On being smothered

10/16/2012 at 3:17 pm | Posted in Motherhood | 41 Comments

One day last week when Marc came home from work, I snuck upstairs to grab a quick shower and steal some precious time to myself. You know, to sit on the toilet without an infant crawling into my lap or a four-year-old telling me I really need to buy some new underwear.

When I walked back downstairs EXACTLY 19 MINUTES LATER, Lily barked at me “Mommy, what took you so long?”

I almost kept walking straight out the front door.

I know I’m not the only mother in the world who longs for her freedom, and I know I made a choice to hand it over in exchange for the biggest blessings of my life. I made a choice — with my partner — to bring children into this world and raise them to be the best possible people they can be. I made a choice to embrace motherhood and all that it brings, good and bad. To have little human beings on or near me almost every hour of the day.

We are blessed with health, a home, loving families, wonderful friends and neighbors, fulfilling jobs. A happy life.

But as glorious and gratifying as motherhood can be, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t long for more. For space. For room to breathe. For time to just be me.

In those moments when Sophie is shrieking at me to move faster, to bring her something right this minute, to pick her up, I feel smothered. When she tries to cram herself between me and a hot stove at dinner time, clinging to my legs and bellowing at me, despite her dad’s best efforts to retain her attention in the playroom, I want to cry. And it’s exasperating when Lily makes yet another demand of me at the exact moment that I’m finishing doing something else for her. Will I ever be enough? Will I ever not feel suffocated?

Those moments layer on top of one another until my head and heart are begging for mercy.

And sometimes I snap.

On Sunday evening, Lily had just shoved her sister yet again, and Sophie was grabbing at every single toy Lily wanted to play with, and both of them were crying. I took a step toward them, realized I was about to yell, turned on my heel and walked out the door.

In that moment, I knew I couldn’t take another single piece of shit flying in my face. I knew my husband was right there and my girls were safe.

I just walked to the end of the street and back. And in those six minutes, I gained perspective. Nothing earth-shattering. Just listening to the bugs and the sound of my feet on the pavement and breathing fresh dusky air. I felt like the star of a bad Lifetime movie huffing down the street, but man did it help.

Was that weakness? Or self-preservation? Or just plain selfishness? I don’t know.

I walked back into the house and everyone was playing happily like Mommy hadn’t just lost her cool. Marc didn’t mention it later that night, in a nod to the beautiful unspoken code of co-parenting.

And the next day was easier. Because that’s how the universe seems to work when you’re a mom. It throws us those few glorious days that make up for the eighty bajillion bad ones.

I just wish I could figure out how to make peace with the loss of freedom that comes with motherhood. Four and a half years after the birth of my first child, I’m still grieving. And this makes me feel terribly guilty and unworthy.

But I need freedom. Or at least some semblance of it.

During the depth of my postpartum depression one of my doctors told me “you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you can put it on your children.” I’ll never forget that advice. Because without air to breathe, how can we help our kids? How can we be the best possible mothers for them if we can’t help ourselves?

That makes perfect sense, right? So why does it feel so horrible to want a little more oxygen?



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  1. We definitely do all feel this way. I think the reason we sometimes feel horrible about it is that it creeps up during those times when we already feel smothered. Walking out on upset kids to walk down the street, even if you REALLY need it and even if it REALLY helps, will still not feel great.

    Planning a morning in the coffee shop by yourself while your kids are doing something fun with your partner? That feels great. Participating in a team sport in the evening and planning a stop at the mall on the way there? That feels great. Having an evening off from kid duties for a date night or a girls night or just a lounge on the couch night? That feels great.

    Planning for, looking forward to, and enjoying those moments of freedom has helped me to find the balance and perspective that I need.

    • You’re so right about the importance of finding guilt-free ways to give myself space. And it’s true — whenever I do put something in the books, even just a movie with a friend, I look forward to it for days.

  2. You are definitely not alone in this. I have a 3 year old son diagnosed with autism and a 6 month old son. I TOTALLY understand the need to breathe and have some space. With our busy schedule of preschool, therapy, autism center, etc and driving countless hours around town during the week, I have been forced to “find my happy place” during the insanity that is my life. My husband and I have made many sacrifices and had to rearrange schedules and finances, but we have managed to find time for each other and time just for me during the week. Being a mama is hard work and you are definitely doing a lot. Some freedom and fresh air is not too much to ask for.

    • Thanks so much for weighing in, Megan. I admire you for managing to find time for yourself (and your husband) in the midst of chaos.

  3. I have been writing this very post in my head since Saturday morning when I exploded at Jerry for getting the “wrong” jacket and yelling at Oscar to “get out of my way!” when he was underfoot for the 600th time (something I have never done). I didn’t walk out the door. I did yell. And for much of the day my son kept asking me if I was “mean”. I need space too. I feel guilty about every single decision I make these days. I can’t escape the guilt. It’s suffocating. I guess I should go ahead and write that post instead of doing it here πŸ™‚ All that to say. I hear you sister.

