“Will you carry me up?” asks my son.

It’s bedtime, the end of a particularly exhausting day. A day where my time was not my own, my body barely my own. I feel like I’ve been wrung dry, every ounce of patience and empathy used up. I’ve already pushed myself past my limits—played one more game of chase, read one more book, gave one more piggyback ride.

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So when my 5-year-old asks me to carry him upstairs, all 42 pounds of him, part of me wants to say no. But another part knows that at his age, any night could be the last night that he asks this of me.

So I hoist him up, his lanky arms and legs wrapped tight around me. My body struggles as we make our way upstairs, but my heart is bursting with joy knowing that my child, who has grown so big before my eyes, is still small enough to want his mama to carry him.

Motherhood is full of contradictions like this.

Wanting to say no, but also yes. Wanting space, then squeezing them tight. Wishing time would slow down, but also speed up. Yearning for earlier days, but feeling grateful for the present moment.

It’s feeling completely tapped out by being needed all the time, yet dreading the day when you won’t be.

It’s the wistfulness and nostalgia upon seeing a friend’s baby, mixed with relief that the sleepless nights are (mostly) over.

It’s the lightness that comes with getting rid of baby gear, alongside a deep sadness knowing that you’ll never fill up a bottle or strap a baby to your chest again.

It’s being at peace with not having more babies, but being heartbroken that there will be no more babies.

It’s wanting to be done with nursing your child, but giving in instantly when they cry out for milk.

It’s craving a night away or a quiet house, and then feeling an ache of loneliness when you finally get it.

It’s relishing the freedom of a date night, a girls’ trip, or even just a solo drive, but always feeling an invisible string tugging on your heart.

It’s resenting the role of family activity planner, while dreading the day when they’re too old for library storytime or too cool for a pumpkin patch.

It’s loving your kids more than you ever thought possible, and also being annoyed by them more than you ever thought possible.

It’s wanting help, but somehow feeling guilty when you get it.

It’s immense love for your partner for bringing the world’s most beautiful babies into the world with you, and immense disconnection thanks to lack of sleep, lack of time, and the complete upheaval of your lives as you knew them.

It’s praying for your child to sleep to a civilized hour, then panicking when they do because something must be wrong. (Nope, just sleeping in.)

Motherhood is hating the clutter and mess, but loving the warmth of a house where happy kids play and explore.

It’s missing the freedom and free time of your old life, but knowing you would give it up a thousand times over for your kids.

It’s a magical day of crushing this mom gig, followed by days of feeling like the worst parent in the world who is screwing up their kids for life.

It’s wanting to spend any free moment you have doing all the things, then being too tired to do any of them.

It’s shouldering the crushing weight of responsibility and adulthood, yet also wondering how you wound up in charge of raising tiny humans and keeping them alive.

It’s counting the minutes until bedtime, then missing them when they’re asleep and wishing you had been more present.

It’s long days, long hours, even long minutes, but short years.

It’s giving your everything, but still feeling like you fell short.

It’s having an identity outside of your children, but also wondering who you’ll be once they’re grown.

It’s questioning whether you are doing anything important in these endless days of making snacks, changing diapers, cleaning up messes, and buckling car seat straps, but also knowing it’s the most important job in the world.

It’s navigating a mess of feelings that don’t always make sense and contradictions that cannot be reconciled. Motherhood is carrying conflicting truths within you all the time, while holding tight to the one truth that never varies: no matter how big our children grow, they will never grow out of needing their mom.

The Many, Messy Contradictions of Motherhood
Gretchen is a former communications manager turned stay-at-home mom to son Shepherd (Dec. 2016) and daughter Rosemary (Oct. 2019). She grew up in Minnesota and the D.C. area but is so happy to call Austin home, even in the summer. Gretchen and husband Ryan also have two high-maintenance fur babies, Hank and Gracie. She is a wannabe minimalist who enjoys tennis, creative projects, lake time, and spending time outdoors with her kids as much as possible.


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