After 16 years as a mother, I’ve learned they all lied.

by Janelle Hanchett

They are a bunch of liars.


You know, “they.” The ubiquitous “they.”

The ones who “wrote the book” on parenting literally and figuratively, whose narratives we repeat like mantras though perhaps we aren’t totally sure why, or from whence they came, or whether or not they’re true. The ones who tell us what to do and how to do it and what will happen if we don’t, but somehow remain faceless, nameless – although there’s always that one in mom groups and internet threads who appears to be their proud spokesperson.

I’ve been a mother for sixteen years to four children, and what I’ve learned above all is that they fucking lie.

They told me if I keep my baby in my bed, he’ll never get out. They said he’ll grow so dependent on me he’ll pretty much literally never leave the crook of my arm.

Well, let me tell you something: Last week, my three-year-old looked me in the eyes and announced that he would like to “sleep in his room with the other kids” and now, sure as shit, the little fucker abandoned me. My last baby.

Even naps.

You think I want him out of my bed? Of course I do.

Until now that he’s out. Now my bed feels empty and I miss his sweaty little head and somehow his absence reminds me of my own aging body and the fact that it’s all going to end and also I’m going to die and my spring chicken baby birthing days are over and I WANTED MORE TIME. Perhaps I’m taking this a little far.

Nonetheless, my plan was to have him in there next to me until whenever the fuck he wants because he is my last baby, and all of my babies (okay fine, except George because she hates human near her at night) have been tucked against me at night, and I loved it, and I hated it, but this one? This one I was never kicking out, so I just let him be there, unquestionably, and now he’s moved out before he can thoroughly wipe his own ass.

They lied. Goddamn scam artists.

They lied about having 18 years with kids. You don’t get 18 years. You get like 12 years – or maybe nine years – because they change, okay? They CHANGE. They become these weird, somewhat distant hormone people who don’t play on the beach anymore. They sit on their phones and eat Doritos and complain about your parenting.

Another lie.

They promised if we did right by our kids we could save them from becoming self-centered, myopic teenagers who think they know every goddamn thing even though they’ve never paid a bill and somehow can never, ever, find the motherfucking cheese in the cheese drawer or remember to pack a toothbrush.

Wait. Maybe I invented that.

At any rate, that too is a lie. Even the really fucking good kids (as opposed to, say, me as a teenager) turn into know-it-all specimens of glory who occasionally run like tornadoes through the house, sucking the life out of all humans around them while you write a check for their iPhone bill.

They’re there in body, but gone in so many child ways – and it’s exactly as it should be, and it’s fucking excruciating.

I also seem to recall them promising that the difficulty of teenagers will result in everyone feeling totally ready for said teenager to move out. I don’t want her to go. She’s “supposed” to go in less than two years. (Who made that rule? Is that a lie, too? Probably.)

The concept of her departure feels like getting my teeth yanked out of my head without anesthetic. Or somebody removing my lung for no apparent reason. I liked that lung, alright, assholes?

Until those tornadoes happen, and I look at Mac and say, “Imma kill your kid.” But mostly, I lie awake at 2am thinking about two years. Two years. Two years. And I think my heart may shred into oblivion.

She looked at us on New Year’s Eve and said, “I can’t ever be away from you guys. How will I ever be away from my family?”


Oh, it feels like lies. All of those rules and stories and guidelines. It all feels like a wilting Band-Aid over a gaping wound, a pathetic attempt to contain the un-containable, and I don’t believe them any more.

Did I ever?

Maybe I did. I used to have these voices in my head: Don’t use bottles. Don’t strictly breastfeed. Don’t introduce more than one food a week. Don’t pick them up whenever they cry. Don’t hold them constantly. Don’t yell. Don’t hide your feelings.

Don’t be the broken human you definitely are.

I did all those things, and didn’t do many more things, and with every child, it changes, and I change, and I don’t change at all – and they still, no matter what, leave my bed and then, I guess, my home.

