six-week vacation to go off and do whatever it was that he wanted to do - golf, fishing, religious retreats, Reserve duty, go boating or camping, or holing up in his man-cave with his computer. So it depends.

  90. @Stephen Be honest... I was a SAHD too and there ARE times when ANY parent feels like they're going nuts. Our first was 'easy' but it took time to wean our youngest from all our flailing limb tantrums (pick them up, put them in their room and calmly say "come back when you stop this'). I firmly believe that a parent should be primary caregiver for the years before school (unfortunately not affordable for many). Kids learn so much during this time. An attentive parent trumps any other caregiver (I've seen horrid nannies but then many are the cheapest help parents could find). 'Quality time' is a joke. You can't make up for time not spent by magically improving the time you do spend with your child. Too many times things just happen - you're there for them or not. Small kids ask tons of questions. Too many parents ignore them. Make the time to answer, even if you have to stop what you're doing and look up an answer together (much easier these days to get answers). Lots of men say they'd love to stay home with kids. Few could. It's not as easy as most think. In that same vein some women should not try to raise children. They may handle giving birth but when it comes to actually raising them.....

  91. @cynicalskeptic Scientific studies show that there is no difference in outcomes for children who have quality childcare and those with a stay-at-home parent. I would guess you would have little success in going to a 5th grade class and trying to figure out which kids had a parent staying at home in the early years.

  92. I knew the article would raise my hackles just from its headline, but I read it anyway. Early motherhood is not always a miserable experience. Women are different; babies are different. My boys were good sleepers, good eaters, and very easy to toilet train when that time came. Was I a supermom? Not at all, just lucky. But, with that in mind, I loved their babyhood, and my very favorite time was that second year, especially 15 months to 21 months. My sister, on the other hand, went back to work when my nephew was three months old. It was much easier to work than take care of a baby, she said. He was three months old! What did he possibly do that was so difficult? So two sisters, brought up in the same home by the same parents, and two totally different experiences. My guess is that Jessica Grose had an overwhelming experience and latched on to every article that proved her right. It doesn't make it so for everyone.

  93. @Hope Madison - My ex-wife called me in tears one day to tell me that she had just abused our daughter, could no longer handle being a mom at home, that she was going back to work, and that I was going to stay home with our daughter. It made sense since my ex-wife can't cook, sew, quilt, can, garden, or do anything other than pour concrete. The day our daughter was born at home in the living room, 2 months early, I ran to the fabric store and bought some cloth to make diapers. The poor child was too small for anything commercial. This was beyond the scope of my wife's skills.

  94. @tom harrison All of the skills you described are not required to be a parent. I have certainly never quilted or canned, and my kids are just fine. Cloth diapers can be purchased online these days, so modern conveniences are a good thing.

  95. @Hope Madison, rather than judging your sister, you might feel some gratitude the you could afford to stay home to care for your kids.

  96. Fathers are so much more involved these days than they were in the 50's and 60's when a lot of stay at home, college educated moms (like my mom and her friends) drank during the afternoon. I always had a career, and my husband was way more involved raising our son than his father. From what I have seen, my son is even better, probably does 50% of the work taking care of his 4 month old daughter, including taking her to Dr's appts. Both he and his wife are probably equally stressed at this point, though though he, admittedly didn't go through the physical and hormonal stress that his wife did during and immediately after birth.

  97. I wouldn't have missed being a mother to my five children for anything, but I can admit that motherhood has its highs and its lows - and its flat, monotonous periods. Very early motherhood is not easy, especially for one's first child. It's both thrilling and nerve-racking. I think it's helpful to one's own well-being to be able to admit how it can be exhausting and even boring at times. There is nothing like an ideal picture of motherhood to lead one into a star of depression and anxiety.

  98. @SCZ Five children is an environmental disaster. And the call the childfree “selfish.”

  99. The title needs more backup data. Younger mothers before 1970 may not have had access to birthcontrol; thus, they may have had many more children. The oldest female child became the labor fill- in for laundry, scrubbing floors, washing dishes, child rearing and more. Many fertile women ended up with families of ten or more, thus, the titles of books like Cheaper by the Dozen; or with movies, With six, you get egg rolls, or tv with The Brady Bunch. No appliances so every task was labor intensive - baking from scratch, scrubbing laundry, hanging out diapers to dry, tending farm animals such as chickens and cows, keeping the stove and fireplaces burning, etc. If a young mother was sick, a female relative was enlisted to stand in if there were no female children old enough to do the drudgery. The endless cycle of pregnancy, breast feeding, work at home wore these women out so they often died prematurely, never mind death from childbirth.

  100. @Pamela H Hogwash. My grandparents were married in the 1920s and chose to limit themselves to one child. My grandmother worked outside the home, too.

  101. An anthropology professor once pointed out that we are all descended from men who like to fight and women who love babies. Men who didn't like to fight were killed off by those whose did, and women who didn't love their children saw them die off along with their genes for maternal apathy.

  102. @joe "women who didn't love their children saw them die off " Not true. In a tribal or matriarchal setting, children were raised by whomever was handy. Women had a high chance of dying in childbirth. If the baby survived it would be suckled by any woman able to. After it could eat solids, there would've been women who were either older or childless for some reason, who could take over. That care would also have been made available to children abandoned by birth parents for whatever reason.

  103. If someone said that to me, I'd reply that's one of the dumbest things I've ever heard. Women for the majority of history couldnt choose whether to be mothers; it was a role they were forced into by virtue of being born female. The only way to maintain autonomy was to remain unmarried and alone, and only if you had enough financial support to do so. Effective contraception has not existed for the majority of history, so how could all these pregnancies possibly be the result of a "love for babies?" Come on. It's more accurate to say we are all descended from men who liked to fight and women who never had the chance to choose.

  104. @joe that is highly suspect.

  105. I’m puzzled by this: “ If you look back through the diaries and journals of middle- and upper-class American women, you’ll see that they have been talking about the difficult reality of motherhood ever since the idea took hold that women were supposed to feel fulfilled by their maternal role.” Upper class women invariably had household help, including nannies to tend that “never ending festival” of excretia. So maybe they complained about the limitations of marriage and motherhood, but The nitty gritty of 24/7 babycare? I doubt it.

  106. @Passion for Peaches : Not everyone had nannies! Even among the well to do.....except possibly in the South where Black hired help was (sadly) inexpensive.

  107. When I arrived in France forty years ago I remember hating the expression “sans profession” which was frequently used on administrative documents in France, along with “woman in the home” to describe “stay at home mothers.” It struck me as demeaning, and although I was able to work outside the home while raising my daughters with minimum stress thanks to the excellent, affordable childcare and family-friendly policies available here, I would never have described any of my stay at home friends as “sans profession.” After all, isn’t raising children really “the world’s oldest profession?”

  108. Actually, the term “world’s oldest profession” refers to prostitution.

  109. @Sarah Hardman Sorry that you misinterpreted my little attempt at humor in the last line of my comment, but thank you for replying.

  110. My wife was the oldest in her family. Her teen years were spent dealing with her siblings. That is how mothers used to cope. They used older children to help raise younger ones. I was the stay at home parent. It worked for us. I renovated two houses at the same time but my job was raising our children. At times you went crazy - especially the first few years when you're home with a baby but things get better, you finally meet other Moms (no other SAHD's then). I worked for 15 year before staying home. Nothing I did during that time remains. Companies were sold, things redone. My children will outlast me. I'm not even sure the houses I redid will. Is being a 'Mother' worth it? Yes. and frankly it wasn't that bad. Your typical EVP creates more of a mess than a baby. The baby is easier to clean up after and the baby LEARNS from its mistakes.

  111. Just forwarded this to my daughter with a 3 and 1/2 week old son. I offered to take off work and stay to help as I did with her sister's first baby, but she declined. I thought that is fine, I chose to do it by myself so I understood. 12 days in and she was asking for help, which I was happy to give. Her husband has FMLA for 6 weeks. Both of them were totally exhausted, I gave them both a night off which is really the best gift ever with a new baby. Next I will loan them a down payment on a house closer to me. Downtown living is all fun and games when you are single, then it gets real with a newborn.

  112. My three granddaughters just left ages 18 months, two and five. My daughters are great moms who love visiting grandmas house. It’s chaotic but wonderful at the same time. I’m always happy waving goodbye. All moms need support and a break now and then. I do believe that’s the biological role for older women although that’s not a popular idea. I’m happy to fill it. Perhaps we need more of that.

  113. @KP My grandson's wife has asked me to come and live with them for the first few months when their child is born. My grandson has to work and his wife is in grad school. Neither can take the time off. I'm so happy to do this for them and myself. I also took care of my grandson while his mom worked. I wish new parents could have time off to spend the beginning months with their children.

  114. @KP I had two wonderful grandmothers. My mother was one of the most important people in my life and in the lives of my three daughters. I am now the Granny. It is the best job I have ever had. Raising children is very very tedious. Boring. Stressful. Someti

  115. @grmadragon They could always work and save up for time off — or plan better and not do a graduate degree and newborn at the same time. No one forced these choices on them.

  116. When I became engaged many years ago, every one of the girls in my college English class clustered around, admiring my ring; a couple of my brightest male students, on the other hand, worried about my "intellectual life." The time came in my life as a stay-at home mom that I remembered those boys with rueful affection. My brain, nurtured mostly on picture books, was surely shrinking to the size of an English pea! Then, there was the question of identity. By the time my children were born (late 1960's), the magazines were full of how a woman's personhood was sacrificed by the term "Mrs." I did not feel such a loss until my kids started school. Suddenly, I was no longer "Pat," but "Steviesmommy" or "Sissiesmommy." I wrote a never-quite-published humor piece called "Sign Me Ms. Mommy." For all the trials associated with motherhood!--and I could name a few!--I would not trade the experience. It not only resulted in my two great (middle aged) kids but turned me into a novelist. :-)

  117. @TXreader I've been 'Dad' since my kids started preschool. My house is still identified by the previous owner's name. It'll be identified by our name when we move.