    • Write the post! Guilt is such a beast. Maybe if we call him out online, he’ll lose some fangs? Thank you for the support, friend.

  4. Thank you for this. My 20 mos old is in a “phase” which includes screaming “momma up!” in my ear while I am holding her because she is just not “up enough”. Add this to being 31 weeks pregnant and I’m just feeling a little overwhelmed. Your post is a great reminder that its ok to feel that way and that I’m not alone.

    • Oh boy — I remember the days of toddler wrangling while pregnant. Hang in there! Despite what I said in this post, I promise it does get better. And life with two kids is pretty awesome.

  5. I so get this. And I’m honestly a little jealous that you can walk out the door for 6 minutes to get your cool back. Although I have put kids in time-out in separate places and walked into the garage to get my temper under control. Something about fresh air – and the fact that the garage is relatively sound-proof – seems to help. I yell more than I should. I hate it. I hate being “mean mommy.”

    I keep reminding myself that this constant need-need-need thing is temporary. In a few years, they won’t want me around. So I should appreciate it while they DO need me. It doesn’t really help, but sometimes it gives me just enough of a glimmer of a light at the end of the tunnel to keep me from losing my mind.

    • I think about you all the time — about how much harder this would be if I didn’t have the option to walk out the door. πŸ™‚ Seriously. I have all kinds of admiration and respect for you doing this on your own, mama. And thanks for the perspective — it’s hard to imagine a day when my girls won’t want to be on top of me all the time, but I imagine it’ll be here before I know it.

  6. Suzanne,

    I think you wouldn’t be human if you did not have those moments. I defiantly have them from time to time. My saving grace is Stella’s babysitter Michelle. Even if it’s for only a few hours a week, it makes a huge difference. I have to have a little me time to exercise, groom and recharge! Exercise and a baby sitter are how I keep it real πŸ™‚ U rule!

    xoxo LL

    • Thanks so much for weighing in, Laura! I always worry that posts like these are going to scare my new-mommy or soon-to-be-mommy friends. It sounds to me like you’re already racking up mommy wisdom, having recognized early on how important “me time” is. And, hey, one can never underestimate the importance of grooming, right? πŸ™‚

  7. I thought this exact same thing tonight as I answered question #485,976 for the day. We all miss those days when we were just ourselves and didn’t have to answer to or be accountable for anyone else. Thanks for being brave enough to put it out there! It’s obvious that you’re an awesome mom.

    • Thanks, Heather. I’m learning from moms who ventured into this territory before me. Like YOU.

  8. yep i hear ya. same thing happens here. it’s wierd, i long for the days when i’ll have more me time and i dream of all the things i’ll do (like take a nap!) but yet i know when the time comes i will only look back on all the things we did….
    we’ve all been there, i am trying to find the balance too, seems like an endless battle. and i’ve learned that no one will ever say “why don’t you take time for yourself”, you just have to declare it so, and take time for yourself.

    • So true! Despite the chaos, we’re building memories that we’ll carry with us forever. And perhaps I’ll be able to forget most of the bad stuff … kind of like childbirth. πŸ™‚ I appreciate the nudge to declare my own “me time.” I always wait for that validation (permission?) from others. Need to just do it!

  9. You write so beautifully! And you are normal. So very normal. I get it. I feel it, think it, hope for it etc. And I don’t know about you, but I feel better knowing just how normal we are πŸ™‚

    • Thanks, Yuz. The word “normal” isn’t usually part of my lexicon, so your words are really comforting. I appreciate you reminding me I’m not alone.

  10. My husband and I had 7 children in 9 yrs. 20-29 were my birthing yrs. 6 sons and 1 daughter. I used cloth diapers there were no disposable diapers. We washed a load full of diapers every day. I cooked 3 meals a day for 7 children and 2 adults. My husband and I went on a date night every Friday night. When we went grocery shopping we all went together. My husband took the children in one cart and I had the food cart. When the children were not getting along I pulled them apart and took care of it myself. My children are all grown and on their own and assets to society. Remember children love unconditionally, don’t beat yourself up. Love yourself first and the rest will come. Remind your child you are the mom and love them dearly.

    • Oh wow! Juanita, I bow down to you. I can’t even begin to imagine life with 7 children. You are amazing. Thank you for sharing your wisdom here. You’re right — it all comes down to love.

  11. I wish I could remember to walk out the front door more often than not I just yell. :(.

    Last night Hannah screamed for a good hour. NOTHING would calm her down. I had to put her in her crib several times. I felt bad but at the same time if holding her, playing with her, singing to her and all of those other things don’t work than I have to give myself some distance from it. It’s a trigger and my husband knows that. It sounds like Marc does too which is great. Clint knows if I go in my room and turn the TV up real loud that I’ll only be there for a few minutes but I have to drown out the noise or I become a ticking time bomb.

    much love! Thank you for writing out what a lot of us go through!

