Dear Dr. Lisa — I’m writing to you about an issue I can’t discuss with anyone else. I know it’s a taboo subject, but I’ve reached a breaking point, and I just need someone to hear me out. I love my children, but I hate being a mom and I want to leave. There, I said it. I know I’m supposed to be over the moon with joy about motherhood, but I’m not. Every day feels like a never-ending struggle, and I find myself dreaming about escape.
I used to be independent and carefree, and now I just feel trapped. I’m drained physically and emotionally, and I’m not the patient, loving mother I thought I would be. I feel like I’m failing my children and that I’m a terrible person for feeling this way. I often fantasize about running away from it all, even moving abroad and changing my name.
My husband is a good man, but it still feels like our children are my responsibility at the end of the day. Even when I manage to sneak away for a few hours I usually get a text from him about something related to the kids. It feels like there’s truly no escape for me and he doesn’t get it.
I want to love being a mother, but right now, I can’t stand it. I feel resentful, guilty, and like I’ve lost myself. What are my options, Lisa?
Dear Struggling Mom,
What you’re telling me is indeed taboo, and yet it’s a universal feeling. I’ve met with many women in couples counseling and parent coaching who also felt suffocated by the role of mother. Often I was the first person they ever dared to tell about their yearning for escape, and the complex feelings of love, frustration, guilt, and anxiety they had for their children.
It’s understandable that you’d be having escape fantasies. And, to be clear, while the fantasy is valid and a sign of the legitimate pain points, I also need to share directly: Abandoning your children would create a primal wound in them that will never heal. Do not abandon your children. Instead, get yourself to a better place where you can feel good about your life.
I wish we talked about this common experience more in our culture. The overwhelming responsibility of motherhood is magnified times a thousand when you believe you have to bear it all in silence. My first piece of advice is that you should stop doing that right now. I want you to go to your husband and tell him exactly what you told me, and explain to him exactly how you’ve been feeling and thinking, and then I want you to ask him for what you need.
Unfortunately, even the most progressive couples can fall into unequal, gendered relationships where the gigantic burdens of running a home and caring for children fall largely on one partner’s shoulders. Of course you hate being a mom when you’re living this way. You feel overwhelmed and trapped, and your husband doesn’t get it.
So that you don’t scare the bejeezus out of him, don’t just say, “I hate being a mom and want to leave.” Tell him that this is how you’ve been feeling, not what you’re intending to do. You can expect for HIM to have some feelings about this. If he starts getting flooded when you say these things out loud, it’s okay to take a break and come back together again when you’re not as activated. If this conversation goes sideways (as vulnerable, emotionally charged convos often do), I would encourage you to do this in front of a marriage counselor.
Even if that first conversation feels promising you may face another challenge: The follow through isn’t what you need it to be. If that’s the case, you need to sit down together in front of a really good couples counselor and you need to keep trying.
You may also need space to process the losses you’ve experienced. Yes, grieving. Parenthood brings many joys, and yet we still need to mourn the life we had before it’s possible to enjoy this new chapter. A good therapist can help with this, so that you have a judgment free space to make contact with all these dark feelings and reconnect with the beauty that’s here too.
I would also encourage you to explore your expectations about what motherhood was going to be like. Being a parent is, for most people, a mixed bag, with a lot of frustrations day-to-day, as well as light moments. If you went into this thinking that you’d feel happier and more fulfilled as a person because of having kids, that expectation could also be contributing to how you’ve been feeling.
I don’t think you want to leave your family, but I do think you can’t go on this way. I’ve seen this many times and I can tell you that your resentment will only grow from here. You don’t want to hate your nice husband and you don’t want to abandon your children, but you do want to redefine your role within your family. The time has come for you to take that project very seriously.
You need to be able to enjoy lunch with your friends without hearing your phone buzz because your kid is throwing up again. You need to relax knowing that your husband is on top of what time they need to be picked up and what days they have ballet and what they need to bring to school. You need time that is truly yours, and you need absolute freedom to choose how you wish to spend that luxurious, sacred time.
Before you had children, you were independent and carefree. That woman is still inside of you, Struggling Mom, and she’s fighting to come out. Help her.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby