Just stop trying to one-up my pain…It never works.

by Janelle Hanchett

I wrote a post about the struggles of motherhood, those moments when the work becomes too much and we’ve got nothing left and we just want to quit the whole damn gig. Those moments when we’re really, really not “grateful.”

And in response, a woman wrote this (more or less): “A year ago around this time my 2-year-old died unexpectedly in her sleep. I’d give anything to experience the things you complain about, to get irritated at the noises and antics of my child. Why don’t you think about what it would feel like to lose those children you’re ranting about.”

Just for fun, click over and read the other comments left on that post.

You back? Cool.

39 mothers (and a stay-at-home-dad) commiserating about the harshness of this job of parenthood. 40 people who found a place to say the shit everybody’s thinking (well, lots of us at least) but nobody will admit because, well, I don’t know. We’re not supposed to, I guess.

I read her comment in the car and wanted to vomit. I was simultaneously filled with rage and sadness and piercing guilt. Even shame.

I didn’t publish the comment. I’m not exactly sure why. I thought she might be a troll (I mean what the hell was she doing on a parenting website while mourning the death of her child?), but I don’t think that was really it. It’s unlike me to censor somebody. In fact, that’s the only comment (besides troll name-calling (e.g. “You’re a slobbering vagina.”)) that I’ve deleted.

I really didn’t want to subject the 40 other commenters to her guilt-inducing wrath. It was like she had this flaming sword and could SLAUGHTER any parent in the world for the slightest hint of ungratefulness, in a few words. And holy shit, did it work.

I think that was a wrong choice. Nobody needs me to protect them. I should have published it. I won’t make that mistake again.

In hindsight, I imagine I deleted it because it struck some chord with me that I couldn’t handle.

I’ve thought about it a lot since then and I’ve realized I really, really hate that shit: You can’t complain about your job because people are unemployed.

You can’t bitch about pregnancy symptoms because some women can’t have children.

You can’t loathe motherhood occasionally because parents have lost children.

And come on, friend, stop talking about your pneumonia. People are dying of cancer.

You lost your dad? I lost BOTH parents (I didn’t actually, thank god). You’re 20 pounds overweight? I’m 40. You’re poor. I’m more poor. Unemployed for 3 months? It’s been 6 for me. And on and on.

Somebody can always, always one-up your problems. And you know what? They’re fucking right. It’s true. It’s 100% true that I should be grateful for the fact that I can conceive children. I should be grateful for the fact that none of them have been ripped from my yearning hands. And I should be grateful I’m alive, and my parents and family are alive (mostly), and nobody is facing a terminal illness (that we know of).

And guess what. I AM GRATEFUL. But I’m not grateful all the time. I’m not some freaking guru.

I am also beat sometimes, by them and me and my life, just as it stands, as glorious and beautiful as it is. Sometimes I fall into a depression. Sometimes I’m full of self-pity and agony and pain and I’m not even sure why it’s there. It’s real. It’s life.

And THAT is why the problem one-upping thing is so fucking irritating and a complete waste of time: Because it doesn’t WORK.

It is 100% ineffective in actually reducing pain.

When I am depressed, or terrified, or tired of being broke, no amount of mental chanting “But some people have it worse” reduces my pain for more than a minute or two. Ultimately, no mental construct – no new idea – will pull me through my darkness.

If you think about it, the pain one-upping could just go on forever. There is always somebody “worse off” than you…what about those women locked in the Castro house? What about people who lose their whole families in car accidents? What about people trapped in abusive marriages living in countries that don’t give a shit? Should we talk about Ethiopia? Starvation? Sex slavery? Come on. We could do this all day. There is always, always a “worse” situation.

So ultimately, where do we land? If we take this one-upping as far as I goes, we end up at “No pain means anything. No pain deserves treatment. No pain matters.” And that, my friends, is completely ridiculous.

Why? Because this pain is real. It does matter. It’s happening, isn’t it?

THIS is where I am in my journey. What good is pretending I’m not in pain just because I should be more enlightened or insightful or deep or appreciative? I should be a better person, capable of focusing on my blessings. I should be blah blah freaking blah.

I should, BUT I’M NOT.

Maybe my pain is ridiculous. Maybe you’ve been down to levels of agony that make my problems seem utterly ridiculous.

And yep, when I hear people bitching about which tile to pick out in their Newport Beach mansion as if that’s the biggest, hardest decision they’ve ever made, I judge the shit out of them. I wonder what the hell is wrong with them. Privileged assholes. Never suffered a day in their lives.

And I imagine that is precisely what that woman saw when she read my blog: Privileged asshole. Look at her, bitching about those gorgeous children. She thinks she’s suffering. She’s never suffered a day in her life.

And compared to her, she’s right.

I have not known that pain. I cannot even comprehend an ounce of the pain that is her pain.

But my pain is still real, and unfortunately, imagining greater pain does not alter the course of my own. The only thing that alters the course of my own is life. Experience. I must live through my pain as you live through yours, wherever we are on the spectrum of depth and insight and development.

I must move through the course of my life, learning as I go what matters, what doesn’t, and each person’s journey is their own, to be endured, enjoyed, lived and learned from.

There’s a line in this song by Langhorne Slim, one of my favorite singers in the world, and it goes like this: “I’ve had it better than some and I know that I shouldn’t complain/though my grandfather told me once that all pain hurts the same.”

I have a hard time believing the pain I feel from my nondescript depression that’s come and gone my whole life, my vague dissatisfaction with life, is the same as the pain of losing a child. In fact, I know it cannot be. And frankly I find it self-righteous and ridiculous to claim it’s the same.

But he’s right: Pain is relative. And it all hurts. And the pain you feel from your suffering can be as profound as my own, even though your life might not cause ME pain. We cannot one-up each other’s suffering. There’s no healing in that.

And yet, there’s a strange thing that happens when you put yourself in the presence of somebody in greater pain than you. Theirs becomes yours, and yours seems small.

