When I was growing up, a lot of us were latchkey kids. From the ages of seven or eight, we were letting ourselves in the house after school. Our parents were at work, and many of us didn’t have the support of neighbors, grandparents or aunts and uncles. Our front door keys hung on shoestrings secured around our necks.
Remember Zips? They were sneakers with a pocket on the side just large enough for one key or two quarters. Sure, you’d tear the skin around your fingers getting it out, but as long as you didn’t lose your shoe, you were never locked out.
Today, it’s illegal to leave a child that young at home unsupervised.
When I read a story about a mom snapping, my first thoughts are no longer how could she? Instead, I now wonder how much sleep was she averaging or what kind of support network she had in place.
By no means do I excuse harming children—that’s a hard stop. I have, however, gained more perspective on what motherhood requires, and that has given me a greater capacity for empathy.
A mom in my village said to me she never seems to get any “me” time in the evenings.
I nodded my head in agreement. “I get it,” I said. “If it’s not the homework—”
She almost spat out her coffee she was so eager to say, “—it’s the sleep anxiety.”
There was no such thing as sleep anxiety when I was growing up. Your parents sent you to bed, the lights were turned out, and you went to sleep. Your alternatives were to count sheep, create stories in your mind, or cry yourself to sleep.
They didn’t give me three cuddles, checked on me four times, or sit with me until I drifted off. Girl, Dynasty was on TV. I knew what would happen if I called out for them after bedtime. Someone had better been breaking in!
Another mom and I went to see Ain’t Too Proud, a musical about the history of The Temptations (an iconic Black American vocal group originating in the 1960s). In one of the scenes, Otis Williams, the founder of The Temptations, discovered that the woman he was dating was pregnant. This presented a problem because Otis’ career was just taking off. The Temptations were a crossover group*, and with that came a lot of opportunity. Otis had a choice to make: be a present father or have a successful career. There was no way to balance both.
*Crossover Group – This refers to the appeal of The Temptations to both Black and White audiences.
Otis married her, and she became a single parent soon after, raising their son largely without him. Nothing was said about her goals or ambitions or how she received the support she would’ve needed.
Sometimes I feel invisible. There are days when everything I do is for someone else: my kids, my job, my husband, the dog, the household. Everyone and everything demands my attention, and at those moments, I want to scream in frustration.
So, I call my mom. (The irony is not lost on me.) We talk about what it means to be a modern woman with ambitions outside the home. She tells me that pacing is key and there is no need to hurry. She reminds me to breathe, and I am grateful for her support.
I don’t know what I would do without my village. Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a group of moms with children of varying ages. Our kids have brought many of us together, but motherhood has cemented our bond.
I was having a coffee with another mom the other day while our children did homework together, and we were talking about what it meant to be a mother of pre-teens during our premenopausal years, and she said something that stuck with me:
It wouldn’t matter if my husband read your blog posts, he still wouldn’t get it. They have to live the chaos and experience the emotional and hormonal shifts if they are to understand it.
She was right.
Motherhood is one of those things you have to experience. You have to know sleep deprivation or what it means to have your thoughts pulled in four different directions, simultaneously, habitually, for years, if you are going to understand the inner workings of a mother’s mind. It’s duct-taped, stapled, folded, spit-glued, and held together by grit, all wrapped in love.