For the record, I never wanted to be a mom.
Whenever I admit this out loud, my confession usually elicits confused, sideways glances from women of all ages and relationship stages.
Occasionally – and it’s happening more now than it did before Time’s article The Child Free Life: When Having It All Means Not Having Children came out in August 2013 – I’ll encounter a high-five or an “I’ll drink to that!” from a fellow Non-Mom who, like me, has always known she didn’t want children.
It’s not that I’m anti-Kid. Actually, that’s not true. Before my husband’s niece (whom I call The Wee One) came to live with us, I generally regarded tantruming children in restaurants and at the grocery store – really any kid who just couldn’t calm down and behave in my general presence – as a Big. Fat. Pain. In. My. Ass.
(Don’t worry – my experiences as an Imposter Mom delivered major karmic payback for every unkind, unfair, insensitive thought/word/or condemnation I EVER expressed about kids.)
I just never wanted to be a mom.
Growing up, I didn’t dream about meeting Mr. Right, walking down the aisle in a big white dress, getting pregnant, and having a family. That’s just not what my vision looked like. For me, my life vision went something like this: Travel. Writing. Adventure. Love. Sex. Sleeping In. Money. Pilates. Friends. Freedom. (And not necessarily in that order.)
And when I did eventually walk down the aisle, it was in a rockin’ red wedding dress in an intimate ceremony among friends, followed by a month long honeymoon in Paris. It’s just how The Hubs and I roll. We are – or were – dedicated DINKs (Dual Income, No Kids).
An artist at heart, an entrepreneur and writer by profession, I’d never even factored Kids into my Life Equation. Oh sure – from time to time when one of my friends announced they were having a baby, I’d experience a non-pregnant pause where I’d check in with myself and ask Do I want that, too?
Inevitably, the answer that came back was some variation of Hell to the no. Carry on!
So it’s not like I didn’t give myself the opportunity to change my mind about children at any moment along my life journey. (Especially when I turned thirty-eight and my body felt the biological urge to merge with my husband every time ovulation rolled around.)
But at the end of the day (or ovulation cycle), I always returned to my truth: I don’t want to be a mom.
What DID I want?
LOVE. Big, beautiful, bold, fulfilling, extraordinary love. I’d spent the better part of my 20s and early 30s impatiently – and improbably – searching for it.
At 34, I stopped dating Mr. Exes and met Mr. XY, aka The Hubs. Midway through our second date – midway through a second margarita – I found myself blurting out No marriage. No babies. I just don’t know anyone who’s done that and stayed happy. To my surprise, The Hubs smiled, nodded, and said, I get it. I helped raise my younger brother and sister, so I’ve done the diapers and baby stuff. I don’t need to do it again.
And while we eventually changed our mind about marriage (Boyfriend and girlfriend just stopped feeling meaningful enough), we remained as committed to living a child-free life as we were to each other.
I’ve heard it said that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.
So while I was busy planning my child-free life, circumstances outside of my control had other plans in mind.
Circumstances like my brave and beautiful eighteen-year-old sister-in-law making the decision that getting pregnant by and living with an illegal immigrant/Mexican drug dealer twice her age would provide a far healthier living environment than another night under the same roof as her mother. (Anyone who’s met and spent time with my mother-in-law would agree.)
Who could have predicted that said illegal immigrant/Mexican drug dealer would get arrested on a laundry list of criminal charges, and my sister-in-law would get arrested along with him, sending their thirteen-month-old daughter into the foster care system. Five days later, my husband and I received a frantic phone call from my mother-in-law asking us for help.
On Valentine’s Day 2012, I found myself in the last place I’d ever expect to be – Children’s Court. After four hours of waiting our turn to see the judge, and ten minutes of interviews with the baby lawyer assigned to my niece, we found ourselves in a courtroom, our lives forever changed – mine, The Hubs, The Wee One’s, my sister-in-law’s, my mother-in-law’s, all of us. In a split second, The Hubs and I shifted from being dedicated DINKs to committed custodians to our niece, a toddler I’d maybe seen six times since the night she was born. (Full disclosure: at the last minute, my sister-in-law had called and asked me to be her birth coach – a life event I will always cherish.)
Suddenly, here I was: an Imposter Mom.
While I’d like to say welcoming a baby into our home was a smooth transition, the truth is that the pressure I felt after her arrival led me to almost lose my mind and leave my marriage. Eventually, however, caring for The Wee One deepened my relationship with The Hubs, opened me to the incredible gifts of knowing and loving this child, and gave me the opportunity to discover a deeper, more meaningful and impactful relationship with my sister-in-law.
The experience of raising our niece helped heal childhood wounds within my own family, allowing me to confront my troubled relationship with my mother, discover a deeper understanding of my father, and rebuild my relationship with my sister.
For The Hubs, these circumstances created an opportunity to love and be loved by a child so deeply that their bond will never be broken. It also – eventually – healed his challenged relationship with his sister.
These are the more heartfelt moments you can expect to read throughout this blog series. But don’t worry – there are plenty of hilarious ones, too. Like the time The Hubs was out of town on my birthday and I treated The Wee One and my mom to ice cream at the zoo. Within minutes, The Wee One threw up all over me and when I asked my Mom what I should do, she said, “She seems fine. You don’t look so good.” (Thanks, Mom!) Or the time The Wee One stumbled into that hippy mom circle at the playground and they invited us to join them. And then one of the hippy moms whips out her boob and starts breastfeeding right out in the open and I felt like such an Imposter.
