There are two trendy ways to talk about motherhood, much like the virgin/whore dynamic. Either one loves and cherishes being a mother every moment - or motherhood is the most difficult, soul-crushing experience ever. With that said, it's progress that anyone admits that parenthood is exhausting or difficult - for a while it was heresy to admit in many circles.
In All Joy and No Fun, Senior talks about how perceptions of parenthood have changed radically throughout the years. It's no surprise that children and teenagers were viewed differently in the 19th century and before. Children were seen as real assets to the family (in the assistance they could provide to the family)- not the current state where parenthood is a relatively conscious decision in later life. She writes:
Children are no longer economic assets, so the only way to balance the books is to assume they are future assets, which requires an awful lot of investment, not to mention faith.
Not only has our perspective about child-rearing changed - we now have the choice about when and if to have children in the first place. Then, we're told from a young age that we can be whoever we want to be - whether or not it's actually true. Senior writes: "Even if our dreams were never realizable, even if they were false from the start, we regret not pursuing them".
And I agree completely that this is one of the most difficult parts of transitioning from an autonomous adult to a new parent. I had some idea of what I was in for (being the oldest of six), but not for how much I would lose. What I lost is something I am gaining back (slowly) as my kids grow older - just simply being able to go out on Friday night and not worry about who would watch the kids and where the money would come from.
I welcome this notion of the paradox of modern life - that many of us hold ourselves and our lives to a standard that was never possible (given current social norms, class mobility, opportunities, etc.)
I appreciated this book because it talks about social issues and attitudes that many middle-class parents face. In the early days, one can feel alone. Parenting recommendations (and trends) change all the time - what worked for my grandma (give them cereal at three months) is no longer recommended. Then there is the constant anxiety that one is not doing enough - not pushing one's children enough, not doing enough activities, etc. This book helped me remember that losing myself, exhausting myself as a mom doesn't help me OR do my children any favors.
As I've said before, I love being a mom. Yes, it's hard work. It is a high cost/ high reward activity.
I'm glad that as a society we're drifting away from worshiping at the cult of motherhood - that women can now be honest about the impact of motherhood on their lives. And my hope is that we can start to think about both parents being responsible for their kids (and how they turn out) - not just automatically blame the mother if something happens (this is the typical media bias). It is our society/community as a whole who is also responsible.
And to be aware that women (and parents) need to remember themselves and their mental health throughout the process - parents who are exhausted, not setting boundaries with their kids, not being present, not asking for help - are not doing anyone any favors.