Sometimes I speak in rehab centers for drunks and addicts who were found homeless on the streets. When I spend an hour with those women, I get in my car and I have no fucking problems.

And when I spend time with friends who are really, really struggling, like fighting cancer or losing a baby or missing a husband who just died, and I try to be of service to them somehow, I get out of myself, and my pain is diminished, forgotten for a while. I let go of myself and find peace in the disassociation. I would say those moments keep me alive, bump me back on track.

It’s a fucking gorgeous thing. But it isn’t an IDEA. It’s an experience. I am experiencing a shift in my perspective arising from a moment with somebody else – a collision with reality that knocks me  out of my delusion.

But day in and day out, as the daily annoyances and difficulties of my life arise, as I find myself impatient and yelling at the small human specimens who irritate the living shit out of me but would take my life if I lost them, when I lay my head down at night broken and done and without resources, the vague idea that some people have it worse does precisely jack shit to alleviate my pain or make me more patient and loving and kind.

Does that make me an asshole? Probably. But I’d rather be an asshole facing my asshole nature than an asshole pretending to be enlightened.

Part of my journey is facing exactly how self-centered I am, how self-absorbed and shallow I can be – how unreliable my perceptions often are. And, perhaps most importantly, how 99% of the time, my problems lie IN MY HEAD rather than in reality. Reality is that I have a damn good fucking life. My head says “Let’s be sad. Let’s be depressed. All things suck.”

But I can’t change a broken mind with a broken mind. I can’t fix a problem WITH the problem. (That’s not mine. I learned that from sober alcoholics.) I’ve got to move my feet in a different direction. I’ve got to continue living my life, trusting that teachers will always come, teachers who won’t TELL me how I SHOULD be feeling, shame me into something I’m clearly not capable of doing, but SHOW ME through their actions, through the very essence of their selves, through their motherfucking LIVES – who they are what they see  and how they’ve suffered, and overcome. Until I remember, see the truth of my own life, and maybe realize that through my own suffering and what I’ve overcome, I can help others do the same.

Until my problems become nothing, and my pain diminishes, and I’m grateful again.

  • Bry

    I can’t remember exactly how I stumbled across your blog, but I’m thankful I did. I love reading your posts and I absolutely love the honesty in them.

  • Vivienne

    Well said. I had a woman tell me that she was pissed at some show on Ellen that talked about the struggles of motherhood. She was incensed because she is unable to have children and said, “Whenever I hear a woman complain about her teenagers I like to say ‘it serves you fucking right!'”. Wow. Talk about sour grapes.

    It is a sad thing when someone who wants children can’t conceive, but to turn it around as anger towards all people who have children, to deny their right to express what is real for them? Jesus.

    I often feel like you do. I have so much to be grateful for, I shouldn’t be complaining. But we blog to be real and sometimes being real means talking about what’s bothering you and what’s hard.

    The internet is a big place. People who want to read about magical parenting experiences can surely find a place to scratch that itch. But don’t go telling people who write uncensored blogs about the struggles of parenting to put a smiley face on it, that we should feel guilty for not being happy and thankful every moment of the day. Who wouldn’t love to feel that way? Who actually does?

  • Lisa Kaplin

    Amen to this in every way. We need to let people feel their damn feelings and know that it doesn’t diminish us or our own feelings. A paper cut hurts and so does a c-section. Sometimes just sharing our pain with others and having them listen and understand really helps the hurt. Great blog.

    • Anne Reid

      Everything you said is what I wanted to say. I second that. Great blog. We are all on our own crazy, painful, beautiful ride and suffering is certainly not a competition any one wants to win.

  • Beth

    Beautifully said…

    imagine if we taught our children that their pain was irrelevant??? What type of human beings would they turn out to be.. why should it be any different for us as adults. We all need validation that what we feel is real.. then we need love and support so that we can move beyond it.

    thank you for being so honest and true!

  • Kateri Von Steal

    🙁 I don’t know how I would feel if someone left me a comment like that.
    I probably wouldn’t have posted it either…

    But, as we have said many times in the past, this is your space… and the comment section is open to everyone… And every once in a while, those two things don’t mesh well.

  • Adrienne

    Beautifully written.

  • SRB

    This is something that I have thought about a LOT over the last few years. And have always lacked the courage to say a lot of what you have above.

  • Lori

    I agree mostly…but as someone who is lucky enough to have everything I want/need, I think it is crucial to acknowledge those who don’t. Of course we should all be allowed to feel whatever pain we have, for whatever reason we have it – and we *are* allowed that, aren’t we? The only person stopping us would be ourselves…not someone who ends up “one-upping” us. That person gives us a dose of reality that I think is so necessary and important to have,..and I think the best thing we can do is acknowledge it with compassion, think about it, and then keep on keepin’ on. 🙂

    • renegademama

      yes, and that’s almost the worst part for me: That I do hurt for them, and I feel a great deal of empathy or compassion, and YET, it has no lasting effect on my own damn pain. Ya know?

      • Lori

        I do know, yes…but it often does, at least for me, give a temporary perspective that allows me to pull myself out of a self-indulgent funk…because honestly, I’m just so shallow, so much of the time…and I appreciate reminders of that 😉

  • Lydia

    I sometimes say: I don’t need other people’s misery to feel better myself. Like your mother (as mothers do here, in Europe) telling you to eat things – because children in Africa would be gratefull for such wonderful food. It never made Brussels sprouts more pleasant 🙂
    Thank you for your honesty.

  • Stephanie

    Totally get this. Thankfully, I don’t usually get trolls (except on one site whose name I won’t mention), but – think about it – she would probably have to spend a few full days setting everyone who bitches about their kids straight. I understand where she’s coming from, and I also understand how we can seem insensitive because of the things we say, but you’re right. How can you stop that? You’d always be offending someone. I have empathy for people in that situation (truly, I do), and a comment like that might make you stop and think for a few minutes (and that’s good), but your journey is your journey, for better or worse, and you can only express what you know and how you feel. And that’s that.