  118. @TXreader I am disgusted with nurses, administrators, receptionists, etc., who address me as "Mom." I give them a death stare and say, "You may call me MRS. [X]." I am a person with a name.

  119. @Comp ... AND an honorific.

  120. Speaking as a father of two children who are now young adults, I can say with absolute clarity that having kids was by far the best decision I’ve ever made. I strongly encourage young people to have kids if they are able, and I strongly encourage young men to be attentive & involved fathers. The long-term payoffs are astronomical.

  121. I can relate. But don’t have kids just because you’re “able”.

  122. @Charles Woods oh cheerleader, how many days were you primary caregiver? Many of us would have the emotional and physical resources to father a baby instead of mother it in our highly gender-skewed society. -Mom of two

  123. Early motherhood should feel tiresome but not miserable. What you are describing sounds more like postpartum depression. Certainly it’s helpful for parents to be honest about the ups and downs of their experience, but it’s dangerous and counterproductive to suggest that misery is par for the course.

  124. @Amanda Whether or not it’s misery can be dependent on so many factors, many outside a mother’s control. Was the pregnancy planned and wanted, do you have deceased parents, a lack of extended family, live in a city without a great deal of support, are short in money for basics, lack basic insurance, have an partner who refuses to help, have a birth injury, have a child with a disability , etc. For many, many women it is misery and there is no reason to diminish or discount that.

  125. @Amanda I politely disagree. I have two children and postpartum depression with only one of them. early infant care (the first 2-6 months, depending on the baby) is miserable no matter what. postpartum depression just makes it feel like you are drowning under an black wave while doing the endless, thankless, tedious tasks of the exhausting early months. but those tasks are endless, tedious, and thankless whether or not you are unctonroallably crying all the time.

  126. After our third child was born, my family doctor since my childhood - at my request - checked out those new fangled birth control pills, and wrote his first prescription for me.

  127. Many couples make great parents. This is admirable. Many don’t, and this is unfortunate for the fabric of society.

  128. In the end, moms are still just people and have needs of their own. And all the mothers who care for and love their children, even with some ambivalence and weariness, are still heroic.

  129. I was a single mother from the age of about 24, when my daughter was two. I studied and then worked. Even though our relationship wasn’t an easy one my mother was a tremendous help. I reached senior management levels and my life would have been a lot easier without my daughter but a lot less satisfying. I certainly was not a perfect mother but I always did what every parent should - my best.

  130. This piece is so outdated in every way, it could have appeared in the late 1960's or early 1970's. Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and many other great feminists exhausted this subject. Everyone knows motherhood is a terribly demanding job. Every woman should think long and hard before choosing to get pregnant. The little references to medieval era or 19th c. motherhood do not add the intellectual reinforcement the writer intended. When there was no home heating or electricity, no running water, only outdoor privies or chamber pots, no refrigeration, no automobile transportation, no reliable contraception, & no medicine as we know it today, everything in life was unimaginably harder. Our squeaky clean, safely immunized babies would have been a dream to people who regularly lost theirs to diseases that are easily cured or prevented today. I hope Ms. Grose saw the movie RBG, for there was grace in marriage, motherhood, & career if I ever saw it. Let Ruth be our guide, if only we can follow her example..

  131. I remember being a stressed new mom and my obstetrician (who has 4 kids) telling me it gets better. I didn't believe her when she said it. I couldn't imagine it ever getting better. But it did. If you're a stressed new mom, it does get better! Hang in there!

  132. @Tres Leches It may get better, but it never gets easier: it just gets hard in a different way.

  133. I just don’t understand these comments. If you’re having children out of duty or in order to get something for yourself, don’t have children please. You’re bringing someone into this world. Your job is to help them the best that you can and expect nothing in return. Any positivity you get back is a reward, but it isn’t the point. The less you think about yourself and the more you think about others the happier you’ll be. (I’m a father of a 9 month old for what it’s worth)

  134. @T Are you a stay at home dad to your nine month old? Are you aware of the mind-numbing tedium of the many repetitive tasks involved in daily childcare? Loving your children and raising them well doesn’t mean we should have to pretend that every moment is just another meaningful element in the joyful fulfillment of a sacred task.

  135. @T Are you the primary caregiver? That role, regardless of gender, is never what you expect. No parenting class or conversation can prepare you for the day in and day out tedium, stress, and exhaustion. I now have an 8 year old and fully embrace and love being a parent, but I was not prepared for the level of compromise or sacrifice of having an infant. I thought I would be able to work from home, my child cooing at my side. Instead, I worked when she napped and after she went to bed. Her waking hours were spent nursong or walking her around the house, trying to stave off discontented crying. Meanwhile her father's hours at work unexpectedly increased so I was for all intents and purposes a single mother. Judge not... anyway I loved this piece and found it reassuring.

  136. @T The thing about parenting, as you may realize by now, is that you have very little idea what you're getting into or how you'll respond to it. This is especially true for women, who biology has designated as the singular gestators and, in most cases, the primary caretakers. Telling people not to have children is not helpful. Every situation is different, and changes with subsequent births. As one mother (of a special needs child) put it, conceiving a baby is like 'fly fishing in the universe'. "The less you think about yourself . . . " may be great advice for new dads. But it's not good advice for new moms; mothers need to think about themselves in terms of practical self-care, but we can feel very guilty for doing so. I am happy your parenthood experience has been good so far, get back to us when you have more kids !

  137. Mothering is different for every mother. Each woman will have a different set of resources, social and financial, and a different set of challenges from her kid(s), and a different skill set. If I have a moment of judging another mom, I ask myself, "Am I the expert on her situation, or is it possible she knows more about her life than I do?" In almost every case, that's the open-mindedness I've received from my peers. We're all doing pretty well at this hard job!

  138. My grandmother was fortunate in that her mother, like some others of the late 1800s, wanted their daughters to have the choice of whether or not to give themselves over to childrearing--and to not feel guilty if they decided on some life path that involved no children at all! They called themselves "New Women" (see wikipedia), and together they marched arm in arm for suffrage and the right to vote in Chicago back in the day.

  139. Yes, I’m a male commenting. I cared for my first born grandson for three long days a week for his first two years. It was the hardest job I ever had bar none. He got great care but It was all give all the time. The diapers, the feeding, the refusal to nap, the unexplained squalling, and all manner of little adventures. Cuteness only takes you so far. It was tedious and lonely. Yet I smiled and nodded sweetly when people told me my experience was precious. I went back to work after that. It was so great. A comfortable office. A desk and computer. People to talk to. A clock on the wall. Order in the universe. Hardest job I ever had bar none.

  140. My son is an aerospace engineer who worked every day but when his baby daughter cried he immediately went to her. He said that he would not have missed the experience of being a father. She is an incredibly fortunate little girl.

  141. @Harry I’m also a male commenting and had the experience of taking three months (FMLA) taking care of my infant son. HARDEST job I’ve ever done and I’ve had my fair share. I went back to work and despite having two jobs with extensive responsibilities, it’s nowhere near as challenging as my time home with my child. I wouldn’t give that time up for anything but I’ll be the first to say that full time moms have the most challenging job I’ve ever done.

  142. Completely agree!!

  143. Even prior to having babies, we do listen when the information is widespread, but, like the travails and dangers of pregnancy and birth, truth is hidden as our gendered society doesn't trumpet harsh realities.

  144. @Michelle Mood Nor do those in charge provide the necessary support. So much for family values!

  145. @Audrey AF What support is there for other lifestyle choices?

  146. Your parenting experience is also very much determined by the child involved. My daughter, our oldest, was a great experience. My son has a lot of special needs - obviously not his fault, but it abruptly changed our experience, focus, ability to engage socially, and our finances. It's beeb very depressing for our whole family. I can't go back to work because therapies, and I have very few social outlets. my life haa revolved around my son for 13 years. while other parents are enjoying seeing their children grow and become more independent, we find ourselvea wondering if we'll have freedom and money to retire. So yeah, I get why some people might not be enjoying the blessings of motherhood. You have no clue what you're getting into until you're living it.

  147. @Liz And it must be very hard on your older daughter. I used to work with special needs children and would feel for the parents. Even their best days were a challenge.

  148. What is worse than early motherhood is continuous motherhood. I grew up in a family of 10 children, spaced two years apart. My two oldest siblings were in college when my mother gave birth to the youngest. Our parents were observant Catholics. My mother was exhausted from birthing and breastfeeding and diapering all of us. My dad was continuously stressed worrying that he was going to die before all of us grew up. It's no life for anyone. None of us kids are practicing Catholics. None of us have more than three kids, a few have chosen to have no children.

  149. @Pseudonym I'm always amazed at the amount of men who just plain refused to use Coitus Interruptus and continually got their wives pregnant.I also firmly believe that keeping a wife pregnant was done to have control over her.

  150. @Pseudonym My neighbor had 12 children and the oldest, Mary Bee, joined the convent at age 18. She was clearly not looking forward to motherhood!

