The Bittersweet Loneliness of Motherhood

I have discovered that feeling alone at times is a small price to pay for the experience of bringing another person into your life and growing up together.
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As a work-from-home mom and wife, I am surrounded by people who love me all the time. In fact, I am almost never physically alone. And yet, somewhere inside me, I have discovered a surprising and profound feeling of isolation.

It's not because I'm too busy making dinners to go out to one. It's not because for every 15 moms I meet on the playground I only feel a connection to one. It's not because most of my daily adult social interaction occurs on Facebook. Those are all true, and they contribute to a less social life than I'd like, but they are not the reason I feel alone.

I feel alone because by deciding to have a child I took on ultimate responsibility for another human being, and that means I no longer have the luxury (or was it the illusion?) of letting somebody else be in charge -- my parents, my husband, a group of good friends on a girls' weekend away.

At the end of every day, when I crawl into bed next to my husband, there is a part of me that stays alert, a little part I save just for my daughters in case they need it -- a tiny, stoic sentry who never sleeps and guards her post alone.

This hit me on our seven-year wedding anniversary when my first daughter was 2-and-a-half. My parents came into town, and David and I took off for two childfree nights on a small island. After a romantic ferry ride, a bottle of wine, dinner al fresco, and a little in-room entertainment, I lay wrapped in my husband's arms and felt a huge release of responsibility rush out of me. I realized that I had not let my husband truly take care of me since our daughter was born.

When David and I met, one of the things that immediately won me over was how incredibly competent and like-minded he was. For the first time as an adult, my type A, perfectionist, worrywart self felt safe putting somebody else in charge. It was liberating and relaxing.

David could not only plan a good date, but he could plan a good vacation, handle an emergency, and be an excellent co-pilot for a year of traveling around the world. Which is why on a chilly October night in Paris, on top of the Eiffel Tower, saying yes to David's proposal was a no-brainer. Not only was he my soul mate, I trusted him enough to share the responsibility of the rest of my life with him.

It was the beginning of a beautiful, mutually supportive relationship where I would be taken care of as much as I took care. I could turn the wheel over at least half the time, close my eyes, and let someone else drive.

For five blissful years, I took advantage of that relief when I needed to. And then came another equally happy chilly fall evening, when visiting hours were over at a hospital on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and my new daughter and I settled down for our first night together.

I kept looking over at her compact, swaddled body sleeping peacefully in the little plastic bassinet next to me, thinking: "Here we are, kid, it's just you and me. I've been waiting for this moment my whole life." It was the beginning of another beautiful relationship -- but one that promises to be a much more one-sided dance of caring for, worrying about, and trying to protect.


I'm actually not a parent who feels overly anxious about her children's safety or worries about them when we're apart. When I had an office job, I enjoyed the mental break of spending hours in front of a computer and letting a professional get my daughter down for a good nap. When I am out with friends, I don't talk a lot about my kids. I think it's a gift that I can slip back into my old non-mom skin and gossip, talk about books, focus on a movie, and get back in touch with the person I was before I tethered my future to other human beings.

But what I can't do is completely let go. Because, ultimately, I believe that I am the primary person responsible for my kids' health and well-being. That's a burdensome way to walk the earth. But it must be what it feels like to be a grown-up.

There is empowerment in realizing one day that you kind of know what you're doing and making decisions that matter, and then changing course the next moment when an assertive 3-year-old person makes you shift your paradigm. Most days that dance fills me with gratitude and wonder, and it feels like the natural place I should be. I just didn't expect to feel alone when I got here.

Why I feel this burden singularly, I don't really know. Though David is the primary breadwinner, he is also an active and engaged co-parent who is fully connected to his daughters and willing to take on any job, fun or stressful. But as a work-from-home writer, I do take care of most of the nuts and bolts of our kids' lives, and that responsibility may have leaked into more existential areas.

Or maybe it's just my type A, control-freak self wanting to run the show lest someone else do a hack job. But whatever the reason, I feel that keeping my kids healthy, helping them navigate friends and emotions, and keeping them safe ultimately falls to me. If there is a failure in any of those areas, I feel it will be mine.

I know I should try and share my psychic responsibility more with David, but I'm not sure I really want to. The only thing I have ever known that I wanted to do in life was be a mom. I applied for the job and I got it. And I plan to do my best to kick ass at it.

Already I have failed in some ways and excelled in others. And doing both has taught me that I can learn, get better, and survive the trials. I now know that what seems like a crisis today may be something I laugh at next week, that being perfect is impossible and that even my parents, who made my world feel so safe growing up, were winging it themselves much of the time.

And I have discovered that feeling alone at times is a small price to pay for the experience of bringing another person into your life and growing up together.

I wouldn't trade it. It feels like a transition my mind and body were meant to make, a threshold we were evolutionarily destined to cross. I wouldn't step back across it to the carefree, cared-for times before. OK, maybe I would for a day or a week. But I wouldn't stay.

If you went back in time and asked the pre-mom Kate if this is what she wanted, she would say "yes." She would choose to share her life with these wonderful people, even if welcoming them in means feeling a little alone.

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