I wish I could hold the faces of every woman just becoming a mother and look them straight in the eyes and say: “They lie. Do motherhood the way you do motherhood. THEY. DON’T. KNOW. YOU.”

You don’t have to kick them out of your bed. You don’t have to not hold them. You don’t have to sleep train or not sleep train and you don’t have to nurse or not nurse (on a schedule!) and you can do the Santa thing or not and still, always, you’ll find yourself face-to-face with the weirdness and glory of your own little family and the way it keeps going and going into tomorrow.

Your fucked up ways. Your perfection. Your destruction.

I suppose I always knew they were full of shit, because though their voices whispered to me, I ultimately did whatever I felt deep in my bones was right for us. I noticed quite quickly that the entire game of parenthood changes depending on who you’re talking to, and it isn’t a matter of truth or rightness, it’s a matter of, um, who you are talking to.

I was told I had to have an epidural because I was “too young to handle that pain,” and couldn’t nurse on demand or co-sleep or hold them literally all the fucking time because I want to – because I would “spoil them” and “make them dependent” and now, funny thing, everyone tells me how “independent” my kids are – but that’s not why I’m glad I did it.

I’m not glad because it is right or true or good, but because it was in my heart to mother that way – because it was how I was mothered – because it was how my husband fathers, and it turns out “they” were wrong anyway.

My way isn’t right, but it’s mine. And your way is yours.

So can we all, please, for the love of god, just trust that? On the day their fuzzy heads fall on pillows in another room, or another house, it feels good to know you led them there with your heart, with all you ever had, not as the best mother, but as the mother you are.

In a world of screaming demands, it’s a powerful thing to simply be who we are, to let the whole of our lives drive the show – everything we want, value, challenge and know.

And to my friends about to have babies: I trust you.

(They’re just trying to sell us shit anyway.)

Fuck ‘em. All of them. Those kids aren’t in your family for nothin’. We get to be the beautiful freaks we were meant to be. It feels, at the last, like truth.





Sorry for yelling, but want to join me in September on Cortes Island in British Columbia for a writing retreat? Of course you do. I am absolutely delighted and honored to have been invited to teach at the wonderful non-profit Hollyhock.

We’ll be staying four days together in a house on the ocean, eating food grown right there on the island, spending our days talking about writing, walking in nature (the co-founder of Hollyhock was also a founder of Greenpeace, largely inspired by this land), and doing yoga, if you’re into that sort of thing – maybe this will the be the year I become a yogi. Ha.

I’ve been told it’s like standing on the edge of the world. Maybe it’s heaven.

Also, please note that scholarships are available.



40 Comments | Posted in I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING HERE. | January 4, 2018
  • Kat

    I love this so much!

  • Betty T

    Fine. Have me in ugly tears at work AGAIN. My one-and-only was just accepted to college and will be leaving in 7 months and the only way I can bear it is to stay in denial. At 20, I didn’t want children and to be tied down for the next 20 years, so I waited to have a kid until I was older. Nobody told me that by the time you’re 62, 20 years isn’t a lifetime, it’s a freakin’ blip. Not that I would have believed it at 20, I guess.

    • Gretchen

      Ah, Betty…I hear you loud and clear! At 20 (and 30!) I didn’t want children…..but had my only at 37. He turned 15 yesterday and I was/am in denial about the passage of time. I also couldn’t have a discussion last night with him and his Dad about which Honors and AP classes he will need to get into COLLEGE…because we need to start making THOSE choices like, I don’t know, yesterday?? I hear you, Betty….I hear you.

  • Gretchen

    When he was starting middle school and I kissed him at drop off and that bitchy blonde mom said “you shouldn’t do that, you’re going to embarrass him in front of his friends…” and I actually entertained her theory for a split second and then thought “nope, that’s MY kid. That’s my ONLY kid. I’ll kiss and hug him goodbye for the rest of his life and you, Blondey, can suck it”

    Because they lied when they said that your teenager will never hug and kiss you goodbye. My sweet 15 year old son will hug and kiss both of us goodbye, in front of his friends, and he gives ZERO fucks who sees him. ONE KID dared to try to joke about it and my kid said “you need to shut up, dude, those are my PARENTS” with such finality of argument in his voice that the kid had no comeback.

