When We Mother

Motherhood happens at 2 a.m. It’s not necessarily known for its convenience.

{Let me just say that, yeah, it happens at 2 p.m. too, during moments that were planned for, but right now we’re going to talk about the 2 a.m. motherhood because that’s the motherhood where the rubber meets the road.}

It’ll happen when your child is tenths of a second away from crying out into the night. You’ll wake up right before the peel of her thunder because you detect the storm the same way dogs and horses do before tornadoes. In those few ticks before she cries, your body becomes alert and ready to field what’s coming. You’re tired and spent and honestly haven’t felt like your batteries have been adequately charged in about 10 years, but right now none of that matters because this is what you are here for. You are here to be a mom.

It turns out that she’s been talking in her sleep and is so verbose that she’s bitten the inside of her cheek.

My mouth hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It HURTS

Is it your throat? Do you need a cough drop?

No, my mouth! The side! And it hurts real bad!, she weepsShe’s tired and spent, too, but she’s four and she needs you. You are what she has.

There is nothing you have in your medicine cabinet for this particular problem at 2 a.m., and she (probably) knows that. But she doesn’t want the medicine; she wants you. She wants you to hold her, to lie next to her and to just be there while she cries over something that is very small in the grand scheme of things but very ominous at this exact moment. And you do that. You lie there holding her hand and stroking her back as her cries fill the room. You both are overwhelmed and pained. She eventually falls back asleep about an hour before you need to get up for the day.

During that whole time, you lie there next to her knowing that this is just the tip of the iceberg of all the challenges you have coming. Today she’s four and sleepless. Someday she’ll be sixteen and heartbroken.

The ordeal of two-AM-mouth-biting and the pain it prompts is just one of the things that leaves you undone about motherhood. You’re told to expect the unexpected but no one ever really tells you how the way you react to the unexpected makes you judge yourself and feel as though there’s literally nothing you can do right.

Here are all the ways you failed:

  1. You didn’t get up out of bed to help her fast enough.
  2. You babied her by getting up at all.
  3. You gave her Nyquil before bed for her cold with the full knowledge that nighttime medicines make her sleep talking more active, thus initiating the mouth biting.
  4. You snapped at her when she snapped at you.
  5. You couldn’t relax her.
  6. You couldn’t make the pain go away. Related: you didn’t realize in real time that no one could have made the pain go away. You are a very naive mother.
  7. Et cetera. Et cetera.

Fun fact: failure is subjective and you are doing everything you can for your baby, and all those everythings are motivated entirely by love. 

When we mother, these are the things we know. We know the 2 a.m.’s. We know the doubts. We know the fears. We know that the struggles we have with our children are only matched by our own wrestling matches with our own egos and insecurities. We know that things certainly won’t get easier, but they will get richer and deeper.

But most of all, we know that we wouldn’t change one thing about this whole crazy experience.

So bring on 2 a.m. Eventually, they will fall back into the arms of sleep, and it will have been us who cradled them the entire time.

Happy Mother’s Day.


  1. Happy Mother’s Day, Em. You are a fantastic mother raising an amazing child.

    1. Thanks, Scott. I’m lucky to have my gal.

  2. Happy mothers day

  3. This spoke to me in such a personal way, even though my children are much, much older. In many ways, I feel a greater sense of pain and doubt about my abilities as a mother than I did back in their younger days. Thank you for sharing how the joy of motherhood is all mixed up with the pain.

    1. Motherhood definitely mixes the joy with the pain. I think I’ve always known that to some extent, but the older she gets the more I realize the depth of it. Honestly, every blog post I write is focused on that theme.

  4. Reblogged this on RidicuRyder and commented:
    Well Deserved Mother’s Day!

    1. Thank you so much for reblogging!

  5. Emily,

    This is so wonderfully written! Nurse’s week is this time of year and nicely co-incides with Mother’s day…which obviously needs to be expanded to Mother’s month….


    1. AGREED. Nurses are amazing.

  6. You are a gift to so many. I am thankful to be your mother. Mom

  7. Reblogged this on Crazy Good Parent and commented:
    Happy Mother’s Day, all!

    1. Thank you so much for reblogging!

  8. Sigh. Thank you for making my Crazy Good Parent job easier today. Reblogged. BTW, I’m kind of looking forward, in a selfish way, to the broken hearts. At least then, I can hold her and console her. Now? She squirms every time I hug her.

    1. We are weirdly going through a phase where C wants to be held and cuddled a lot. She’s never really been very touchy-feely, so I’m relishing it.

  9. My current 2 a.m. is having two kids home from college, who have no sense of time. I’ve been popping up out of a deep sleep to see if all cars are in the driveway. I’ll take 2 a.m. breast feeding and an explosive diaper over this any day.

    1. Oh man, 2 am breastfeeding is downright luxurious! I hate to be that mom, but babies are so easy compared to real, actual children.

  10. Hang in there, soon enough it’ll be her holding you. Great piece. Happy Mother’s Day.

    1. That reminds me of that wonderful book, I’ll Love You Forever. Such a great one.

  11. Sigh.My daughter is almost 10 and still needs her mama to cuddle with before bed. I’m trying to savor those times. Plus, I am in the midst of the teen years/broken hearts with my son. And he will be driving a car next year! AHHH

  12. Boy did I need to hear that fun fact after a 1AM, 3AM, 3:30AM, 4AM, and 4:30AM this morning. But oh how I’m happy to be the one to cradle her. <3

  13. I love that story. And it doesn’t and when they leave the house. This isn’t as sweet as story, and maybe it’s one you don’t even want to hear. But one night a few years ago I woke up wide awake at 2 AM. Before I got to the couch, my phone, which was set on silent, started vibrating. It was my adult daughter who was frightened, confused, and had had too much to drink. It’s a long story that I won’t go into except to say that I woke up before I knew she needed me. And she knew I would be there for her because I always had. Someday you’re going to think they don’t need you anymore. Hopefully you won’t go through what I went through to find out that you’re always needed, but remember this; you will always know when they do. Happy Mother’s Day. 🌸🌺🌸

  14. As I told my daughter when I sent this post to her: Emily’s words reminded me that you are the best mother I know, and there will still be times when you will feel like a failure. Please know that feeling is both normal and wrong.

    You are amazing, Emily, and your candid display of your heart is the most amazing (and often hardest) part. Thanks for refusing to leave the rest of us feeling alone or that we are the only mothers who feel like failures. Your writing is a clear reminder that none of us are failures – but when it comes to expressing the magnitude of love we have for our children, our gestures always seem to fall short. Our hearts are bigger than our gestures, as it has always been in the area of love.

    Be blessed,

  15. Love your fun fact. Especially because today, according to my three-year-old, I wasn’t doing a very good job letting her bulldoze over me with her (unreasonable) wants. When really, I was doing everything I could to love her by saying no. Happy belated Mother’s Day.

  16. Great post. I think/feel like that all the time. Looking forward to reading through your blog.

  17. Russ Thorne · · Reply

    Beautiful stuff. My wife worries nightly that she won’t wake up when our fourteen-week-old daughter needs her – but I know that she will, and always will, for all the reasons you mention. Will share this with her!

  18. this is so beautiful and so true! you are a wonderful mother, and those moments, even if very tiring, are also priceless. <3

  19. I know those 2 AM moments as well. I have a 6 year old boy who loves his door closed at night and to sleep on his own and I missed those moments. Now I have my daughter and all though those nights are rough I know one day she will be miss independent and I’ll miss them! Great post!

  20. Reblogged this on Being Chantal and commented:
    Not a mother but think this is so true. I have cats

Now you can hold the magic talking stick.

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