  151. My mother had 8 children within 18 years (1947-1965). Girl, Girl, Girl, Boy, Twin Boys, Girl, & Boy. She married a good Catholic who believed it was better to have children than to be rich; birth control did not seem to be part of the marriage. When I felt overwhelmed by my two young children, I couldn't imagine how this college-educated, creative, industrious, and kind woman managed to keep her wits about herself. She loved us all deeply and wrote personal letters to each of us when she was ill with cancer. She passed away without seeing us become parents nor for us to have a chance to learn from her wisdom. What is my takeaway? I wish I could let her know that she is missed and let your mother know how much she means to you because there is not much thanks when the children are young.

  152. If the early childhood rearing is split equally between the two biological parents ( or among any other number of caring adults), it will be absolutely manageable. Problems arise when all responsibility is hoisted upon one adult (usually the mother. )

  153. My mother had 4 children before she was 26 years old. The wife of a marine officer was spent raising kids and moving, a lot of moving, from coast to coast in the 1950's and 1960's. I never appreciated my mom until I had kids. How in the world did she do it? A new city ever 12 months, moving all those babies across country in a station wagon, sometimes all by herself when dad was stationed over seas. I started first grade at 5, unheard of in 1963. We lived next door to the priests who ran the local Catholic church. She befriended them and they made those mean nuns let me start early. They pretty much tortured me because of it but now I get it, one less kids at home was a blessing. Baby number 5 came along at the ancient age of 32, next came the hysterectomy, which was Catholic birth control in 1967.

  154. @georgiadem you say it was unheard of to start 1st grade at 5 and this is back in 1963, well that's what I did. My birthday is in December, so I turned 5 within the year I started Kindergarten. So the 1963-1964 school year that started in September I was five and in the 1st grade.

  155. @ShirleyW I was born in January and entered grade school when I was 5.

  156. While you bring a much needed voice to the table, you don't dig into exactly what makes Mothering is so hard. Also, you do not distinguish between the demands for a stay-at-home Mom, who is in the minority these days, and the working Mom who may only spend 2-4 hours per day with her children, or less. Perhaps both women have similar causes to their ailment, but the intensity of the job is vastly different. My opinion, as a stay-at-home Mom for four years now, is that it is hard because our sense of community is so diminished and fractured. I also don't have any siblings, parents or parents-in-law who are helping. Was it better when we didn't have social media? Was it better in tribal times? All I can say is that when I imagine what it is I need to make this recipe better, the answer is a bunch of other Moms living an arm's reach away.

  157. @Lo I think that was the hardest part for me, the lack of authentic community.

  158. I am a father of an autistic 3-year old. I have to say the tone of this article, perhaps unintentionally, seems a bit extreme. Yes, my wife and I went through some difficult times, and it's been hard work, and even something a strain on our relationship. And yes, women aren't prepared adequately for certain realities, particularly for the grueling (almost insane) schedule of nursing for the first few weeks. I had moments early on where I felt like a terrible person for resenting my son's late-night crying. (Turns out I could have short-circuited this by just listening to people early on who told us to sleep-train. Two rough nights but it was the best thing we ever did.). There was definitely a very rough period. But perhaps in an attempt at glibness, this article makes it sound as though early motherhood is a never-relenting hellscape of anguish. My wife would certainly disagree. For us, no matter how bad it got, there were always those moments that made it all worth it. Granted, many of those were just watching him sleep. :-) Everyone feels "trapped" by parenthood at times, but we are happy we made this choice. My advice to anyone would be to do this in your late twenties or early thirties (we are in our mid forties) - while you still have energy but also the maturity to not so much resent the sacrifices. Or don't - that's a perfectly respectful option.

  159. @Eric My daughter waited until she was 35 to have her baby. As you say, I think her maturity helped enormously with her adjustment to and attitude towards those first weeks and months. As with you and your wife, she has been very happy with and grateful for her daughter. Yes, the schedule of nursing is grueling and the sleep deprivation very hard. But the wonder and the glory of her child is so much more. Perhaps the hardest part at least for American women is the failure of this country to support child care for its families. Good child care is essential to support a woman's ability to work and to freely love raising her child.

  160. I'm not sure age has anything to do with it. I was 37 when I had my first; 40 with my second. I was a fertility patient and was thrilled to finally get pregnant but I passionately hated infancy and only tolerated toddlerhood. I totally adore the adults my kids have become. I'm close to them and think they would say I was (am) a pretty good mother who generally respected them as people. But, those first 5 years were awful.

  161. @Eric Your experience is ours--twenty years ago. Our low-functioning autistic son, the most cheerful, gentle, and affectionate child we could ever hope to have, is 21 and we are in our sixties. My fear for his future after we're gone keeps me up at night. Absolutely agree: marry and have kids sooner rather than later.

  162. Perhaps it was the 60's that made motherhood mix well with self fulfillment. The war, religion, women's rights, racial equality, were all being challenged and held up to the possibility of a higher consciousness. It was an exciting time for a young mother with three sons who played outside in ponds and woods and were read to at bedtime. I never tried to be perfect, didn't want to waste my time with that, although I did take those woman's magazine quizzes, when the kids were napping, that supposedly rated my "happiness", but my own curiosity steered me toward getting educated, first as an undergraduate once my boys were in school, and later as a grad student. I think I emerged in their estimation as their forever guardian who gave hugs and popsicles after supper and made them quiet down so I could study in the evening. I hope I was a model for giving permission to finding their own paths to happiness. In any event, today I am about to turn 80 years old and am still working. Each son, now in his fifties with their own families, is kind, caring and has a sense of purpose about themselves. Philosophically, I dare say we may still be living out the Age of Aquarius within, although we all have I-phones and Laptops and FitBits and Apps and our personal music lists. But we wouldn't have wanted to miss the Sixties that surely shaped our hearts and minds forever.

  163. There’s an old Victorian poem I would sing song to my children when they were little, I think it encapsulates what Victorian motherhood came to be looked upon, fairly and unfairly. “ Tell me where are baby’s sky’s, baby’s sky’s are mothers eyes, mothers smiles and laughs together make the baby’s pleasant weather. Mother keep your eyes from tears, keep your thoughts from foolish fears, keep your lips from dull complaining, lest the baby think it’s raining.” We were expected to be the light in our children’s lives, regardless of our own feelings. As much as I wish I were that ideal mother, I learned from 4 children, starting as a 20 year old into my mid thirties, that it was far better to be honest with my children, to let them know sometimes I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, be that saintly mum. I think they, and I, are the better for that honesty.

  164. As a father of two children under 4, I think this is a fantastic article. My wife and I have been discussing this phenomenon of joyful motherhood quite a bit, and I have always said that anyone who is 100% happy about parenthood all the time is lying through their teeth. That is not to say there isn't real joy in the job, but it's not all smiles and rainbows, and that needs to be the what is expected for new parents rather than the carefully manicured photoshoot style of instagram parenting which has become prevalent today.

  165. @Jonathan Smith If they aren't lying then they are on drugs. Raising a kid is hard; raising a kid by today's standards is impossible

  166. No, motherhood isn't for everyone; our mother was beautiful, intelligent, artistic, and miserable. She wasn't an anomaly in the greater society, but definitely in the extended family. She didn't like parenting, didn't do it well for very long periods of time, and left my siblings and me with confusion about duty and identity as adults: we were raised only to be well-behaved children. Motherhood in the '50's and '60's was not all McCall's magazine, Girl Scouts, and jello salads; our mother felt inferior for failing at it all. She found her peace in vodka and valium. We found our peace in therapy. I was lucky to come of age when I had a choice about reproducing.

  167. @Monica I can remember hearing the adult women in my family speaking enviously of other women's hysterectomies. "I wish my doctor would just clean me out'.

  168. @Monica: Beautifully written and gracious.

  169. I think the questions "why don't you have kids" or "why aren't you married are asked because misery loves company. I am childless by choice (In my early 60's) growing up and looking back, women didn't really have a choice, but condoms were out then and The Pill was fairly new then, but it seems to me that women up until The Pill were just owned by their husbands and had no say as to how many children they wanted. I will never believe that any woman (of sound mind) that has 4-5 or more children really wanted to go over the number of 2 or may be 3 kids, then some went on to have 6-7-8 and then some. Back in the 60's and before that women didn't really have a choice I'm sure there are many women who wished they stopped at one or two or didn't want to have any at all, but that's what was expected of them. Anyone remember that Dear Abby question back in the 70's that asked if you had to do it over would you still have kids?

  170. @ShirleyW It was Ann Landers in 1976. Approximately 10,000 people responded, and 70% of the respondents said no.

  171. Thank God that some of the thinking detailed here has evolved. Everyone on this Earth arrived here alive through some woman's womb whether a result of a man and a woman's physical coupling or through bio-technological means to assist women and men to have children. Every man on the planet was given birth to by some woman. No one yet has evolved fully from a petri dish or some other non-woman chamber except born or taken early to assist life. The ideas in this article, though they did occur as a part of culture in American society as we know of it, does not speak of all societies, mothers or children. What is covered may explain why so many adults are so confused or have experienced such troubling childhoods from what may have been troubled parents. Mothering is innately maternal but some women do not take well to it. Deeming a child or children negatively or as a grievance is traumatic; help should be sought. Lack of adequate positive parenting has consequences. All adults have the experience of having been a child. The golden rule is applicable. Treat and accept your child and children as you would like to have been your experience even if it wasn't positive. Look upon children, in general, as tomorrow's adults. We all need kindness and encouragement. Children's interests/well being come first. Hard to make a mistake or regret later. There is no "celebrity" motherhood. It's learned skills and caring. There is no "ideal motherhood"-- just what's real and a shared bond.