    • Jenni

      I love this so much.

    • Lynda

      Ahh.. Gretchen. i told my son all the way til this past fall (now a 11th grader) that I loved him every morning when I dropped him off at school on my way to work.. He was mortally embarrassed daily. My response was that he was lucky that he had a mom who paid attention to him and told him that he was loved. That there were kids at school would would die to have parents show them any attention. I was vindicated this year when school started that one of the girls he hangs out with commented at how “cool” his mom was that she cared so much to drive him to school and NOT have to take the bus, and she liked that i always kicked him out of the car with a “love you- have a great day”.

  • Jennifer

    Good one, Janell!

  • Madelief

    Yes, all the yes! Thank you for bringing my thoughts to paper yet again.

  • Claire

    I screamed at my kids today “you’re making me stand in the f#@king RAIN” then ended up carrying the 3yo home while 6.5 pushed the buggy. “I LOVE pushing the buggy mummy. But I’m soaking wet”. Was i patient, present, consistent? Nup. Was I entirely and only Their Mum? Abso-f#@king-looootely <3

  • Lorain

    This. This is everything. Then, your kids have kids. Or, they don’t. I can’t explain that, either.

  • Suzanne

    I really could’ve used this about 17 years ago. You speak the truth.

    Proud Mama Who Couldn’t Let them Just Cry it Out (Like her boss strongly

  • Agata

    They totally lie. And worse than that, they lie to us when we are at our most confused, most vulnerable, most searching. Fuck them. And thank you.

  • Kat

    I have a one-year-old. That’s it. She’s staring at me in confusion now from her chaos of toys because I’m losing my shit as I read this. Sometimes, the future days of her preferring to go out with friends and rolling her eyes at everything I say seem as real as her crawling into my lap to read a book right now (who am I kidding? She might be more into makeup, or videogames, or silent stares forever… How can I know what she’ll do in 10-17 years?). And it’s been flooring me the last couple days. So your post came at the right time. We’re all getting filleted by our children together, in the most amazingly incomprehensible way, in our own styles (or theirs). But the reminder that I’m not alone (even in ugly crying beside the other moms who read this) means… well, it means I can take it. So thanks.

    • Kari

      I divorced my ex when my son was 10 months old due to domestic violence. I left because I knew I couldn’t let a boy grow to a man thinking it was ok to hit women. I remember sitting awake long after he fell asleep in my arms might after night, wondering terrified how I could not screw thus kid up. Single momming was so lonely for me back then when he was so little. Now though, he’s about the nicest 12 year old boy you could ever wish to meet. Glad I went with plan B.

  • Linda

    It’s all a lie. I have 6 kids. The 12 still likes to get between Daddy and me in bed at night. The 22 still lives at home even though he’s the assistant store director. The 34 and the 31 live close by and we see each other all the time. The 30 and the 14…….well, that’s another story. Is it normal? Don’t know, don’t care. It’s my family. We write our own rules.

    Thank you for talking about this.

  • Anne

    My (breastfed, sleep-trained) 8yo likes to tells us she’s going to go to university in our town so she can live with us because she never wants to leave and I know she will change her mind (if she’s anything like both her parents) but I’ll stop and let her melt my heart for a minute while I can.

  • Carrie

    Yes, this made me weep too. Today is my youngest son’s first day of daycare. My last baby, my last day ever of maternity leave (because 3 kids is where we’re regretfully calling it quits, because i’m probably too old for another pregnancy). This punches me in the gut right now. But thanks for that punch, for some reason.