Speaking of Imposters, why do I call myself Imposter Mom?
If I’m really honest with myself, not only did I never want kids, but I never thought I’d be a good mom. I never pictured myself having the time, energy, patience, or dedication I felt parenthood required. I also never wanted to put my career on the proverbial back burner for a baby.
And… I never had the desire to put my body through pregnancy. As I like to tell The Hubs, THIS (gesturing to my generally overly curvy body I’ve spent a lifetime making peace with) is an adult playground, not a nursery.
Having said all that, here’s what inevitably happens when you walk around with a baby: People assume you’re a Mom.
They also assume you’ve been a mom since birthing the child, so when people saw me with a thirteen-month-old little girl, they understandably assumed I was her mom and that I knew what I was doing.
Which led to all kinds of interesting new experiences like:
– Getting handed a newborn at a potluck by a mom who said, “Hold the kid for a sec while I slip into the Bjorn.” (It’s a baby carrier for my fellow non-moms.)
– Learning to just say “Thanks” when someone stopped to tell me, “Your baby is so beautiful!” (In the beginning, I fumbled through variations of “I know, right? Don’t worry, I can say that. She’s not actually mine.”)
– Diaper duty (so not as bad as I expected)
– Playground duty (the last place I’d have anticipated my emotional baggage to rear its ugly head
– Bath time (Bubbles, and giggles, and baby, oh my!
– Bed time (The first time my mother heard me singing the same lullabies to The Wee One that she sang to me as a kid, I think we both got a little emo)
The truth is, in the beginning, I really WAS an Imposter Mom.
I’d never missed a period. Or taken prenatal vitamins. Or had a contraction. Or gone into labor. Or changed a diaper. Or swaddled an infant. Or had a room in my house with a crib, changing table, and rocking chair.
And yet the instant my husband and I found out our niece was in foster care, there was no doubt in our mind what we needed to do – step in and care for this child while her mother sorted out her legal issues. As a result, we found ourselves suddenly immersed in a whole new world known as Getting Ready For Baby.
Most parents-to-be have nine months to prepare. We had nine days. On the 10th day, there was a living, breathing child in my home, and I didn’t have the vaguest idea what to do or how to BE.
Everything other mothers knew about taking care of a toddler, I was learning for the first time – at thirteen months (and forty years!).
The other reason I felt like such an Imposter?
I love and respect my sister-in-law. In many ways, I’ve always felt like she was the one I was supposed to help raise. And while I haven’t always approved of her life choices, I have always honored who she is as a woman and as a mother. I never wanted her to feel like I was trying to take her baby away from her. Part of my Imposter Mom complex came from needing to energetically say to the world I know this isn’t my child.
Now, here’s the REAL irony.
Two years later, I’m still an Imposter Mom. Only the Imposter Syndrome has shifted.
In my heart, I love The Wee One like she’s my own now. And while she no longer lives under my roof (I’ll tell you that story, too), I get the pleasure of Friday night slumber parties that lead to Saturday play days (wait until you read about The Saturday Sessions!).
While The Imposter Syndrome has shifted, it’s still heavily ingrained in my psyche. Just the other Saturday, while I was nursing The Wee One through a cold, The Hubs turned to me and said, “You’re a good mom.”
To which I replied, “You’re right. I would be a good mom!”
Man, that Imposter Streak runs deep. I did catch myself and repeat back to him through tears, “I AM a good mom.”
It may have taken me five months to let that little sucker into my heart (you’ll hear a whole lot more about my failure to launch as an Imposter Mom), but once I let her in, she was ALL IN. And so was I.
I guess you could say I’ve shifted out of the Imposter Syndrome of not knowing what it’s like to care for and, more deeply, care about a child and moved into the Imposter Syndrome of loving another mother’s child like she’s my own.
Whereas two years ago I had a child in my home but not my heart, I now have a child in my heart but not in my home.
This blog series chronicles my funny, awkward, and occasionally foul-mouthed journey into accidental parenting. It’s about the Imposter Syndrome so many moms (and dads) face as they, too, embark on the path to parenthood, a one way ticket there’s no turning back from.
Within these blogs, you’ll read about the things all (honest) parents think but don’t dare say until the kids are in bed and you’ve finished at least half a bottle of wine, about the horror that smacks you upside your head when you realize the brats on the playground are the future of our civilization, not to mention the devastating realization that that there’s no such thing as weekends or sleeping in anymore.
This blog series is also about the Imposter Syndrome we as women struggle with when it comes to defining what Having It All means for us – single, breaking up, coupling up, married, having children, or somewhere in between. (I’ve lived and loved and learned from every stage and they all have their merits.)
Let’s face it. Being a woman isn’t a One Size Fits All experience. And yet, so often we’re taught that if our life doesn’t look like Beyonce’s or Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg’s or even the perfect mom on the playground – a seemingly effortless juggle of money, motherhood, marriage, and mogul-dom – that somehow we’re a failure at our femininity.
That’s some Imposter Bull Shit. And we’ll get to that, too.
Let me be clear. I won’t be doling out any parenting advice or assuming that I’m part of some Mommy Club I never had aspirations to join. I won’t be trash-talking my sister-in-law’s choices or her parenting abilities (she’s actually an incredible mother, as well as a bright and promising young woman).
I may occasionally – for the purposes of helping you understanding how this all happened – talk a little shit about my mother-in-law. (If you know her, you’ll get it.)
And I will most definitely pull back the curtain on my own ineptitude as a fumbling, bumbling, well-meaning, and eventually pretty damned amazing Imposter Mom.