  172. @Hanan "No one yet has evolved fully from a petri dish or some other non-woman chamber except born or taken early to assist life. " Give it time. 'A Brave New World' is on the way. We're seeing massive drops in male sperm counts and decreasing female fertility. The eugenicists may yet get what the wanted, control over human 'breeding.' The role of the family has been steadily decreasing. How long before Huxley's 'future' comes to pass?

  173. @Hanan You're saying it's abnormal for women not to enjoy being mothers. Nope, some of us just don't want to be mothers--it's not innate. And some women find out they don't want to be mothers after they have children, because there is social pressure to have children. Our society should discard that social pressure.

  174. The comments say it all: if you have several kids and at least one of them had colic or special needs, it is likely you faced some truly awful days and can approach this conversation with sympathy and understanding. If you had easy kids (especially if you only had one), you tend to be slightly proud and opinionated about the whole thing, and often say things that make it harder for those who are struggling. Our first child was an absolute dream and I was very sure of myself as a mom — even prideful. Her younger brother then was born and was inconsolable from birth. Through years of intense struggle and some despair, I acquired great sympathy and compassion for struggling parents. It’s hard, lonely and you often blame yourself.

  175. @Alison my situation exactly. I am so glad you wrote this.

  176. @Alison This was my experience exactly - my first child was so easy because, I thought at the time, we were good parents. With my second, I gained great empathy for the struggles and heartbreak that parenthood can bring. I'd say it made me a better person, but at a huge cost.

  177. @Alison You know what, Alison? You made the best point here, and it informed me, so thank you. I get my back up when women who enjoy mothering are told their experiences are somehow invalid. But until now, I had not thought of it the way you put it. I did have relatively easy kids. I had support. It made a difference. However, I try in my real life (if not my virtual one) to never get too smug. I know that kids come "prepackaged" and you never know what you are going to get. I say that to anyone who ever compliments my kids. I make a joke, usually, about how I'd like to attribute it to my superior parenting but I know better because I do. I have family members who, in an ideal world, would be better emotionally equipped to parent than I ever was, but who got children who were particularly challenging. Your point is a good one and I appreciate it. Thank you.

  178. Throughout history womanhood has been miserable for many if not most women. According to Prof. Steve Taylor, at Leeds University, writing in "Psychology Today", "even if they belonged to higher social classes, most women throughout history have been enslaved by men." In fact most American women today lead independent lives, and have help from spouses, relatives and baby sitters in caring for their children. While it is still pretty onerous to be a mother, compared to women in earlier times, and other cultures, when women were chattels, American women are reasonably well off in the role of mother.

  179. "Searing honesty" is good. The support of a safety net is also good. The "safety net" is often considered part of democratic socialism. We see today how essential services are under threat. It is when illness strikes in the family, including mental health issues, that desperation arises. Republicans promote a philosophy of rugged individualism, pulling oneself up by one's own bootstraps, never asking for help. A network that is both psychologically and socially supportive will mitigate against breakdown. Arguably women in earlier simpler times perhaps had more community support than women today, each one in her own isolated domain.

  180. @Leonie It takes a village. It really does. This "rugged individualism" is a myth and it's damaging.

  181. I love my children but I don't enjoy being expected to be at beck and call to them or the schools once they are of school age. it's an example of pure sexism that Mommy is always first to be called whenever someone says they don't feel well and need to go home. How about calling their father first for a change? Why am I the one with the expendable life?

  182. @Liz It seems to me most elementary schools ask for a contact number, and you can give them Dad's number as the first person to contact.

  183. @Liz Because you chose to let it happen. Who are you blaming if not yourself for how you choose to live your life?

  184. Well, you could change the emergency contact info on file at your child's school to the fathers... And you won't be called by your child's school in case of sickness or emergency . I've got some honest news for you, parenting only ends the day you die.

  185. As the oldest of four, I was constantly babysitting for my younger brother and sisters. I was called home from friend’s houses during weekends in order to babysit while my parents ran errands which took up a large part of the day. When I turned 18 I was responsible for them when my parents were overseas. I made a conscious decision not to have children because of this. I knew what it was like to be responsible from an early age. I love kids and I teach and that’s enough....

  186. I only went to law school after my husband and I had our 2 children. My now-adult kids tell me I was a good mom, but all I remember from that time is endlessly saying “hurry up”. And I only went to law school for the economic security. Could we have afforded it, I would love to have been a stay-home mom. Caring for a newborn is hard, and no one tells you that the first 2 months that will be all you should plan on doing. But for those who miss time with other adults, I recommend La Leche League and Gymboree, as well as getting out and about with baby. I went to museums, free outdoor concerts, etc.

  187. @Lawyermom I remember a time long ago when my wife went away on a two week trip to India with a friend. I was left in charge of our two children. I taught them to help with the cleaning, with dish washing, and whatever else was needed. We did it together. When my wife returned, she "detrained" the children and started doing all the housework herself. I felt that all my work "civilizing the children" had gone down the drain.

  188. I'm 65 and I still remember the exhaustion and emotional burnout of early mothering. I thought if I made it through the first year, it would be a miracle. But what I didn't realize is how swiftly those early milestones fade and vanish, leaving you with a child, a teen, and finally a young adult. I look at those early month photos now and see them as a secret love, an intensity of feeling that no one else, neither spouse nor child, remembers. If I had it to do over, I would try to remind myself that some years hence this moment would be among my most profound memories.

  189. @Karen H I had my kids when I was 35 and 37 , putting them in daycare when they were 3.5 and 1.5 to go back to work. I regretted that, but needed the money and health insurance. People would say, "You certainly have your hands full." It was definitely a full immersion experience, but I look back on the brief time at home with my children as among the happiest times of my life. Now they are 26 and 24 and looking back the thing I regret most is that it was not possible to work part time and be home after school.

  190. @Karen H Oxytocin. It's amazing.

  191. I had my first and only child at 35. I dreamed my entire life of having a healthy, spirited, smart, funny, kind little girl. That’s what I got. But the first years were so hard. I’m an introvert and found it impossible to recharge when I was always caring for my daughter. I was exhausted and longed for time alone. I unfortunately did the attachment parenting thing to the letter, not realizing that advice from a man on how a mother should raise a baby probably didn’t have my best interest in mind. I got through those first 3 years and am grateful the baby and toddler stages are over. My daughter is now 6, and probably the easiest kid in the world. I’m so glad I had her. And equally glad I didn’t have more children. As I write this comment, my husband and daughter are at a neighborhood party, and I’m in bed early. Blissfully alone.

  192. I’m also an introvert, and had no idea how hard caring for children would be when you can never really be alone!!! Coupled with the fact that my 2 daughters are extreme extroverts, if I don’t organize our schedules to have them out and about, they’re talking my ear off and pestering me to engage with them... When I was a child I read for hours by myself, I don’t think I ever imagined that children could want to be so ON all the time! I love my girls dearly but sheesh I haven’t felt mentally whole in years...I have friends who are lamenting life as empty nesters and all I can think is that I will finally be able to be alone when my kids go to college!

  193. @Christy Don't be too down on attachment parenting - if your daughter is truly "the easiest kid in the world," it may just be because you did AP "to the letter!" I too did AP to the T and the payouts are a happy, confident kid. Big investment, big payout.

  194. I mostly enjoyed being a mother and felt lucky to stay home with my two children, even though I do remember living through a haze of exhaustion. After becoming a parent, I developed insomnia, which was a curse during those years. After having read most of these comments, which I always enjoy, I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the strain children put on a marriage. Several years ago I read that there is definitive data that having children decreases marital satisfaction, and the negative effect increases with each additional child. My own marriage did not survive, as a result of many aspects relating to the stress of raising children, among other factors. It’s a contrast to the traditional thinking that having children will bring a couple closer. Maybe sometimes, but mostly not. This was a good read; made me feel better remembering those wonderful and difficult years!

  195. @Just Curious, that is not what I have seen among family and friends. Quite the opposite, in fact. Children often keep a couple together though the bad times, because they focus so much attention and love on the kids. And if those relationship with the kids is joyful, that reflects back on the marriage. When you don’t have children — especially if that is due to infertility rather than choice — all you have is each other. When things get difficult between you, there is no child to pull you away from the tension with his or her more immediate needs. Maybe it’s different if a parent is not happy being a parent (and feels trapped), or if a child has issues that are difficult to deal with (behavioral problems, illness or disability). Maybe all that can put too much strain on a relationship. But what I see most often is happy parents equals happy couple/happy family. Just my opinion, but if there is alienation of affection or infidelity, the rift did not happen because of the children. They are not to blame.

  196. "Over time, the Victorian child-rearing manuals, describing the ideal mother whose 'voice is always gentle' and 'face is always kind'...” Which is so ironic given that Queen Victoria was at best neglectful towards her children to down fight cruel and abusive, especially after Prince Albert died. She blamed her oldest son for it and never let him forget it. Media influence can be so toxic.

  197. @Sheila Victoria also hated being pregnant. But like most members of the upper classes, she didn't raise her own children. She was busy being a queen. And Prince Albert was a very stern father who demanded that his children be perfect.

  198. Frankly, these comments shock me. It's hard to believe that so few Americans-- and in 2019, no less!-- even expect that government policies could and should make a vast positive difference in the decision to have a child. Mandatory parental leave for both partners, affordable healthcare, and safe affordable daycare are 3 family-friendly safety-net policies that would make a world of difference in whether folks choose to have kids or not. No wonder Europeans think Americans are crazy-- both the article and many if the comments seem centered on the idea that to choose to have kids is to voluntarily throw yourself personally, professionally, financially, and mental-healthwise to the wolves--

  199. @BedfordFalls How about mandatory leave for non-parents to pursue optional lifestyle choices? Fair is fair...