  • Julie

    Best parenting ‘advice’ I ever received was from a friend with four grown boys…I was trying not to admit that my 18 month old still slept with me. She said, ‘Julie, I had friends that had family beds, friends that ferberized ( she was at Eselon in the 60’s ). They ALL end up in therapy….do what works for you.” AMEN

  • Mel

    I wish I had your blog to read when my first was a baby. He’s 8 now. I tried to do what I thought I was “supposed” to do to my own determent. I remember calling a girlfriend when he was 3 or 4 month old crying because I just wanted to hold him and snuggle but I was afraid of creating a child that would never want to be put down (base on everything I read…I held him but not the way I wanted too) my girlfriend thankfully told me “Mel pick up your fucking baby. You need this, he needs this, it’s OK”. I’ve always been very grateful for that. I still didn’t hold him as much as I wanted or maybe needed too but it got a little better. I also had serious, undiagnosed postpartum depression that I white knuckled through…it was such a hard time. Thank you for your blog – you’re helping so many of other women by writing what you do.

  • Lindsay

    “(They’re just trying to sell us shit anyway.)” Bravo!

  • Joodzy

    My middle daughter moved to Australia yesterday. AUSTRALIA! She’s the one who cried for 6 hours straight, 3 days in a row, at daycare when I thought I could go back to work when she was 13 months old. And now she’s going halfway around the world for 2 years. They said she would never be able to be away from me, I nursed her too long and I babied her too much.

  • Marybeth Santos

    Have you considered throwing his bed away? Or just tell him it’s broken. Cause i dont think i can take knowing he’s not still sleeping in bed with you. Mine are 10 and 13 and your cozy night time sweaty headed pictures were my life line to those days

  • Erin

    Motherhood is a cruel trick for sure. Helping moms (and dads) find the courage to parent from the heart is the best help.

  • Anne-Cathrine Nyberg

    “The concept of her departure feels like getting my teeth yanked out of my head without anesthetic. Or somebody removing my lung for no apparent reason.”

    My 16 year old is talking about how she wants to go abroad to study in 2 years time. Gulp! So I get this.

  • Evelyn Penny


    Great article!

    Would love to do a writing retreat!


    Evelyn Penny

  • AJ

    “. . . Don’t hold them constantly. Don’t yell. Don’t hide your feelings.

    Don’t be the broken human you definitely are.”

    Those lines got me good… Thank you for reminding us that we are not alone, and in the seemingly ultimate black hole of mothering do’s and don’ts, we’re aloud to just listen to ourselves and accept whatever peace that brings…
    And thank you for helping me be a better mom friend. So often I want to regurgitate the long list of “helpful” resources and information to other moms, when really, the best thing to do is just shut up and listen, and say “you do you mama, you’re not alone.”

  • Stacy

    I have fought this the entire 20 years I’ve been a mom. It’s so nice to hear some confirmation that I haven’t done the wrong thing by them. Thank you for this. Your honesty (and cursing) are wonderful! Keep the posts coming! <3

  • Andrea

    Two words: ATTACHMENT PARENTING!! <3

  • Carol

    With my first we struggled thru colic and teething read wretched baby books took unsolicited advice but by number two didn’t listen went so much better. Teens were hard 20s not much easier now have three 23,20 and 6 the six is the most fun all going by my gut not asking for advice don’t care what anyone thinks. The retreat sounds fun what’s the scholarship deal in a great cook

    • Carol

      That should’ve read I’m a great cook

  • Amelie

    So true…and you made me cry.
    Which is weird since I’m on the toilet while my kids Ana nieces are running around the house!
    Thank you

  • Jill

    My eldest will be 40 next year but I so clearly remember the panic and confusion when I brought him home. Wondering how I was going to keep this little thing alive; how I was going to be everything he needed. As he thrived, I thrived. I learned to laugh and let go of everyone else’s expectations and not worry about Dr F***ing Spock. We ate, we slept and we mostly made it to school on time. Twice more I fell completely and utterly in love. Two little girls who made my heart sing! I was never perfect and nor were they but we didn’t care because we never listened to the naysayers. We talked and sang and read books and took walks and played at being grown ups with help from the big bag of dress up clothes. Sometimes I’d be the angry Mum or the strict Mum but they knew it was an act, or at least a temporary aberration, and then we’d all go back to the messy and wonderful process of living and loving and laughing together. I never wanted it to end but, of course, it did because nothing ever stays the same. I love the adults they have become but I miss my children every day of my life and I always will.

