One of my very favorite people, the ever-honest Lena Dunham, recently wrote a spectacular article entitled, “Sorry, Not Sorry: My Apology Addiction.” Whether you are male or female, it is a must-read – a manifesto of sorts that calls much-needed attention to a cultural development I have always hated, never fully understood, and never knew how to change.
If the concept is new to you, let me show you an example from my own life: yesterday morning, I apologized to the gentleman who held open the door for me at the gym. Later that day, I apologized to a lady at the grocery store for the act of walking past her with my shopping cart. I apologize constantly for being in someone’s way, for not being in someone’s way, and for simply existing in the same space as another person. Motherhood only increased the incidence of this curious habit. As a mother, there is so much for which to feel deeply sorry – my house is a pigsty, my car is a cornucopia of days-old snacks, my hair is unkempt, my face unmade, my kids are loud and unruly in public places, there are many unanswered emails in my inbox, and many friends to whom I do not reach out as often as I should.
The apologies, it seems, are never-ending. For the past two-plus years of motherhood, they never ceased. I cannot tell you exactly what purpose they serve, other than to make me feel more awful about my performance as a mother, having gotten myself into situations where apologies seem constantly necessary. In fact, they are not necessary, and, in many ways, they are more harmful than helpful.
I do not need help feeling like a sh*tty mom. That happens all on its own, without my calling attention to my perceived failings by use of such an odd social tick. Furthermore, my apologies are detrimental to this glorious tribe of mothers to which I proudly belong. We live in a culture that places an undue burden of perfection on its females. Even before I became a mother, my physical appearance, social choices, and public behavior defined me more than my abilities, talents, and interests. I am expected to be a “lady in the streets and a freak in the bed,” and I must tell you, I have never quite been able to live up to that description.
As a distinctly female role, motherhood carries expectations of perfection as well – to be excellent home keepers, upstanding citizens, and active participants in our children’s lives. From the moment I bore my first child, I understood explicitly (and without being told) that the cleanliness of my home, the attitude and manners of my kids, and the quality of my marriage relationship were all reflections of my efforts, my ability to “balance” everything adequately. I am expected to carry my children for nine months, then sustain and continue to carry them, tending to their needs before my own, and somehow still maintain an air of sexual mystery.
Most days, my house is a minefield of toys and dog hair. My morning cup of coffee often matters more to me than dental hygiene. My toddler kamikazes produce and canned goods from my grocery cart while he wriggles and whines to be let loose. This is motherhood. When I apologize for these unavoidable aspects of the job, I am essentially saying that they are not acceptable, that I ought to be trying harder, doing better. And sure, I could see to it that my family always looks presentable, that my house is pristine, and that baked goods are constantly cooling on my windowsill, but at what cost? I would have zero time for my kids, my husband, and most importantly, for myself. Force me to live up to this unrealistic, impossible ideal, and you’re likely to find me wandering naked in the woods talking to squirrels, or passed out in the cookie aisle at Wal-mart next to an empty bottle of cheap wine and an eviscerated package of Oreos… or two.
Motherhood is an impossible gauntlet of physical pain and personal discomfort, emotional injury, constant blows to your self-confidence, and a persistent nagging feeling that your decisions are never correct. I do not recognize my body, and my “personal bubble” no longer exists. Through it all, we do our best. We never give up. We never stop trying, because while the journey is painful and the road ceaselessly winding, it is fueled by a love that is stronger than the obstacles. Motherhood may be a natural evolutionary process, but it feels anything but natural to live out. You are thrown in, without a manual, armed with nothing but age-old instincts buried somewhere deep within (or so I am told), and expected to figure it out, to keep this small, living, breathing Thing alive, to produce a self-sustaining human, a strong contributor to society. We accept the challenge. We accept the outrageous demands on our time and energy. I do not accept the idea that I have anything for which to be sorry.
So here it is, my final apology to cover all of my “shortcomings” over the next 18 years: I am sorry that my decision to become a mother led to the creation of these loud, disruptive little beings that ruin your serene plane ride, and your romantic restaurant atmosphere. I am sorry that my decision to dedicate my time and energy to their needs, and to my husband, leaves my home in disarray. I am sorry that my innate desire to continue learning, growing, and achieving has led me to pursue a vocation that squeezes every extra second out of my day that I might otherwise be able to dedicate to building stronger friendships. And I am sorry that honestly, deep down, I am not sorry.