  200. @BedfordFalls This is right on. I have a niece in Canada. We most certainly are nuts. She gets a year to be with her infant. Health care is a given, a right.

  201. Parents, yes, fathers as well as mothers, are "sold a bill of goods" regarding new babies. Advertisers and others present babyhood as lovely and peaceful. I, for one, have tried to warn mothers- and fathers-to-be that the first year is very stressful and that they should plan to care only for the baby and themselves and to forget things like folding laundry, making elaborate meals, and volunteering. And for goodness sake, sleep when the baby sleeps!! So far no one has seemed to believe me. A generation ago I had four babies in fewer than seven years.The first year for each baby was easier than the last but never without stress.

  202. Whew. I knew when I was 14 I didn't want kids. Waited till I was 30 to tie the tubes. I am now in my 60s and I swear there isn't a day that I don't consciously think how glad and relieved I am that I didn't have one. This article and most of the comments only reinforce that I made the right choice for me, and thank god I HAD a choice. Or I'm sure I would indeed have lain down and died.

  203. @MidwesternReader Agreed; I knew when I was 11 I didn't want children, and babysitting through high school just reinforced that point of view. My mother always assumed when I was a kid and a teen that I'd want children as she had; she had grown up on a farm in the Depression, the oldest of five children—and STILL wanted children! I never told her about the two abortions I had. People who knew me when I was pregnant assumed I'd want the children, even if the pregnancies were unplanned, but I scheduled 6-week D&C procedures for both of them. No regrets.

  204. @MidwesternReader I'm glad you didn't have any either.

  205. @a bee ee? Exactly. I always figured it would be far better if I regretted not having a child, than to have one and regret that...

  206. Missing from this article - but noted in comments - is the role of an extended family. It used to be common seeing newly married couples living with one set of parents or the other. An unmarried aunt or widowed grandmother might also be found in the same house. It was common for married children to live next door or close to their parents or siblings. If parents died (not all that uncommon in various epidemics) relatives would take in orphaned children if they could afford to do so. The number of men and women that never married is surprising. The lives of ordinary unmarried but independent women in the late 1800's deserves study. I've seen a number who traveled extensively though working as dressmakers though others spent their lives living with parents and then siblings.

  207. @cynicalskeptic Yes - the idea of the nuclear family - doing everything on their own -without help from an extended tribe is great for the "economy" but terrible for human beings. How much better to live in reasonably close proximity to family and friends who might share chores, tips and daily life??!! The nuclear family can be quite isolating.

  208. @Bonnie Extended families also used to be your retirement plan. Parents would go to live with a child - or rotate among children. I've seen the pattern in different census years. Two people would marry and have children. Their parents or a widowed parent might come to live with them as they raised their own children. As their children married they might live with the parents and grandparent for a few years before getting a place of their own. Four generations in a house was not unusual. One or two children might never marry. In that case it was common for the unmarried children to remain with the parents and grandparent. The unmarried child or children might be the caregivers for the grandparent and parents until they died. Sometimes a boarder would fill that role if no children remained home. If all children left the home, parents might remain on their own until one died or illness struck. Then they would move in with a child's family. Children might share the burden- taking turns having their parents live with them. I've seen cases where parents lived separately with different children. It was common for extended families to stay close. It made it easier to care for elderly relatives and help each other out

  209. @cynicalskeptic We lived next door to my husband's parents. It was double plus ungood for me, for many reasons. Don't assume all family relations are good.

  210. Holding a newborn baby is a good thing. Holding a newborn baby 24/7 is too much of a good thing. Every parent needs a break from such a 24/7 job. Regardless of the satisfaction and special moments, caregivers (of people of any age) must have their own needs met. Just like on the airplane, the parent must put on their own oxygen mask first before they can help their child. Even the chores were not a problem when undertaken with the proper attitude. My husband and I would each volunteer to change our first baby's diaper since it was a chance to unbundle him in our cold house and marvel at his little body. As an older mother of four kids who worked a professional job part-time, I cultivated a sense of gratitude to keep my attitude positive. I totally loved playing with the kids, teaching them, going on outings and showing them new things. Their inexperience at all stages made the simplest things exciting and fun.

  211. Interestingly, no one here comments on the one thing that made early motherhood much easier (if less ecologically sound) than it was for previous generations: disposable diapers. For those overwhelmed with a newborn (and, yes, it's overwhelming; I truly sympathize), imagine not being able to afford a diaper service and washing load after load after load of diapers -- after first carefully soaking them, or even boiling them; and, until dryers became prevalent in the late 1950s/early 1960s, hanging those diapers on a line outside or (in the winter) on a rigged-up clothesline in one's apartment or basement. As a new mom, I did realize it wasn't quite as tough for me as it had been for my mother...

  212. @Awestruck Been there, done that. And we had to get the water, build the fire, and wash the diapers in a big galvanized tub. Then I hung them up and watched them freeze dry in a minute or two. Alternatively, we could hike the diapers out in a backpack to where the car was parked, drive to the laundromat which only had cold water... ah, the hippie life (and the locals life) in New Mexico in the 60's and 70's. I met older Hispanic women there who had 21 and even 24 children. The older woman who had 24 used to go out dancing in the bars at night. Don't ask me how!

  213. @Awestruck Oh, but now, the "perfect" moms insist on using what are referred to here in Australia as "MCNs" (modern cloth nappies). In some circles, using disposable diapers rather than cloth, which you optimally wash and hang out to dry yourself, brands you as a terrible person because of the conventional wisdom that used diapers are destroying the environment.

  214. I moved half way across the country when my daughter was 9 weeks old. Other than my husband, I knew no one. I chose not to work at the time, and those early mornings and long days were rough. I’m sure some moms love and treasure every moment of early motherhood, but others of us hang in there through sheer force of will.

  215. No famous athlete, no titan of industry, no singer, no actor, no great painter, no scientist, has ever done anything that compares in difficulty or importance to being a good mother.

  216. @Noel Of course we must keep in mind that all those athletes, titans, singers, actors, painters, and scientists wouldn’t even exist without their mothers.

  217. @Noel That is absolutely false. This kind of claptrap perpetuates the motherhood myth that the author is talking about.

  218. @Noel Motherhood is a relationship and has nothing at all to do with the importance of a woman’s vocation.

  219. I will always be grateful that my wife was able (and willing) to stay home with our two kids in their early years (while also caring for two or three others). Being the fifth of five children and the only boy, I was not well equipped for fatherhood. I loved (and still love) being a father, but I will always feel I could have done more (especially after reading this). I hope we have prepared our son better (if he chooses to be a parent), but I doubt it.

  220. Virginia Woolf talks about this in her “Professions for Women”. She critiques the limits and constraints inherent in the role of the “angel in the house” and laments the soul crushing expectations that mothers and wives be passive, charming, sympathetic and of course self-sacrificing. Women are supposed to smile through the drudgery and boredom, and remain perky and upbeat even when they’ve only slept two hours and not even had a chance to brush their teeth by 5:00. Mostly we are supposed to always perpetuate the fiction that it’s all completely wonderful lest we be called ungrateful.

  221. @Anon Spot on. I had my first child in Texas, so I had to use up all my vacation and sick time to stay at home for 7 weeks before I had to go back to work full time. I remember my son's father leaving in the morning for work - me on the couch with our son, nursing - and him coming back late to find me and our son on the couch, nursing - and him saying, "Haven't you done anything all day? You haven't moved since this morning." I still remember how much that stung, the implication that I was just a lazy couch potato. And all I wanted, more than anything, was 10 minutes in a hot shower to wash my hair and rinse away the smell of sour breast milk. I had to steal time for everything, showers, bathroom breaks, an occasional hurried meal. How this pressure feels is impossible to explain to any man or woman who hasn't gone through it. The whole thing is theoretical until you experience it.

  222. For fathers, if ain’t no picnic neither. At least if you’re involved in night feedings and newborn care. I remember many foggy, delirious days. That said, here’s to mothers who put their bodies on the line in ways we could hardly imagine.

  223. @The Buddy Good for you! My comment was going to be about my own daughter, now a mom to two beautiful children , 2 and 4 years old. Her husband, my fabulous son in law is more than 50% on the job. He does acknowledge, as you do, what his wife went through giving birth both times. They are a remarkable couple, and by your posting, I'm sure you are a remarkable mate too.

  224. @The Buddy The sacrifice required is not even close for fathers.

  225. I feel like the author is really trying to make the point that society has had and still does play a huge role for how many people view motherhood and women in general. Being a mother of two young children (4 months and 3 years) I will say society is still pretty brutal to young mothers. Strangers give unwanted “advice” and grandparents seem to truly forget how hard the young years are. When a woman is a mother that seems to be all society sees her as: a mother. She is no longer an individual with needs (sexual, intellectual, or otherwise). She is expected to get all enjoyment and fulfillment in life from her children. This is generally not the case. The same cannot be said about fathers. I don’t think the intent of the article is to imply that women who have these feelings do not love their children, but do not love how society has set up motherhood and essentially mothers to fail at being the perfect parent. I usually tell people I love having children but do not enjoy being a “mother”. In conclusion, women should be seen as individuals and treated like human beings (possibly like how society views fathers/men) and not just uteruses to bear children and take care of them.

  226. @Ladyland Yes I had the same feelings when my kids were little. It was tough, and the commentary of other people did not help. Really it was only people in the same situation who seemed to understand. And even then, all babies are different, so some parents have an easy baby and others have much bigger challenges. But, hang in there, because as your kids get older there’s definitely a separation of your identity from only being a mother.

  227. Thank you for being supportive! I will say that I do now have a separation of identity and motherhood ( that first year with the first baby took a toll). I will also say that I feel society in general does not have that separation. I am a working mother and have had several comments made that I should be staying home with the children (I have personally NEVER HEARD that about my husband or other fathers). It has taken years for me to undo the damage that society has done to women and am still a work in progress.

  228. @Ladyland So right! I always told my husband that I loved being married but didn't want to be a "wife." Our notions about women's roles are still so limited, simplistic and uninteresting.

  229. I think we have to fight hard to keep abortion safe and legal and free if need be. Recognizing that a woman having an abortion may have unexpected out of pocket costs (time loss, travel, etc) I would propose we enact a $250 federal tax credit to offset the financial issues an abortion may entail. We need to encourage abortion for anyone who will face financial challenges in providing for a child.

  230. @JW Oh my. Your last sentence is scary and outrageous. How about making it possible for a child/person to be provided for? I wonder what you think about old people with Alzheimers or who are otherwise badly disabled... and who should make which decision. BTW the US is not the problem nation in terms of over-reproduction -- look beyond and check the fertility figures -- you will be astonished. Habitat all over is destroyed to feed the multitudes... and there may be a limit to how many homo sapiens (the term really needs to be changed) the planet can support with global warming.

  231. @JW Why just abortion? Why not the alternatives of adoption, looking for other means of support, or embryo freezing?

  232. @JW abortion access does not solve the challenges of early motherhood. What a strange connection to make!

  233. My husband just doesn’t get how hard those early years were.

  234. @Bitter Mouse They probably weren't as hard for him as they were for you; that's why he doesn't get it.

  235. "The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood,” “reminded parents of the child’s natural propensity for evil.” Why bring children into the world altogether? If mothers are worn down by the process, end the process of having children. If children have the "natural propensity for evil" why continue a species that is killing itself? And with the stress and strain of human existence, it is sadistic to bring a child into this cauldron. Global warming is the best hope to end a species that has a natural propensity for evil.

  236. @Emmett Coyne I think the reference is to "original sin," which some Protestants believe everyone was born with. Adam and Eve sinned so we're all stuck with it. I'm not sure anyone believes that any more.

  237. @Emmett Coyne To state the obvious people have children because they had sex and got pregnant

  238. @Frances Grimble I do. To some extent, just read the Times everyday, you see the propensity for evil in humanity. Today’s case: child porn on the internet. A father raping his own 6 yr old son and invites 14 men to watch.

  239. I watched my mother work, work , work. Not for me. I've seen the blind terror in the eyes of new mothers. Joys of Motherhood is a monumental scam foisted on women. That's why reproductive rights are so important.

  240. Ok, but what about the joy. I experienced post-natal ecstasy. Everything before rendered meaningless. My career...who cares! My life, second to that of the baby. Compelling, driven, overwhelming joy. Wallowed in it. Breastfed until 2, 2 times. What about the joy. The joy of missing out on all the things that no longer matter . The joy of small things. The joy of life.

  241. you can feel joy and still feel trapped. That inner conflict can erode confidence and challenge the most determined among us.

  242. @jc i didnt care. Trapped? gladly. Any tradeoff was worth it. Still think that way although the sacrifices were real. I was trapped, but so overwhelmed with something so purposeful, so meaningful, that I didnt care.

  243. @scientella Ecstasy... That just was not at all my experience. I'm glad you had a wonderful experience, and I'm glad the author of this article has acknowledged the fact that there are some mother's like me that want to throw in the towel at times even though I generally love being a mother. You can love being a mother and still feel like it's about to drive you crazy. It's not diminishing your experience for someone to have a different, yet still valid, mothering experience.

  244. Early parenthood is the best. We both changed diapers and fed and cleaned them. We took our babies everywhere (although we did not go to restaurants much) and dealt with any mess or inconvenience without dwelling on it. Babies are labor intensive but simple. Why do people have kids they don't have the time or energy to raise? It is not supposed to be misery. Get a smaller house or apartment, sell one of your cars, and live a decent life instead of compromising the most important job you have to make more money.

  245. @Teal But what, exactly, makes parenthood "the most important job?" Parenthood is just one of many professions. Why should it be more important than being a doctor, or a research scientist, or many other things that benefit humanity?

  246. @Frances Grimble When mothers say that their job as a mother trumps any other jobs they’ve ever had they don’t realize that it cause great pains to women who are unable to have children. On the other hand, when childless women say that they are grateful for the freedom and obligations to save the earth by not having children they don’t realize that it causes envy and even sometimes regrets to mothers who have children. Bizarre if we compare our lives against others and judge based on a reality that we’ve never lived through.

  247. I had to be a working mom because we moved to the East Coast where the cost of living is so high and required that my husband and I both work. The lack of affordable, high quality child care was disappointing. I discovered that in the affluent suburb where I live, stay at home moms are the norm and working moms regarded with some disdain. Working full time, taking care of a house and being a mom is hard and extremely stressful. Though I had to work, I also felt that having a job and a career had benefits that being a stay at home mom didn't have. Being able to talk to adults helped me keep things in perspective. Working helped my marriage because it was easier to acknowledge my contribution to the household. I also saw working as a form of insurance in case of death or divorce. My sons see by example that women are as capable as men. They appear to be as well raised as their peers who were raised in stay at home mom households.

  248. New motherhood was traumatizing for me. My husband and I had our first baby, then we moved to China two months afterward. I was alone as a brand new mother, with no family, no English-speaking friends, no internet, in a totally foreign city and country where I couldn't communicate with anyone, and a husband who worked 20-hour days. I would go for two months without speaking to another adult. I believe that this strange, traumatic exile fundamentally changed my brain structure. I am a completely different person now: extremely shy, extreme social anxiety, prone to depression. I suspect that the majority of the trauma was the culture-shock-with-newborn, but some of it was certainly learning how to be a mom under challenging conditions with zero help.

  249. @Carrie Hi from a fellow "Carrie" who understands. Please seek professional help for your depression and anxiety. You deserve to feel better and you can feel better.

  250. Carrie, what you went through was traumatic, and I hope you’ve sought out professional help in the years since. Early motherhood can be so lonely and isolating in one’s own culture. Caring for a child in a place where you couldn’t even strike up a conversation with other moms, that’s rough, and I’m not surprised that you’ve felt lasting effects. A good therapist will be able to help you recover from the trauma.

  251. Sure motherhood is no cakewalk but it is the most rewarding, beautiful and deeply satisfying thing I’ve ever done. I don’t pay attention to social media or waste time comparing myself to all the Miss Perfects out there. Before my son I got an Ivy League masters degree and I had a big international career. Those experiences pale in comparison to raising my little boy. I still work but I changed careers so I could be present and have never ever looked back. Every single day as a parent there are moments of pure joy and wonder if you pause and experience them. Marriage is the hard part.

  252. What a silly essay. Of course caring for an infant is both hard and boring, esp. in a household that consists of one or two adults, and where the principal caregivers lacks a support system. So maybe it's a good thing to have two or three generations living in the same structure in a more or less village situation -- with other relatives who are willing to help out, close at hand. Community. I have no idea where the Times's writers get their information about the Middle Ages and why not go back to the Greco-Roman period or look at other cultures. Life is not only about fulfillment -- it would not be called work if it were total fulfillment (and for some people it's really not work-- they tend to be few and far between) It has long been recognized that maintaining a home, rearing children, which involves much more than providing bed and board and an I-pad. In a rural society 150 years ago -- you go figure out exactly what tasks needed to be performed to keep things running, and now consider how much more specialized and how much less we know how to do today.

  253. @Auntie Mame In college I took a history seminar on the history of childhood. During most of history--including that mythical "village" with no time or place attached--most children worked alongside their parents as soon as they were able. They started with very small tasks on the farm or in the workshop, and graduated to increasingly larger ones as soon as possible. The Victorian working classes put their small children into factories. Throughout history, the upper classes and the wealthier members of the middle classes gave their children more education. But even things like literacy and dancing were required to play their proper role as adults. And if the parents wanted their children to marry at 13 or so to improve the family's finances, social position, or political power, the children did it. So yes, the modern concept of not only childhood but parenthood is relatively new.

  254. Let us all now take a moment to praise the 1965 decision Griswold v. Connecticut, which established the right to privacy as a protection from government intrusion. This decision confirmed the right of married couples to use contraception. I had two children of my own, by choice. They are the lights of my life. I cherish them all and they bring me much joy. That’s my experience, but it doesn’t apply to everyone. Women should never be forced into motherhood if they don’t want to assume the role. The rewards are luminous. The pouring of oneself into these small human beings 24/7 for years, loving and supporting them whatever it takes to do so, is satisfying, but completely exhausting. It's a bad idea for those who aren’t committed to it. The level of energy involved can’t be invested elsewhere and, in this country, it’s a thankless job. We’re expected to be perfect mothers while grappling with the underlying misogynistic judgment that by having sex, we’ve made our bed and now we have to lie in it. Therefore, we don’t deserve any help (never mind that a man’s sperm was intimately involved). The highly personal decision about whether to bear children belongs to women, not the government. We can’t afford to continue laboring (no pun intended) under the illusion that women should be punished for their sexuality. Maintaining/restoring our reproductive rights is crucial to the health of individuals, our species, and the planet.