  • Tammy

    Next time, let her post her comment… your regular readers will take care of it.

  • Jenn

    Love this 100%.

    The only person who does make me feel like shit for complaining is ‘migrant mother’. Google it and you will know who I’m talking about, it is a pretty famous image. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed in my mothering journey I look at her and it gives me some perspective. I can say to myself “suck it up princess. You don’t have it that bad.” She does it to me every time.

  • Amanda

    I was JUST talking to a friend about this – she’s alone & feels she always will be (I don’t agree, but whatever.) I was bitching about my husband and two sons (4 and 5 yrs old) and the never ending messes, laundry, frustration, etc that I deal with daily. Obviously, because she’s my friend, I thought I was able to speak freely. Apparently not. After my mini rant on how just TIRED I was (am), she went on to say, “well, a least you always have someone to love you no matter what. It could be worse. You could be me. I can’t have any kids and because of that no one wants to be with me.” And (I know this is terrible), I just wanted nothing more than to slap her face…especially because I have held her hand and been so supportive during her infertility problems. It CAN always be worse – but you’re right, that doesn’t make me any less tired, hurt or annoyed. Very well said. <3

  • Cara

    Thank you for your honesty and I love the realization that experience is the only thing that can help you change your perspective, not someone telling you that you should. For almost my whole life I have felt guilty for complaining or feeling pain when I know that others are suffering. I still do sometimes. But all pain is relative and it doesn’t make your pain less real because someone seems to have bigger problems than you. Saying that is like telling people they can’t be happy because people have it better than them.

  • Jessica

    I agree with every single word. I’ve read this twice, it’s so good. I might read it again. How are you so capable of putting thoughts together so damn fantastically? It makes me want to hug you. Because it’s profound and it’s the truth and I’ve never seen anybody write the truth quite like you do, ma’am.


  • JessiJo

    This article came at the right time for me. I was raised by a martyr who taught me never to complain because everyone else had it much worse, and nothing was ever that bad. I’ve suffered severe depression on and off and it’s been made so much worse by the guilt I carry around. I know better now, but it’s a hard thing to break. I can’t be sad anymore because there is always someone sadder.

  • Nathan

    “Be Kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” -Ian MacLaren

    Trying to one up someone in pain shows a lack of empathy. We’re all sharing this planet, so there’s no reason not to give a kind word instead.

    Best wishes, and thanks for posting this.

  • Shan

    Pretty sure I’ll be quoting you later. <3

  • jennie

    I lost my first daughter when i was 20 weeks pregnant. I now have an almost 11 year old son and twin 8 year olds. Am I grateful? Of course. Th pain of losing my daughter is something i cannot even really recreate in my head. Do I still get overwhelmed, exhausted and filled with certainty that I may be the worst mom of All Time? yes indeed. We all have pain, and being the human beings we are, we move on and are utterly incapable of being 100% grateful, 100% satisfied, 100% of the time. I love your blog and your honesty and while I can only partially appreciate the depth of that woman’s pain who lost her 2 year old- only partially bc my brain can’t process what it has already been through, in different circumstances, so long ago- it does not invalidate our real struggles. i pray for that woman and all of us who have lost our children, bc it isn’t the natural order of things. but keep doing what you are doing, lady, bc it helps so many of us. you know, i usually think i am pretty funny, but this comment is less than hilarious.

  • Lisa

    You might not be a fucking guru but you’re my guru.

  • peggy miller

    Two things: I was totally going to send you the lyric from Langhorne Slim but then you went and used it. Good job!

    Second thing: I’ve thought a lot about what you’ve written about ‘loathing’ your children and it’s implications. I don’t think I’d ever used the word ‘loathe’ to describe my feelings for my kids, but whatevs. I would say they’ve annoyed the poop out of me and I do occasionally threaten to throw them out windows if they don’t stop talking. They have not yet stopped talking and I have not, to date, actually defenestrated them. Here’s what comes up for me: I remember my mom telling me when I was a kid that she would always love me but that she didn’t always have to like me. It didn’t scar me for life in the slightest. I always loved my mom; I didn’t always like her. I think it taught me more about how durable love is than anything else. I think frustration, pain, irritation and the like are valid. I think raising kids is a tough, relentless gig. Pretending it’s all sunshine, roses and lollipops doesn’t make it less tough. Why should we pretend it does?

    Also, I am really really sorry for the woman who lost her daughter. I also lost a child and the pain is terrible. I think you were right to cut her some slack and keep that comment to yourself. Hopefully she’s in a better place today than when she wrote it.

    • renegademama

      Yeah. I don’t really loathe my kids, in the sense that they “disgust” me. I’m pretty dramatic sometimes. Over-the-top. However, sometimes I fall into this depression where I really, really have disgust for my life in general. Even moments of hatred. Just keepin’ it real. Don’t know where it comes from. But the flip side of this, and I didn’t go into it because this post was long enough as it is…is that I’m a recovering alcoholic, and there was a time (two years actually) when my kids were not in my life all the time. I was sometimes without a home. I was in and out of treatment centers. My life was a living hell. I was diagnosed with 3-4 mental illnesses (depending on the doctor): depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and PTSD. So I was on a crapload of medications but I still couldn’t quit drinking. So basically I was insane and dying.

      Anyway, THIS was a reality I lived and in comparison to THAT, my life is a fucking glorious walk in heaven.

      I’m in Eden, I tell you.