  • KD

    September is a great time to visit the gulf islands. But make sure you plan to stay more than 4 days!

  • Cecilia

    As I read this, I am holding my little girl while she sleeps, who will be turning 2 years old shortly and I think wow spot on! I waited a long while before she came to us not really by choice but we tried for sooo long and finally we have been blessed and I think oh my gosh time flies by so fast and already I’m watching her cute littleness and imagining how I will miss her. Oh I’m far from perfect even though I do try to be more patient when I’m exhausted and she doesn’t want the food I made or does everything to stay awake and will only take naps in my lap as she did from the moment she came home with us and I just wanted to hold her forever. And everyone told me to not do this and this is what I did and you will spoil her if you keep picking her up when she cries, and she’s manipulating you ????, btw that one and the spoil one really pissed me off, how can anyone think that you will spoil a tiny little being who spent an entire year nearly growing in your belly all warm and happy, hearing mommy’s heartbeat and voice and all the while comforted by her sounds and now is supposed to lie on their own in a cot or bassinet or crib without the warmth of mom, without her heartbeat and it’s better than to hold them or pick them up when they cry??? Really??? Which moron came up with that one? Oh yeah probably another know it all. But I digress. I will do as I am doing because news flash I’m her mom and she’s my little girl and I want to be able to spend as much time as possible loving and caring for her and letting her know she’s important. She’s only going to be so little for such a short time. I would love to have another but clock is seriously ticking and I’ve also received people’s advice on that one going as far as telling me I’m geriatric, seriously. I’ve only started 40s and a few close friends gave birth at 45 and 46 and they are healthy and happy and babies are perfect. But everyone has an opinion and can’t mind their own business let alone keep their shit out of your shit. So I’m going to do what is good for me and my family because that’s all that matters.

  • Margaret Sky

    My second daughter is one week old today, and we are not planning to have any more… I have literally been crying at night thinking about the fact that I will not be pregnant again, will not give birth again, and that it is all going so fast and there is no. way. to. hold. on. to. any. of. it. Then I get sad that I will (hopefully) die before my daughters and not be with them until the end of their days. Then I’m just sad that one day I’m going to die at all and meanwhile, the tenderness is too much to hold and it’s too much to bear. Although it’s not fun being such a ball of existential angst (can I pull the hormones card?), it does feel good to find your post and know someone else feels this way. 😉

  • Noleen Miller

    From my experience as a parent for 11 years, books is a great guide but it is not a manual that you need to live by. Other people’s experiences will never be yours as parents and children are different. You can listen to advise but it doesn’t mean you need to take it. Our moto is we take things as it comes and deal with it. Our children are currently in the preteen phase which means they have their own opinions and are growing into strong individuals – so we are entering a different approach to parenting from when they were toddlers and preschoolers. It’s all about trusting your instincts and your ability to do the best you can. For goodness sake, parenting is the most difficult job and just by seeing your child develop and thriving, you know you doing a good job – even if it is in your own way.#Blogcrush

  • daydreams of a mum

    I couldn’t love this post more!!!!

  • Alice | Letters to my Daughter

    I love this. I read another post on a similar theme today and now I’m totally scared of my my baby leaving home (she’s only 2). She’s still in our bed for now, and she has a sweaty head too, and tiny elbows and feet that jab in my side and wake me up to find myself teetering on the edge because, for a tiny person, she takes up so much space. But I love it, and am sad when she does occasionally sleep in her own room. Thanks for the reminder to do it our way. I needed that.

    This post was added to the #BlogCrush linky because someone loved it so much. If you’d like to grab you ‘I’ve been featured’ badge, please feel free to get it via my site. <3

  • Matthew Blythe

    I share your pain! My babies are nearly 18!! How did that happen? That must mean I am old!

  • Anita

    As a new mother to an 8-month old this (and all of the comments) is so refreshing to read! I’m a long-time reader and just pre-ordered your book. Can’t wait!