  255. @Claire Elliott Agree, but its NOT a thankless job, unless you are bound by the standards that, these daze, put achievement above life itself. I had an ivy education, good early career, and then chucked it all in. Willingly. Motherhood was/is more important than any career. The problem is that society does not recognize it as such. We have gone backwards since the 1950s. I remember, as hubby and I took a big hit financially when I chose to stay home, some mother "choosing" to go back to work for Halmark cards, so she could keep her career. I thought she was simply crazy, or so indoctrinated by contemporary feminism that she was depriving herself of the joy of doing nothing ore than caring for a fragile tiny life. It is basically what we are put on earth do do, but now we must deny it.

  256. @scientella My mother was a highly intelligent woman with a graduate degree for whom being a college professor was much more of a joy than caring for small children. She couldn't wait for that phase of her life to be over. And since this was in the 1960s, she was not "indoctrinated by modern feminism."

  257. @scintillate-----" so indoctrinated by contemporary feminism" I was born in 1958. That means all my friends parents were born in the 20's/30's - well before contemporary feminism. A lot of mothers still did not enjoy motherhood. While my own Mother (born 1936) said she liked rearing us, she said most mothers feel a solid sense of isolation during the children's younger years. For some, it is less joy than work, but that does not mean they are folding to "contemporary feminism". A cursory look throughout history and literature (go back more than a couple hundred years too) is telling how women have handled childbearing and many times it is not a pretty picture.

  258. What motherhood histories are Facebook and Instagram leaving for folks 100 years from now? They are such polished, fanciful tales of motherhood. Or, they reek of snarky humor. Some are down-right lies. Remember the father in Colorado who killed his wife and 2 young daughters, burying them on his oil container worksite? From the mother’s Facebook page anyone would have envied this woman’s family life. Then there’s the spin and polish. I saw a friend of mine shortly after she became a grandmother. Her hand was heavily bandaged. When I asked her what happened she told me her daughter almost broke her hand before the birth of her grandson squeezing so hard. Her daughter’s Facebook page told a totally different story. She told everyone ‘labor wasn’t that bad and the baby came quickly with just a little pushing.’ Yet when you look at the pictures of the proud new father - scruffy and with bags under his eyes - it tells a different story. No pictures of the new mother until two days after the birth. The new grandma ruined the Facebook story too: she said she held her daughter’s hand for most of the 20-hour labor. Not what I would call a ‘not a bad labor’, but too each his own. Also, what makes a celebrity such an expert on mothering when they only have to be a parent when they want to? If a studio calls they’re off the mommy track and on the set or stage.

  259. Thank you for this article, and most importantly your final paragraph. You took the words right out of my mouth. I was recently expounding to some childless girlfriends on the failures of our society to prepare us for - or to even acknowledge - the demands of creating a family, only to be told by one of said friends “I think people make choices”. The braver the face we put on in pretending like the current status quo is fair, the more we are cheating our fellow women and all new mothers to come, not to mention lying to ourselves.

  260. Mother of three. Career Civil Servant. Husband who didn't lift a finger domestically. We all have stories to tell. I had various childcare situations, including having the oldest help with the youngest often. I am on very good terms with my grown children, and having a pension has kept me from being at all dependent on them in retirement, has even enabled me to help financially so being a working mother in my case was not a bad thing. My husband wasn't a helper but he was financially responsible, sometimes generous, but often peculiar in his temperament. He was not cut out to be a "daddy". Narcissistic and insensitive to children isn't the Daddy Knows Best personality. I often wonder if I would have been a happier person on some level if I'd ignored the cultural standard and just been single and a career woman. I will never know, and things are OK most of the time. I've learned to roll with the punches in life. I think I was mostly a good mother and good example, but I did ditch the husband after the children were grown and "ran off" with someone else. Oh well, no one's perfect.

  261. For those who absolutely loved early parenting, good for you. That does not mean though that your one experience is the only valid one. " the pressure to find it delightful remains a norm." There are a growing number of women who are willing to say the unthinkable - they regret having children. Just maybe your positive experience is NOT universal. In fact, it may not be as prevalent as supposed.

  262. @uwteacher I suspect many more women and men would regret parenthood if it could be said without hurting the feelings of their children.

  263. Some people are promoting abortion on this comment board. I find that disturbing as a pro life woman. There are resources for those who are having difficulty with motherhood and all the woman needs to do is ask for help. Abortion is not the solution and harms both mother and child. Ending a life does not solve one's problems. It only brings on new ones.

  264. I respect your viewpoint, but others might think differently. That's what freedom of choice and a woman's right to choose are all about.

  265. “... all the woman needs to do is ask for help.” Fantastic! Does that include assuming the inherent risk of carrying to term? Because research has repeatedly shown us that full term pregnancy is far, far more potentially dangerous than legal abortive procedures. The second you can offer this option, I’ll be sure to call.

  266. @KMW Aborting a pregnancy that you are unable or unwilling to support is a smart and responsible thing to do.

  267. In history class I was taught that motherhood began to be idealized when more effective birth control became available. Various methods such as sea sponges were around for a long time, but (some members of) the Victorian middle and upper classes used rubber diaphragms and rubber condoms, which were more reliable. Once children were no longer considered inevitable, people felt more free to idealize them.

  268. @Frances Grimble I just heard a historian on NPR saying that in the past women and their unpaid labor was crucial to a family’s survival. She sewed all the clothes, grew food, tended animals, canned, cooked everything from scratch, did laundry with a wringer that took all day. Once people moved to the cities and those skills weren’t needed, women become valued mainly for their ability to reproduce. Apparently, at one point, they wanted to outlaw cosmetics in the US because they hid a woman’s true age and so her possible years of fertility and men considered using them an act of fraud!

  269. The 1950s created “idealised motherhood” but in the 21st century western societies have sold women the myth that motherhood isn’t really a full-time 24/7 job. Therefore, I think women don’t really have a proper idea of how much work is actually involved before they take it on and motherhood has become even more undervalued by society. Today’s women actually have it worse than previous generations because today we are criticised both for neglecting our children if we try to do anything for ourselves and for “slacking off” by staying at home with children or working part-time or studying. Aren’t we superwomen? Why aren’t we out there doing something important like conquering the world? We have to live with the sense of being stretched all the time, robbing Peter to pay Paul, and doing NOTHING WELL. I get the idea of “going to work for a break” from motherhood, but here’s the rub, it still takes a lot of bags to be packed etc just to get out the door and it’s all still waiting for you when you get home. And you missed the highlights - the first smile, first step, first word etc. No wonder women are stressed and neglect their own health and well-being. In the restructure we got two jobs.

  270. I was never disappointed as a mother. I treasured each of my two sons and very much enjoyed their infancies and toddlerhoods. They were both such nice babies and so companionable. They have grown to be fine men and I still love them just as much. I know I've been very fortunate and under other circumstances I might not have been so positive, but I'm sure glad that I enjoyed being a mother and I think it was good for my children.

  271. I am delighted reading your description of your beautiful babies!

  272. As a single working father of four, I get to say it. Stay at home parenting of one or two kids is a luxury. Work inside the home, by itself, will never be as challenging as work outside the home or the work that many of us do “having it all” and working both in and out of the home. Raising young children is challenging, get over it.

  273. @Mark Shumate As a person who has done both: not even close. Going "away" from the chaos of home to a professional office to work with professional people who have already been civilized into adulthood, and thus theoretically make good decisions based on data and rules and norms that someone else (probably their mothers) taught them ... is much easier than raising little humans who don't know the rules yet, with curious and obstinate minds of their own, who make messes faster than your eyes can blink, who test boundaries of science and patience, hopefully to eventually be molded into conscientious citizens by our efforts. See, you don't have to do that molding-conscientious-citizens part with your coworkers, because their moms already did that for them - that's why work is so easy, and why human-raising is so hard.

  274. Yes, you speak the truth. I never got the unconditional love or positive reinforcement from a boss that I got from my kids. Unless you are home dealing with the endless challenges of special needs kids, there's no comparison between the gift of time that stay at home parents enjoy with their kids and the stresses and often unrelenting pressures of paid employment outside the home. Anyone who thinks it's easier to go out to work than to stay home caring for non-special needs kids has obviously never done so.

  275. @Mark Shumate. I’ve had time as a stay-at-home parent, a working parent and working as the primary breadwinner while my husband stayed home. I found being the primary breadwinner the easiest by far. I liked my job, making money and having all my meals and laundry done for me. Least favorite? Stay-at-home parent. Soooooo boring and lonely and grueling. People have different personalities and are suited to different kinds of work.

  276. This is so terribly, painfully good and true. I'm a historian of motherhood (in Germany, but I'm well versed in the history in the U.S.) and I applaud the author for seeking out authoritative work in the field and synthesizing it in ways that are deeply meaningful for mothers today! I was one of those overwhelmed mothers after my first child was born. He didn't sleep. He DID - NOT - SLEEP. Not even during the first 72 hours! He turned 20 today and the curiosity and drive of those early hours and months and years has persisted and turned into gold. But neither of us will ever forget his immortal question: "Mama. [an imperative, btw] How many pandas? HOW MANY PANDAS?" Upon cross-examination, he specified: "How many pandas IN THE WORLD?" For every hilarious story like this one, there was a moment - especially in those first six months, when I couldn't put him down without him hollering - when I despaired. I suppose I could've been diagnosed with postpartum depression, but even in the year 2000 no one asked. And after he started sleeping decently at night, I was no longer clinically diagnosable. The situation is not improved when one's partner claims to be equally involved but refuses to compromise his well-being by, say, getting up with the baby in the morning. Or the teen. "At least one of us can be well rested!" I'll never regret having my children. They're funny, weird, and kind. I love them to infinity. I do wish mothers got the support we need, socially and personally.