      And YET, sometimes the pain still comes. But ultimately, LIFE experience has given me the perspective to never stay very long in a space of disgust or loathing of the conditions of my life. I visit there occasionally, but I come back to gratefulness because I am grateful. How could I not be? I’ve lived in hell. I’ve lived without my kids. But I think what I was saying with this post is that when we’re feeling that pain, that loathing, we’ve got to GO LIVE – we’ve got to face it squarely, we can’t hide behind some IDEA that SHOULD fix us but doesn’t (“Some people have it worse”), or deny our pain because of guilt or shame, or tell ourselves it isn’t there because we feel like assholes. We can face it, and life gives us what we need to see clearly, and we’re knocked back on the path of gratefulness. Or at least that’s how it worked for me.

      Not sure how your comment sparked this whole thing, but okay. xoxo

      • peggy miller

        Your blog is thought-provoking in a really good way.

        Just to clarify: I totally understand and relate to what you mean when you say you loathe your kids. And it’s completely valid. And you are wise and insightful for pointing out that pain is valid, and that stepping up to life is a powerful way to shine light on dark feelings. Now I’ll have that to chew on in my head for a few days.

    • melissa

      Peggy, I am so relieved to hear you say you weren’t scarred for life by your mother’s words, because I tell my kid that all the time. He’s kind of an anxious kid, and he sometimes gets upset when he’s mad at me, because he’s mad at me. Also, frankly, sometimes I lose it and need to do damage control. So I’m like, hey little dude, it’s ok. We’re not always going to like each other. We’re going to get mad. We might even hate each other for a little bit. And that’s okay. But I will always love you. Every minute of every day, forever. I can’t not love you. And I hate it when I don’t like you, and I am always working to get us back to a good place.

      I always feel guilty and doubt whether I should be admitting that I’m capable of despising him. But I just can’t pretend. Like, he’ll do some normal shitty big brother thing to the toddler, and I don’t know how to manage my knee-jerk abhorrence so I go all Mama Bear on him, which sucks BTW. I can’t look him in the face and say, oh now honey, that wasn’t pure distilled hatred at your intentional cruelty. I was just worried your brother might get hurt. I figured since I can’t hide the truth, I should lay it out it in full. He’s only seven, but he actually kind of gets it, sometimes.

      So, uh, there’s my overshare for the week.

    • Jessie

      Dear Peggy,
      Boy, am I relieved that I’m not the only one who tells her kids she’s going to throw them out the window!

  • claire

    you’re a wise soul – this is a tough issue – thanks for helping me see some light in these murky waters.

  • Tuna

    “But I’m not grateful all the time. I’m not some freaking guru.”

    Best quote ever. 🙂

  • Lyndsey

    Thank you for this. I am currently trying to return to my job after an injury but am having so much nerve pain still. It’s not something you can see by looking at me so I’m getting shat on from all sides. I should just ignore it and it’ll go away. Why aren’t I working more? And I bust my ass because I don’t want to be that lazy asshole, and then I come home and I’m in so much pain I can’t look after my daughter. Either everyone at work thinks I’m a slacker or I can’t play with my girl and feel like a horrible mother. I can’t win. I needed to read this today.

  • Megan Joleen

    I love your blog! I’ve been dealing with a similar situation with a friend. I don’t speak to my mother. She’s not a good person and I can’t have her in my life anymore. It’s a long story, but the point is we just don’t talk. My best friend’s mother is dying from cancer and I feel so much pain for her. Her mother was like a mother to me when I didn’t have one. Lately my friend has been telling me that I should feel blessed to have a healthy mother and I should have a relationship with her. I try not to talk about my mom at all. For one I think it’s just cruel to do that to my friend and two I just don’t want to talk about her. But it’s frustrating. My mother doesn’t have cancer, but she isn’t mentally a healthy person. I was hurt by her physically and emotionally throughout my entire childhood. Who would choose to go back to that? Someday I hope my friend understands. For now I’ll just be there for her.

    And you know.. I’m sure that woman would have complained about her child at some point. Hell, she probably did. There were probably sleepless nights and frustrations. Just like any other parent. Sometimes people just need something to b*tch about.

  • Katy

    Good post! Your hard is hard. That’s true for everyone. Just because someone else has a different situation that’s hard for them doesn’t mean we aren’t all struggling with our own hard.

  • Colleen

    You read my mind today! I just attended a professional development conference for music teachers, and teachers are the WORST about this. My classroom is so small! Well, my principal did THIS! Well I had a kid who…. on and on. I sometimes feel like I have no credibility as a presenter because I teach in a small private school and i actually like my job, but just because my situation isn’t bad doesnt make me any less of a good teacher!

  • Heather

    The “slobbering Vagina” here…I just want to say that I love you!! You said it all. The thing is… all of the things you talk about Do help others. The complaining of your people, and the complaining of motherhood, and life, and so on….someone will read those words and think…It’s not just me. I’m not alone, and i can make it. So what you put out there, is in fact striking a chord with many. I just posted a new blog today and i am certain it will piss of lots of folks. Even though it isn’t about them. It will make them mad because how dare I complain on a day of being thankful! Well,..my response: It’s not about you!! So don;t take it so damn personal. It will help some people, if it doesn’t help you…Move along!! Find something that will. That is the beauty of living in a world with such diversity. You can find lots of places that will be right for you. And if this one isn’t…keep on looking! Anyway…I really do love you!! Here is my super complaining post with extra F bombs! I’m just asking for it…http://hdfloyd73.wordpress.com/2013/11/19/happy-friggin-thanksgiving/

  • Miranda

    Wow…this is right where I am living lately. Caught in the vicious cycle of struggling with my unhappiness and guilt for feeling unhappy. That’s really what this is, right? Guilt over our own valid feelings that shouldn’t be felt because another person’s situation is always worse. Well guess what, another person’s situation is always better, too, so can’t we just embrace our own sadness for a bit? F%^&
    Freakin’ love your posts, you are so damned real, it’s painful!