    • Oh, those crying fits are so tough. I almost have to laugh in the middle of it all during those times when nothing I’m doing is making any difference for the baby. You’re smart to create a sound-proof environment for yourself, even just for a few minutes. The crying is such a huge trigger for me, too. I thought it would go away as the girls got older, but it’s still pretty intense. Maybe I need to dust off my jump-in-the-shower strategy from when Lily was a screaming newborn. It always helped!

  12. I really appreciate your honesty. What popped out for me is this: “long for more. For space. For room to breathe. For time to just be me.”

    I think you identified what you need to help you. If you feel smothered (which is a normal parenting feeling) then space is what you NEED. There is no guilt in this. Your kids need things for their emotional development and parents need things for their emotional development.

    I saw your recent post on Facebook about getting out, and it made me wonder what your answer was? I’m only slightly farther along in my parenting journey but I realized years ago that I am not a happy mom if I don’t have space from the kids and things for myself. Jon and I go really far out of the way to make sure that happens (for him as well but we’ve learned he needs less space than I do).

    Anyway on Facebook you had said suggestions welcome. Here are things that help me and my family:
    – Jon and I trade off getting up with the kids every day. This morning he got up with them and got them ready for school while I took a shower, checked email, had coffee in peace, etc.
    – Jon and I trade off bedtime routine every night. If things get super out of control, we’ll go help.
    – I get out of the house AT LEAST once a week in evenings to meet friends or spend time by myself.
    – If Jon is traveling for work, I still make plans. Next week he is in Vegas 6 days. I KNOW I will be burned out by the end if I don’t get me time, so I’ve already got it scheduled in. I have two nights where I’m not doing bedtime routine. And when he gets back into town, I am taking the evening off.

    I hope I don’t come across as preachy because that is not how I intend it, at all. I am hoping this comes across as supportive. Personally, I don’t feel guilt about wanting time away from my kids and wanting to pursue my own activities because a happy mom is a good mom. When I take a break from my kids, I come back with so much patience and energy to parent the way I *want* to parent. Constantly meeting the needs of others and not meeting my needs drains me! Too much! And then little things make me lose it.

    • Laura, I can’t thank you enough for sharing these thoughts. Especially for the little glimpse into your life and the strategies that work for you guys. This is exactly what I needed to read. A mother who regularly carves out time for herself without negative consequence. Because, you’re right, if we let it all pile up on us, the little stuff causes a big snap. Thanks again for sharing … and encouraging me to reframe all this. Helps more than you know.

  13. I could have written this post myself, I feel just the same way! I worry I’m being selfish. Or that I’m sending a message to my son that I need a “break” from him sometimes. But it isn’t a break from being a mom that I need, it is a quick reminder that there is more to me than being a mom and that my needs are important, too. That is a human need that all mothers share.

    I’ve been trying to force myself to have one girls’ night out (or in, but at someone else’s house) once per month. It’s an important recharge for me.

    Thanks for sharing this post.

    • That’s such a good idea. My husband has been encouraging me to take an evening to myself, but unless I have plans, I usually just go home after work. I think I need to take advantage of the “window,” even if it just means sitting somewhere other than my house reading my book. Thanks so much for weighing in!

  14. Such a great post – absolutely the reason I come back to your blog again and again. Keep this up – and keep getting your own oxygen, too.

    • Oh, Maggie, thanks for your kind words! I worry that these posts make me seem like a giant whiner. I’m so relieved that they actually resonate. xo!

  15. You’re amazing sis. Just in the simple act of “telling it like it is” you help all the rest of us out-of-breath parents exhale. This is what parenting is; there’s no quick answer or singular question really. This is just it. And all the crap of it makes the parenting badge that much more special and meaningful. Keep it up and remember kindergarten isn’t that far away!

    • Amen to the parenting badge. You are so right, sis. Thanks for weighing in. I’d be lost without your constant support. And, three cheers for kindergarten! πŸ™‚

  16. You hit the nail on the head at lunch yesterday. All the social media and constant barrage of other mothers who seem to be doing everything right, can make us feel inferior. But, we aren’t. You are doing the right thing by recognizing you need space! There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I need it too. I hope you can schedule some time to get out and do things for yourself. I would love to start a standing GNO once a month or something! Even better if it involved a beer :).