  277. @Patty - I so understand. My son didn't sleep either. We'd wake up in the middle of the night and discover he'd somehow hoisted himself out of his crib (at 8 months), after taking the sheets off his bed and the curtains off the nearby windows. Then he'd crawl to the toy shelf and start removing all the toys. If we still weren't awake, he'd crawl to the closet and start removing all the shoes. My husband never got up with him, even once. It would have interfered with his all-important work. In fact, he dropped me off at the hospital to have the baby so he wouldn't have to miss any work.

  278. Are there any industrialized countries that are not experiencing zero native population growth because so many women prefer not to work and have children?

  279. @Hector Yes, the facts show that once women have access to good educations and to birth control, they have fewer children. Even with various kinds of government support for pregnancy and childcare.

  280. Our society assume sthat women cannot experience true fulfillment in life without having children. However--like men--women can find true fulfillment in careers, and in avocations such as the arts that may not provide enough money to live on. I'm a 64-year old childfree woman who's lived with my husband for 46 years (since we were students). I can testify that it's possible to find what I'm sure is an equal amount of joy in a career (mine has been writing and editing), and an avocation (mine was dance). And we've had a very happy marriage--one that would have been far less happy with all the time and financial stresses of parenthood. As for "sacrifice," I don't think women should be obliged to sacrifice any more than men do.

  281. @John - The evolutionary dead end would be if people kept reproducing at the rate we used to.

  282. It's amazing how little consideration is often given to not having kids. Whether to conceive is usually the most profound decision we make. I don't think we take seriously enough the welfare of the child, and all the suffering they will inevitably face.

  283. @Keith I agree with you, personally. However, on the whole....economies are always and have always been strengthened by positive birth rates (over 2 to 1 odds), so I suspect this is the lopsided pressure you might experience from economists. It's not amazing - just the data. I also think that this model might fall apart very abruptly as climate change effects become more pronounced, by the day. Economists will get there, eventually (I am not an economist, btw).

  284. I think some of the commenters are missing one of the earlier points in this article: that in earlier times women had children AND WORKED because life required that of them just to survive, to do the cooking, the laundry, the homesteading. Women AT HOME with children were really working, not fawning over their children’s’ development to live up to some standard of motherhood. Modernity has meant that women at home don’t have to do as much work when they are home, compounded by the demands to be a ‘good mother’ who is solely responsible for the perfect upbringing of children. I have children and I work. On the days I’m home with my children- yes that is tedious and a lot of work because I do still have all the housework to just keep a tidy house. It would be easier in that regard if I didn’t also have and 8-5 career, but I don’t desire the role of being the sole caregiver of my children. If we wanted to live on one income I would still find it very tedious and ‘unfulfilling’ to be the housekeeper who chases after my toddlers. Sometimes I think I would have preferred to be in colonial times or frontier times where I was expected to work hard and have children, within in that neighborly setting of other working-at-home women. I think I’ve written this article in my head many many times...on my drive to work.

  285. My son did not sleep as a newborn and never let go of my finger of the first few years. I did not know much about babies although I had read plenty of books on child care, etc... Nothing helped and I was too stressed out to use my instincts. My husband was as clueless as me and was busy with work. (I don't think I knew how much work it was to stay at home and take care of an infant so I cannot point a finger at men for not being understanding). I was exhausted and anxious and very angry that no one had every divulged the truth of what a battle it would be to get a bit of sleep, a bite, or a shower! I wrote an article (painfully frank, yet funny) about the tribulations of a new mother and no one would publish it. The myth of the -- sheer joy of motherhood -- obviously had to be kept alive. A few years later I wrote an article on the simple pleasures of life that I had become cognizant of as I raised my little boy -- and the article was grabbed immediately by a local magazine. I never dared to have another child. But my boy has grown up to be a independent, pleasant young teenager. And as college looms in the horizon, I nostalgically reminisce about the clingy child who wouldn't let go of his mother.... Motherhood is a wonderful, precious thing. But it is a responsibility for life, and should not be taken casually. And by no means is it the only way a women can have a fulfilling life.

  286. Raising my three sons was the greatest joy of my life. I used to marvel at my good fortune to be a stay-at-home mom. Long summer days at the beach! I look back on those times with gratitude. The boys are now uniquely successful adults, and loving parents themselves. And I get to experience it all again with five grandchildren, who adore each other, and take care of each other. I thought this was pretty normal.

  287. @ExPat. Glad you are happy. Worth pointing out of course that your kids’ “unique success” could be due to being raised by financially stable, loving parents and not because they had a stay at home mom. The thought of being a stay at home makes me want to run screaming for the hills but my kids seem pretty healthy & happy. Lots of styles work.

  288. There is so much cherry-picking here of historical anecdotes to prove two points: (1) the reality of motherhood, as opposed to the ideal, leans towards the "miserable," and (2) women used to work rather than being "full-time mothers." But sometimes the anecdotes contradict each other. On the one hand the article claims "The actual day-to-day labor of raising the smallest children was left to older siblings or servants." But on the other hand we read about women overwhelmed with the demands of their nursing infants. Wet-nursing was never particularly widespread in the US, not in colonial times and not in the 19th century. So in the days when breast-feeding was the only way to keep an infant alive, the care of small children was not actually left to siblings or servants. Infants were usually nursed for years. And there were also 19th-century mothers who wrote that they delighted in nursing and infant care, for all that they would not be cited in this piece. It's true enough that there were more people around the farm or in the household to help out with childcare, and to enable the mother to mix in other forms of work as part of her day. It was a system in which lots of adults were involved with the children and in which a mother could work without lengthy separations from them. But that's hardly the same as a day-care model in which the number of cormunity members involved with children is reduced rather than expanded, and in which the parents may spend long hours away.

  289. @BeenThere Wet nurses were commonly used. Women who had either lost an infant or had enough milk for both their own infant and an additional infant, and who worked for pay. Also, after nursing was over, people of means left much of the care of their children to nannies, then later tutors and other teachers, or sent them to boarding school.

  290. Three children. The first three months were rough till they slept through the night. Enjoyed their youth. Our family camped, backpacked, hiked and skied. Family camping trips by van from Connecticut to the U.S. west, Alaska, Labrador, Mexico, Canadian Rockies, Florida, and the Panama Canal (when the children were two, six and eight). Two trips occurred with a one year old. You see, we could not afford the airfare, campsites were free, and you eat no matter where you are.

  291. Speaking as a woman heading toward 50, I always knew, from childhood, that I never wanted to have children. Instinctively, I feared for the loss of the quiet I craved and needed to create and explore through my imagination, being something of an autonomous child. This never changed, and it took me years to realize that this decision was not only okay, but respectable. A close friend many years my senior said, “It’s far better to accept your gut instinct not to have kids, than to go against it and potentially harm them through disinterest or stress”. I love children, and ironically this is why I don’t want any- to prevent harming them.

  292. I completely respect your decision

  293. Just got back to work from maternity leave a month ago. I had two children, the first is now six, the second is two. And get this: I was home with them for two years each! No that is not an anomaly, here this is the norm. Very few mothers go back before the child is 1. To be honest when I read about working moms who go to work and stay up all night with a few month old baby, I have no idea how they do it. When my first one was so young I got up to her always, and as a result I burned toast, put bananas in the closet, my wrighting when I wanted to record when I put the baby down or when she got up was unreadable, I was afraid of having an accident. Being able to get back to work now with the children in good small state run institutions ( bölcsöde and ovóda) I really do feel very very lucky.

  294. My second child didn’t sleep through the night until she was 3.5 years old. I was afraid to drive, but still had to go to work. I remember a traffic light turned yellow and I panicked and started crying, because if I got a red light I would fall asleep.

  295. @A - OMG. My first didn't sleep through the night for 18 months. (His sister was born 2 months later). For at least three yeas I thought I'd never, ever get enough sleep. (My husband worked full time and insisted that since I didn't have to work," it was my job to get up with the kids every single time.) One time I fell asleep while waiting for a bottle to heat, and woke up to find my kitchen on fire. Those years were barely survivable.

  296. Reading the essay and comments I thought about Tillie Olsen's beautiful short story, "I Stand Here Ironing." A mother receives a call from her daughter's school and ruminates on her daughter's life. Toward the end, she sums it up: "She is a child of her age, of depression, of war, of fear. Let her be. So all that is in her will not bloom—but in how many does it? There is still enough left to live by." I think we forget what she says in its poignant ending: "She is a child of her age..." It is not only individual choice and parents and family that determine who we become, but the complex way that society intervenes in our lives. We are so conditioned to think individually that we forget this.

  297. @Rachelle Linner ... Well said.

  298. A woman can love her infant or toddler more than her own life, and yet still think that taking care of it is mind-numbing drudgery. Yes, it was much harder in previous generations, but women made trade-offs then to make it through the day that most of us don't consider making now. I'm talking about expecting older sibs to care for younger, putting children in playpens, etc. Every woman should have complete control of her own fertility. Period, no pun intended.

  299. Women also had to laundry without automatic machines and cook from scratch.

  300. In the 1960 Doris Day movie “ Please don’t eat the daisies” she had a wooden play pen with a lid!!! She actually put her kids in the play pen and had a padlock on the lid. I had a huge padded play pen in my living room when my kids were small in the 90’s. They’re useful to put your toddler in while you use the bathroom or take a shower.

  301. This article brings to mind a discussion once with my husband. We had 4 children under 8 yrs old. I brought up the amount of work I was doing - everything. He was a TV director, working under pressure. I asked him whose job was really harder. His of course he answered. I responded, but you don’t have to worry about actors falling off the stage.

  302. Single working dad here with four kids. This is a common perception that worrying about kids is parenting. Showing kids how to address worry is the real work