  • Laurel

    God, this hit home. Sometimes I get so annoyed by my daughter’s endless grievances that I actually show her picture of starving children. I do exactly what that woman did to you: I invalidate her suffering because it seems petty. And she’s EIGHT. Then I realize she gets that shit from ME. I’m no fucking ray of sunshine on my best days, and on my worst days I don’t even get out of bed. I stay on top of what’s going on in the world and I’m aware of how much worse off other people are, but that just adds to my frustration because sometimes I’m overwhelmed by what a shitty place the world is. And then I try to find some beauty in the world to balance out all of THAT, and it turns into this stupid loop of suffering, joy, pain, beauty, hate, love, blah blah blah.

    tl;dr version: it’s okay to feel and express pain, no matter your age or life circumstances. Except for Rush Limbaugh. He needs to STFU.

  • GG

    I’m not a parent, don’t know if it’s in the cards for me or not, but I just love your writing and your insights. Thought you might like to know that your shit transcends outside mommyblogdom;) This piece right here is such a powerful meditation on life and the human experience. THE EXPERIENCE part of it – you hit the nail on the head! AMEN, SISTAH. KEEP ON KEEPIN ON!!!! <3

  • Real Life Parentiing

    I absolutely, positively agree with you. I cannot stand it (Can’t. Stand. It.) when you share something with someone and they literally say “oh yeah, I can beat that.” I always want to say “this isn’t a fucking competition!” It’s not about who has a worse whatever. Sympathy and empathy–that’s what is appropriate … or saying nothing at all if you can’t muster either of those!

  • Brandon

    I find that most people that do this aren’t trying to give you perspective. They’re doing it to make you feel worse or make them feel better. Like “Look at what I’ve been able to survive. I’m stronger than you are, and I’d appreciate what you have way more than you do.” Granted reflection on how good you have it or how lucky you truly are is a powerful thing, but that shouldn’t come from another person basically telling you your feelings suck or are invalid because you haven’t experience what they have.

    We really truly only have our own experiences on which to base our pain and happiness. I’ll never know what it’s like to live under a horrible dictator, but that doesn’t make the experiences I do have invalid. It’s always a good thing when we broaden our horizons, but we shouldn’t be guilted into doing so.

    Also picking tiles for your mansion being your worst problem sounds pretty incredible. I’ll take that life please. I can start tomorrow.

  • Dj

    What a great read! My wife subscribes to your blog. This really hit home for us. We have a toddler and a very supportive family and network of friends. We just recently received some correspondence from a long time friend accusing us of being ungrateful for all of the support we have. If you guessed that this person does not have a close relationship with their family you are right. There was another issue this person had with us that also fit with what you are saying, something we will never know of the pain of experiencing. Your blog really helped me put this in a clearer perspective. I am a new fan!

  • carolyn

    Vent and then Vent some more-worked with a lot of kids-saw parents every day-Moms would complain-job-kid -husband-whatever-dads too-One quiet single mom did not complain ever-nod- smile a little. Pick up child and go! One day doesn’t pick up child-waited-called cell-called work-finally called extended family-child picked up-not by mom. Next day -found out-mom was a suicide victim. Years later I wish she had vented!

    • melissa

      Jesus. :/

  • c

    Ive been saying similar for years and not half as effectively. Now. If I can just remember to apply this to my kids (because seriously child the show ended not the world) maybe I will be a better mom.

  • Candace

    Thank you so much for your posts. I feel very alone in my daily struggles. I am so easily overwhelmed and am always wondering how everyone else is so much more capable than I am. You help me feel like it’s not me, life is hard, being a mom is hard.

  • Kendra

    One of the things I love about your writing, is the way you are often able to hold multiple perspectives: her pain, your pain, etc…
    I appreciate the nuanced tone of this article – the way you are able to express yourself without bashing the commenter…
    Beautiful & true!

  • Aysha

    I love you

  • The Naturopathic Mum

    One of the things I love about you is that your love for your children comes shining through, even when you are writing a post about how difficult being a mother can be. I respect your ability to own that, and publish it, but even more so I respect the obvious love you feel for your family. Your blog keeps me sane, so thank you!

  • Erika

    Janelle- I really love your blog. Longtime reader – and I hardly ever get to comment bc I am on my phone. Even your one about the “What’s your excuse” mom has me thinking weeks later.

    I am going to be an outlier here and defend that woman a little. What she said was NOT right – but I do think that if you can, extend her a little grace. It is very hard being a bereaved parent and (in my experience) the first few years are a blur. Things are said for sympathy, for shock value…she is out of her FUCKING mind. So don’t take it personally is all I’m saying (not that you would).

    I remember that after my twin daughters died, I still went to multiples’ message boards – NOT looking to pick a fight – but just to get a glimpse of twinhood and still feel a tiny part of the club, even though I was no longer “part” of that club.

    Also, over the first year I said some really inappropriate things to people in person because those feelings were RAW. There was one mom who had twins and was complaining to me about how she wished she only had a singleton to care for and I said to her: So, which one would you want to die? I mean…which one? (And then I paused and waited for her answer).

    I did a lot of shit like that…it’s all escaping my memory at the moment, but I am sure I will remember as soon as I hit publish. Haha.

    My point is that when someone is in that state of grief, they are not themselves. Like in your “i became a mother and died to live” post – when a person loses a child, they also die and are not the same (this is my experience, it may be different for others). It takes a long time to come back to normal social behavior – still working on it after 5 years here. haha.

    So, this mom – whose child died – may still very much want to feel like a mother, and so she frequents your blog to still feel part of the club. Because your blog is so great and awesome – one of the few truly authentic blogs I have found, anyway. And maybe she was just having a bad day and over coffee, you guys would be friends.

    On a different note, I am still thinking about what you said about the “what’s your excuse” mom – and well, I kinda think that it’s just not a priority for me. Maybe we should all trot our our accomplishments and make the GIFs – like, I could have a Berkeley Law degree and “Passed the CA Bar 39 weeks pregnant” GIF and put “what’s your excuse” underneath. We all have our trophies, right? The little things our egos cling to that tell us we’re enough. Except we don’t need those trophies and they just get in the way (obviously).