    • That’s such a good idea. I’d love to have more time to relax than our lunch hour allows. And, yes to the beer. For sure. πŸ™‚

  17. I totally echo LauraC. The best advice I never received (but tell other new moms) is you have to find out what kind of mom you are; this is a journey, dynamic in nature and never static. I resonate with Laura in that I have to plan out times for myself and do lots of trading off duties with the spouse. I think I had this expectation that because I am the mom, I had to do everything and my husband would be a ‘supportive cast member.’ Because I have had a very difficult adjustment to being a mom, my husband was practically forced to do more than I had envisioned. Ann briefly mentioned the pressure society puts on us to be a certain type of mom and I think recognizing your limits and when you need to step away is part of the mothering journey. And all journeys are different.
    Two things that have really influenced the way I reflect on my parenting is this blog post: http://my–fascinating–life.blogspot.com/2012/01/i-blame-post-feminism.html?m=1
    Why do we always have to say that we’re doing such and such self care activity to be better moms? Why can’t it be simply because we are WORTHY of being gentle with ourselves (which ultimately drives us to be gentler with others).
    Secondly, anything and everything Brene Brown has written or said about shame and vulnerability- check out her parenting manifesto and 2010 and 2012 Ted talk on YouTube.
    Suzanne, I don’t know you, but your blog has helped me as I’ve entered this crazy mothering journey. You deserve oxygen not because you are a mother, but because you are a beloved creature who deserves to breathe.

    • LeAnn — I discovered your comment late last night and it made me cry. In a good way. Especially that last line. Thank you so much for sharing … for the resources and especially for your personal insights. After I re-read your words, I took a deep breath and actually felt better. Can’t thank you enough.

  18. You are not alone! I love that you write about the struggles it takes to parent. So many blogs are puppy dogs and rainbows, and yes while I’ll always love my children I do lose my cool and I do unfortunately yell. Thank you for your honesty!

    • Puppy dogs and rainbows β€” so true!! Reading blogs has started to make me feel worse about myself these days, so I’ve actually been staying away from most of them except my favorite few. Thank you for weighing in! It’s always such a relief to hear that my experience resonates and I’m not just a giant whiner. πŸ™‚

  19. This was me yesterday. I feel like all week long S and I have been butting heads. I hate that I’m nagging him all day long. I don’t blame him sometimes for his behavior but its so grating sometimes on every last nerve. Ugh. I honestly wished I was a working mom just so I could escape them. (I realize that doesn’t solve anythig and I know it’s not “easier”, but that’s what I longed for) I feel ya, sister.

  20. Awesome post! Seriously, I could have written this myself (inserting Jake and Connor) – but not nearly as eloquently as you wrote! I think most of us moms strive for that perfect balance between self, motherhood, and being a wife. Perfect never happens, but we do always try our best. Don’t forget that you are the best and you are doing your best! I love that you took a walk to clear your head – seriously sometimes it does take just a few minutes to create peace for everyone in the house.

  21. Of course I can’t relate to parenting but I can tell you that dealing with kids all day in my job, I walk out of the room sometimes. When I feel like I might just snap back to a teenager with a cocky mouth or when I want to scream “what now?” to the 8 year old who has been to see me 6 times that day I think it shows an incredible amount of control when I just walk away. We all need space and our freedom. You wouldnt be human if you didnt. My mom always would take off on her bicycle when I was a kid and she was at her limit. I remember just thinking, “I wonder where mommy is going”, and when she got back she was just as calm as could be. πŸ™‚ You are a wonderful mom and I know, I’ve seen it firsthand! But you also need to be Suzanne too, and if that means days to yourself or trips to Target alone then own that.Love you!!

  22. This post really hits home. I have felt this way so often. Life changes so much so quickly when we add children, work, marriage. I for some reason thought in 2 years I could go from being a college student to a married full time teacher and mother of 2 there are many days I feel this way. I Cant imagine why im suffering from pPdand ppa! I’m exhausted just want to feel alone for a short while somedays.

  23. Wow.. I feel, i mean I FEEL your pain.. regularly. I’m 28 years old and have 5 kids ranging from ages 8 months to 7 years who I stay at home with. Every minute.. every… minute.. theres something, or someone, who needs something or has something to complain about. And who better to complain to but mom, right? “So and so did this.” and ‘ so and so did that.” And life isn’t fair and blah blah blah. And then you have your husband who calls in the middle of this mess. “Honey, have you seen this?” or “Honey, do you know what happened to that?” It really never ends. So anyway, lets join eachother in our personal hell lol. For me it’s like constantly clawing at concrete with my bare fingernails trying to get ahead. Like for example, getting up at 5:30 in the morning to be by yourself for a while when 10 min later your fears are confirmed.. your kids can hear your eye lids opening. Though like most would say about this situation, I love my kids, wouldn’t take any of it back… I just wish my husband only had to work a 9 to 5 (he usually walks in right after I get the kids to bed, if he happens to come home anytime during the supper, bath, bed routine he thinks I’m mad at him…wonder why??) and I had enough money to send the kids off to daycare once in a while and not feel like i just broke our checking account πŸ˜‰ Someone put me in a sound proof rubber room!!! Ahhh bliss…

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