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Hax: Unhappy new mom feels like a failure

| Sunday, June 8, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Adapted from a recent online discussion:

Dear Carolyn:

Had a baby two months ago. I'd never harm him or myself, and I do love him, but I hate being a mom. I stay at home with him after a decade as a high-school teacher, a job I loved. When he screams, I wish I was wrangling surly teenagers, because at least that's something I understand and am good at.

I'm tired of getting up at night, of never having time to myself, of the house never being clean.

Husband is helpful but doesn't understand why I feel like a failure. I get lots of support from my mom and mother-in-law, whose pushiness doesn't help things. I get out for walks and errands, and I take the baby to all of these things. But overall, I'm not thrilled that my future is full of nothing but him.

I don't think I'm depressed, as I can look at all this without passion. How do I learn to like my new “career”?

— I Hate Being a Mom

Please get screened for postpartum depression anyway; “I don't think I'm depressed” doesn't rule it out.

Still, just about every new parent feels desperate, because it's relentless, new and scary, and walking away is unthinkable. Desperation relapses are also common whenever Baby grows into a new stage.

Partly to blame is our culture's ridiculous expectation that at-home parents fit the way we live now — house-centric isolation — instead of requiring what young families need and used to have: community.

As kids learn and change, parents must learn and change with them.

You have many possible lifelines. You can decide you'd be a better mom working than not; or accept you feel frustrated by babies but will get progressively better with toddlers, tweens, teens (most parents like one age best). You can lean more on others; or be patient until your love kicks in, because it's not instantaneous for everyone; or see for yourself that nobody's house is clean. Connect with other parents, through an organized group if needed. No fear, no shame.

But, again — see a doctor first. It'll get better.

To: New Mom:

Hold on one more month! They call it the fourth trimester for a reason — the baby is just this blob, a howling black hole of neediness and poop and nothing else. Everyone told me three months would be the point where it got better and, honest to goodness, I checked my journal. Day 92 was the first day I felt like I hadn't ruined my life.

— Anonymous

Excellent, thanks — with a your-mileage-may-vary disclaimer. We don't want a bad Day 93 to unravel her.

For what it's worth, my experience was a cycle:

1. The what-have-I-done phase, when the kids hit a new stage of development that I didn't yet know how to handle.

2. The ooooooh-now-I-get-it phase.

3. The please-outgrow-this-stage-lest-I-implode phase.

Repeat.

Leaning on more experienced fellow parents saved me through No. 1; recruiting help really takes the edge off No. 3. No. 2, obviously, you hang on to with both arms.

Email Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com.

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