    So much more to say, but I have a toddler peeing on my leg.


    • The Naturopathic Mum

      Erica, your reply was written with such respect and the honest offering of another opinion. I was really impressed by that and have subscribed to your blog 🙂

  • sarah

    There is nothing I can really say that hasn’t already been said by others so I just want to nod my head vigorously in agreement. What the world needs is more people who feel comfortable talking about their pain, wherever it sits on the spectrum of human experience, so that other people can see that it’s ok to talk about their pain and learn to a) talk about it and b)stop minimizing other people’s pain when THEY talk about it.

    The world really doesn’t need more minimizing, de-legitimizing or shaming of the experience of others. My kids aren’t bothering me so much tonight, but my hayfever REALLY is and when it gets like this, I feel really despondent and petulant about life. Thank you for creating a safe place to say that.

  • Jules

    You have COMPLETELY put down in words what I am struggling with myself—thank you for making me realize I am not ridiculous in saying I have problems, regardless of if my problems seem so inconsequential compared to the problems of others. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • Bianca

    This is such a great post, thank you for this insight. I think what you’re saying is right on, although obviously it’s hard when you’re in pain and simultaneously having that awareness that other people have it worse than you. It causes such shame and guilt, sometimes it actually makes me feel worse because then I go into this spiral of “I’m a horrible person who doesn’t deserve any of the blessings in my life.” But then that’s not helpful, and obviously not true…I’m not a murderer or rapist or genocidal dictator.

    Anyway, I think the previous post where you were expressing irritation and exasperation was actually really wonderful, because there are so many parents in the world, and for all the differences in life situation, one thing that MOST parents share is those contradictory feelings of overwhelming love for your kids and also terrible confusion, exhaustion, and frustration with them. Even that woman who lost her child (if it’s a true story) undoubtedly felt that crazy mixture of emotions when her daughter was still alive.

  • Patricia

    I lost my child to a rare childhood cancer when she was 3, so I know exactly how that commentor feels. And it’s agony. Please give her a break- she’s clearly still raw. I also have 2 living children who I love dearly but who exhaust and frustrate me regularly. So I know exactly what you are saying and feeling and you have a right to say it. I agree totally! It’s a tough old job and a tough old world- compassion for others and ourselves helps a tiny bit.

    • renegademama

      thank you for this. I am so sorry for your loss. my daughter is 3 right now. i can’t imagine.

      In rereading my post I see that I seemed pretty angry with the lady, and I didn’t really mean to come across that way. I was more reacting to the whole “Your pain doesn’t matter” message in general, but I hold no animosity or resentment (I mean I wouldn’t anyway toward a complete stranger, but you get it), and as I say, I cannot imagine her pain, her suffering. and I think that’s why I was so disturbed by her comment, because it was so piercing. the tone of her message was pretty rageful (understandably), which set me on the defensive a bit, but my response was more toward the mentality than her in particular. I probably should have conveyed that more clearly. anyway thank you for the insight.

  • Ansley

    I heard where you were coming from. At times, I feel awful and depressed because I don’t know if I can conceive. And you know what? That’s ok! It’s ok to be sad or upset by things that happen (or don’t)…as women especially, we need to have each other’s backs….sometimes, we just need to hold a friend’s hand while she cries or bring her homemade mac n’ cheese.

    I’ve seen a lot of crappy things…I’ve traveled all over and seen poverty at its very worst….and yet, it’s STILL ok to feel like life is hard sometimes. I think all the commenters are saying the same things, and it’s a good thing to be talking about. In the end, that mama is hurting and angry….angry that her baby was taken from her and she never gets to see and experience those milestones that so many others get to have. My dear friend who wants to have her own family so desperately is sometimes sad after going to everyone else’s wedding. I am sometimes sad when another friend tells me she is expecting when I want to feel a child in my womb so strongly.

    We are all strong women who bear loads that are often waaaaaay too heavy. But we still lift them. We still soldier on in whatever way we can. And THIS is the time to come alongside our sisters-in-arms and say, “You got this…you can keep going”.

    Keep on soldiering, sister. We’re right here with you.

  • Nicole

    Wow, I needed that today. Thank you for putting my thoughts into words.

    I’m 30 weeks pregnant, mothering a 4 year old and working full time, trying to keep up with all of the house/dog/groceries/laundry bullshit and I’m fucking tired. Thing is, every one of those things is something that someone else would die for. I got pregnant fast both times, and I’m now carrying a 30 week old fetus that appears to be completely healthy and well. I have a beautiful, intelligent, really quite easy to raise (so far) 4 year old girl. I have a job. A really, really good job (although I went to school for 12 years to get it – another insane privilege – I know many who did the same schooling and would kill for my position, pay, job security and upcoming full year of maternity leave), I have a house (it’s a townhouse, but pretty nice by the standards of the very expensive city I live in). Although I get overwhelmed by the relentless demands of having to actually physically keep the fridge full and prepare meals, I have never, once, worried about being able to buy groceries for my family. I have a pretty darn great marriage.

    So what the fuck do I have to complain about?

    Well, I’M STILL FUCKING TIRED. I’m lugging around an extra 40 lbs in the form of an enormous belly (and ass) at the moment, and being relentlessly kicked in the (very full) bladder. I get up at 6am to wrangle a 4 year old through breakfast, teeth, hair, clothes, make lunches, find some sort of presentable “business casual” outfit that I can squeeze my lumpy, enormous body into, rushing the whole time to get to daycare so I can fight traffic for 40 minutes to get to work on time, which is really demanding and requires my brain to be on all day long. Home to dinner, dishes, swimming lessons, dog walk, bath, story, kid to bed, and I’m fucking done. The house is a mess, the laundry is never even close to caught up, the car needs work, and on and on.

