I love my kids beyond words but sometimes struggle to be happy

Close up of mixed race mother kissing baby on forehead
Jamie Grill/Getty Images
  • I'm a mom of three incredible children, but not all the moments with them are happy.

  • There's tension between the person I was before I had kids and who I am today.

  • There are moments when I can just be present with them and exist as I am.

I recall a frantic call with a pediatric nurse, the third of the day amid my firstborn's battle with infant reflux.

"He won't sleep," I complained.

"Well, how many minutes has he slept today?" she asked.

"Zero," I said, weeping. "Zero minutes."

I would bobble him, sing to him, rock him, drive him, walk him — yet he would scream, finding relief only on the breast. On the rare occasion I succeeded in helping him nod off, I'd stealthily lower him into the crib and tiptoe to a precious moment of solitude. But then I'd find myself gazing at the monitor, missing him and longing for him to be awake again.

This was my introduction to one of the many paradoxes I'd face as a mother.

Even "me time" away from the kids is dissonant. As I prepare to go out to dinner with friends, the sound of mac and cheese squishing in tiny mouths and the giggles as table manners are tested make me regret choosing to be away. In the car, exhaustion hits, and I crave leggings and a night home with the trying moments I know I'll miss one day.

Becoming a mother changed me in ways I didn't expect

I'm blessed with three spirited, creative, and challenging children that I wouldn't trade for anything in the world. I continue to be inspired by them and feel grateful for their impact on our lives.

But with their arrival came a lurking stomach tightness. Perhaps it's the stress of a growing to-do list, a lack of sleep, or another round of the stomach flu — our fourth this year.

Or perhaps it's a manifestation of the tension between the person I once was and the person I've become. Before having kids, I had potential and the freedom to explore that potential. Now I'm someone who's mostly happy but never fully able to have exactly what I want.

A common complaint among mothers is that they no longer have freedom for personal pursuits — that their responsibilities as a mother are a limitation. But this is not where my true limitation lies.

Before having kids, I'd identify a want and take steps toward it. Now, as a mother, I have multiple targets — more than I can successfully pursue at once. Knowing which direction to travel is the greatest challenge.

Being a mother today requires me to navigate these multiple — often opposing — desires. I'm always balancing on a tightrope between career aspirations and responsibilities at home, a confident body image and a need for rest, pursuit of personal fulfillment and time spent with my kids, never reaching one end or the other but poised in the space between.

The potential for happiness isn't gone — it's just waiting somewhere else

When I'm least expecting to, I stumble into encounters with true happiness — windows of much-needed rest. Playing peekaboo with mismatched articles of dirty laundry. Moderating a scattered game of Uno. Letting the baby "help" bake muffins. Snuggling under a comforter tent reading a book.

Rather than looking at what has happened or what will happen, being present in these moments releases the tense multidirectional pull. I'm able to exist just as I am — flaws, desires, fatigue and all — and give in to the unrelenting force that'll never stop pulling.

Read the original article on Insider