It’s a phrase I must’ve been saying for years, but I have just recently started to notice. I love that my job as a doula allows me to talk with so many mothers. But early on in parenthood I had few meaningful conversations with other moms. I was missing out on the beauty that is another mom validating what I go through every day. This is an important relationship. We need to vent! We need to laugh and we need to cry. So if we need to not feel so alone and feel like someone understands us, then why do we naturally start to compare?
I have spent several years unknowingly reducing my role as a mother when talking to others. After a friend with more than one child shared her experience, I commonly prefaced my response with the phrase, “I just have the one, but…” I wanted to agree and commiserate, but somehow my story didn’t seem as relevant or convincing because I have just one child. The problem with that sentence is that it demeans me as a mom. It demeans the struggles I go through on a daily basis as a parent. It perpetuates a negative voice in my head. I inadvertently tell myself that they have it worse than me, they do a better job, they’re happier, and I’m not a very good mom.
With that phrase I am telling myself that I have no right to feel tired, alone, afraid or stressed.
I’ve learned to catch myself and reframe this hidden, negative opinion. Some of us feel this way internally, and most of us are used to some external opinions as well. After all, parents of one child are often asked when we’re going to have another, as if one is not complete or enough. I think the key is reminding ourselves that parenting is very difficult work no matter how many children you have. It has beautiful rewards, but it does take full effort, all the time.
When talking with other moms, the key is active listening. Not comparing. If we listen with an empathetic ear and put ourselves in their shoes, then we have a greater understanding of who they are as a mom and as a person. We validate them; then it’s our turn to be validated. But if we listen just to reply in comparison, then we are likely to assume that what we go through is lesser than someone with multiple children.
I know at some point we want to have a second child, and I recognize that shift will take a lot of patience and adjustment. But it won’t make me a better mother based on sheer quantity. I’m sure if I have more than one child in years to come I might reminisce about the “ease” of just one. I’ll think back on chasing just one, bundling up just one to go to the grocery store, and worrying about packing just one backpack each morning. I might remember worrying about just one child crossing the street, just one eating all their vegetables, and just one child going to bed on time. I might be tempted to think how easy that was in comparison.
But I will know that the mom with one child sitting next to me is just as much a parent as I am. She is going through the same struggles as me, maybe easier or maybe harder. She is feeling the need to vent after a long day, week, or month. She wants to share her motherhood triumphs, too.
The truth is, we’re all in this together and she is enough. I am enough, even if “I just have the one.”