    We have no family around, so it’s just us. I don’t have the “village” that it takes to raise a kid (unless you count the daycare, but I pay for that). There are friends, but they have their own kids to deal with… or they don’t, in which case, they have no clue anyway.

    Anyway, this is long… sorry to use your blog as a platform for my rant. Suffice it to say that I know I have no right to complain. I’m an overeducated, relatively rich, healthy woman living a very comfortable life and my problems are nothing compared to most. But, that doesn’t take away the tired… it just makes it worse by adding a heaping helping of guilt to it. And what’s the point of that?

  • Michele

    I’m probably in a different frame of mind… but what I heard in the comment “Why don’t you think about what it would feel like to lose those children you’re ranting about” was actually a good question. Why *don’t* I think about that? It’s like your post on the “What’s your excuse?” woman. You can take it as an offense, or as a genuine question. (I personally chose to take “what’s your excuse?” as an offense – lol!) It’s in the eye of the beholder. (You can maybe tell I’ve been reading Pema Chodron – whom I found through your blog, via one of the links I followed from a post you wrote after your house was broken into). Fwiw, I didn’t read anything inflammatory in the comment. I would have been ok reading it. I’m also ok with you deleting it. We do need a safe place to commiserate, parenthood is not all sunshine and flowers. But if one of my kids was taken away, part of me would die – and I think it’s ok to have a safe place to commiserate about that too. That’s also one of the shittier parts of being a parent, is it not?

  • Les

    I have 8 children. One of them died when he was a baby. This has never stopped the other 7 from driving me completely batshit crazy. Not only is one-upmanship unhelpful, it’s untrue. Kids are nuts, regardless of how grateful we are to have them.

  • Mel

    Well, insightful and thought-provoking as per bloody usual. Also, it’s a bit long but can we have this on a t-shirt?;
    ” I’d rather be an asshole facing my asshole nature than an asshole pretending to be enlightened.”
    Hate the ‘holier than thou’ shit that is implied in some people’s one-upmanship.

  • Leah

    I read this twice to take it all in. like all of us, I have lived the spectrum. I happen to be in a good place right now,after some bad ass ups and downs. I catch myself vascillating between guilty and cautious, waiting for the other shoe to drop. when I do relax and take in the good stuff, guilt can still poke itshead around. the mind fuck of “somebody always had it worse” is both diminishing to our own experience and haunting to any happiness.
    thank you for articulating this struggle! as always you capture the essence of what it struggle with as a mom and woman.

  • Expecting to be expecting

    Me: Both parents dead. Sister a heroin addict, trying to get custody of her kids for years. Had cancer. Miscarried twins and 1 ectopic pregnancy. Currently doing insemination with donor sperm at home after years of IVF and crushing debt.

    Guess what? I bitch all the time and I don’t trust people who a) lay guilt trips and b) never bitch.

    Maybe I’m dysfunctional, but most of my best friendships started via bitching. It feels good. It cools you off. And it’s nice to know you’re not alone. Because then you don’t feel so worn down. And then you start to laugh at your situation. And then you realize it’s not so bad. And then you’re grateful.

    Awesome blog. Glad I found it. B

  • Bethwyn

    I just wanted to add my two cents – I remember finding a quote somewhere that just really worked for me and it went something like: Saying you can’t be sad because some people have it worse is like saying you can’t be happy because some people have it better.
    I have had my fair share of downs, but I don’t really want people telling me ‘at least you don’t have cancer!’ or something like that.

  • bookmole

    ^^^ This.

    Plus, to lighten the day a little, the best sketch about oneupmanship ever from good ol’ Monty Python.

    http://youtu.be/Xe1a1wHxTyo – Four Yorkshiremen

    enjoy, keep up the good writing. Even though my kids are now all adults (even if still living at home)it does not get any better. they can still irritate the fuck out of me, day and night, while also making me laugh uproariously, and know how much I will miss them when they leave.

  • Grace

    This universe is unfathomably huge. Our worries, struggles and joys are so insignificant that it makes them all we have. There is always someone else’s stuff to compare ours to, better AND worse, but there’s not a whole lot of fucking sense in that, is there?

  • Heather

    I couldn’t remember what this post was about. By the time I finished reading all I remembered was “fuck this, fuck that, shit, bitch, asshole”
    Was this written by a fifth grader?

    • renegademama

      I don’t know what kind of 5th graders you hang out with, but I’ve never met one with a mouth as foul as mine.

      The good news is there’s lots of blogs out there with nice, clean language! You should check them out. or, in the parlance of this blog, fuck off!

  • Erica / Northwest Edible Life

    It doesn’t go to 11 until it goes to 11, know what I mean?

  • Tiffany

    I ran into this website earlier this week and I’ve had at least one tab open to some article or other here ever since. I feel like some sort of fricking mini-me because it seems like everything I read so far I GOT. It’s almost freaky because of how closely many of the article have mirrored my own thoughts and feelings.

    About halfway through the year, it seemed like everything went to shit for me. For starters, I got hit by a car at the beginning of July, a full-size four door Chevy Impala. One of the newer ones (post 2005). I ride a motorcycle and was on my way to work when this chick ran the stop sign.. just got out of jail, running late for her first day of work, and it wasn’t even her car so she didn’t know if there was even insurance. Then the cop that showed up apparently decided to NOT do his job and wrote the most bare-bones report he could, leaving out everything important INCLUDING the part where she ADMITTED to not seeing me. To top it off, he classified it as a NON-injury accident (uh, hello! I just got hit by a car, bounced my head off the pavement, and clearly stated AND demonstrated my inability to move my shoulder). Then August rolled around and I found out I was pregnant, by about 2 months. My husband was excited, my family was excited, my friends and co-workers were excited.. I was not. Not that I was angry or upset or anything, no. I didn’t feel anything. NOT. A. THING. We kept the baby (little girl will be due in spring) and as I smiled and nodded and laughed.. I didn’t really feel like I was there. Like it wasn’t really me that this was happening to and that one day I’d wake up and none of it would be true and my life would be normal, or that I just needed time to get used to it, that I’d just ‘snap out of it’ or something and be all giddy and excited and all those things expectant mothers are supposed to be. September rolled around and I went to my first ultra sound and saw the little bean on the screen bounce and wiggle around – and even then I still didn’t really feel like it was real, even though I had proof in front of me. As if the bouncing bean wasn’t enough though, they also discovered I had an ovarian cyst that they removed.. yep- October, measuring 9x6x4cm. At this point I came to terms with the fact that I didn’t really WANT to be a mom yet. I wasn’t READY.

    At 23, I still had no clue what I was doing with my life. I’ve been married just over 2 years and because my husband has spending issues, we’d spent almost HALF our marriage splitting an apartment with friends and the other half renting out of his parents basement (where we are currently living). We were barely getting by our selves (if you could even call it that) and we were going to bring a CHILD into that? My husband can’t be bothered to put his clothes away (clean OR dirty), let alone cook for or clean up after another individual. As one of my husband’s co-workers (jokingly) said: “Giving (my husband) a kid is proof that there is no God”. Because who would purposely subject a kid to the parental abilities of a guy who spends over $500 a month on fast food (and sees nothing wrong with it), who can’t keep a promise to save his life, and THEN wonders why you don’t want him taking off work and spending ANOTHER $200 on a concert ticket AND ANOTHER $200-$400 a month on video games, dvd’s, phone apps.. With me unable to work due to lift restrictions put in place by my doctor after the surgery, this “man” is now responsible for the well being of two other beings AS WELL as himself. The time I had hoped he would have to grow and mature and learn to be a responsible adult is suddenly gone along with any doubt I had that we were in deep shit (especially after he went and spent over $1500 just in the last few WEEKS, NOT INCLUDING an ADDITIONAL $1000 towards a down payment when he traded our halfway paid off sedan (a 2007 Toyota Camry that ran JUST FINE) for a brand new one, justifying it with the fact that the payments were the same and it had a full warranty for the life of the new loan. And I’M supposed to go in next week to somehow pay the sales tax and licensing fees, etc…

    Any-who, I could go on forever, but basically, my little family is in deep financial shit, I’m trying to make ends meet here at home while preparing for a baby that I don’t even know if I WANT, but just could never bring myself to just GET RID OF (it’s not her fault after all), taking online classes I can’t afford in an attempt to get a better paying job once I AM able to work again (most likely after the baby is born) while feeling this over-all helplessness at not being able to actually DO anything to fix this mess… so here I am reading and nodding and agreeing with damn near everything…

    and all because I was looking up sugar-scrub recipes so I could have something to give my family for Christmas, now along with increasingly more ‘recipes’ for those necessary everyday household products in an attempt to keep those pennies from slipping away…

    Thank-you for helping me feel a little bit less guilty when it gets to be too much and I can’t help but break down and feel sorry for myself, if just for a little while. 🙂 Please, keep posting away. You get to rant and vent to make yourself feel better while I can read along and feel better knowing I’m not the only one who’s life isn’t cookie-cutter perfect.

  • Kelsey

    Thank you!! ..After a bad car accident that gives me pain everyday since then, I struggle immensely with the guilt that I’m not more grateful that it wasn’t worse – I’m not paralyzed, nobody died – but dammit I’m in pain all the time, and that makes me pissed and sad. So I’m done feeling guilty, because you’re right, that doesn’t help. What does help, though, is to accept how bad I feel, validate that, pat myself on the back for not being MORE of a whiner than this, and focus on what I CAN do. Again, thanks for your words 🙂

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  • Andrea

    Pain IS relative, and I can’t ever imagine losing a child. And I do feel guilty for HATING my children some days…for wanting to scream “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” I have a hard time believing that the troll who posted that comment NEVER had a bad day with a two year old?! Seriously?! I call bullshit. She likely had those bad days, sad thoughts, too…and then her child died…and she gained a new perspective. That’s all it is. We all ‘should’ appreciate what we have, but I don’t think being able to do that 100% of the time is realistic. I’m about to get trite, but sometimes you ‘don’t know what you’ve got, til its gone.’ (You’re welcome.) I love your blog, and thank you for saying a lot of the same shit I’m thinking. 🙂

  • Tammy

    I think it’s all about making sure you don’t complain to the people who have it worse off than you. For instance, I didn’t hear you saying you complained to the people in rehab. The guy in the mansion didn’t complain to you about his tie.

    A case in point: My husband is a cancer survivor and as a result we struggled for years with infertility. One of my friends was pregnant at the time and wanted to complain to me about her morning sickness, etc. I said: “I’m sure this is really hard for you, and I’m not taking that away from you. But right now I can’t be the person you complain to about this. I would give anything to trade places with you.” She apologized and so did I. I WISHED I could have been someone who supported her, and she felt bad for not being more sensitive to my situation. And we moved on like adults.

  • Polly

    Bravo! THANK YOU. No stories. Just that.

  • anonymous

    Thank god for this blog and Every single word you wrote. I needed this

  • elle

    My first thought about that deleted comment was “Wow, at least that poor dead kid didn’t have to grow up with a guilt-tripping ass of a mother.”

    I hope I’m not being a dick.

    The thing is..the deleted comment reminded me so much of my own (abusive)mother and her MO. I have not spoken to her or been in the same building as her for 3 years and 51 weeks. Turns out I am way less suicidal when I am not being emotionally abused. \@_@/

    I’m still working on being less of jerk.
    I hope that attempted-commenter has found some peace.

    I don’t have kids of my own, but I like your honesty about parenting. And your writing brings me joy. Thank you.

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    Monday, 30 December, 2013

    […] But then I realised something felt different. I don’t feel defeated, and I’m still walking. Even with my head down low, I managed to see things “up”. It might seem small, but it’s been a long journey; I do consider this a victory. […]

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