Clair McFarland: Motherhood Is Beautiful Because It’s Really, Really Hard

Clair McFarland writes, “I had this whole plan to be a perfect mother. No harm would befall my baby; he’d witness no selfishness from me. All you mothers reading this know that didn’t work out."  

Clair McFarland

December 01, 20235 min read

Clair and the cat
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Motherhood is really, really hard.  

It's also beautiful. I wouldn’t trade it, I wouldn’t undo it. I won’t go off to Asia and teach schoolchildren English so they can learn to love “Beowulf” as much as I do, which was my original plan.  

I had four sons when I was young and stupid, but it was the smartest thing I ever did. Now they’re 13, 11, 9 and 9.  

The older two have spruce green eyes. The younger two have blue eyes. They get that gene from their dad who, unlike me, isn’t a collection of different coffee shades.  

I had this bright idea to birth them all without any pain medication or spinal tap nonsense, because I’m scared of spinal taps, and I wanted to be fully “there.”  

Spinning into the queasy vortex of my first pressing labor pains with Firstborn, I realized I was in for excruciating pain, possible injury or death — and there was no way out. There was no reverse gear on this rig.  

“I can’t do this,” I told The Husband, as I vomited on his shoes.  

“You’re already doing it,” he said, unhelpfully.  

Childbirth was a body-wracking fever-dream hike through an alternate universe in which the only thing I could control was my breathing, but I could squeeze the whole universe with my breath.  

And there was Firstborn.  

He had a full head of hair, cheeks overflowing onto his swaddle blanket. He smiled a little while later when my dad walked into the hospital room and chattered at him.  

I had this whole plan to be a perfect mother. No harm would befall my baby; he’d witness no selfishness from me.  

All you mothers reading this know that didn’t work out.  

We had Middleborn two years after having Firstborn. Another two years after that, when we planned to have our “third and last” child, we got identical twin boys.  

Heaven and Chaos have wrestled over us every day.   

I can’t begin to package it all here. The highs have been running and cooking together, and throwing toilet paper rolls at each other indoors when it’s too cold to play outside.  

The lows have been getting called to the principal’s office together, then having a barn cat rush into the house and smear the halls with something nasty directly afterward.  

Firstborn got my individualism (and my paranoia and dislike for crowded rooms). Middleborn got my resourcefulness (and my stubbornness). The twins got my playfulness (and my fleeting insecurity).  

How I wish I’d been a perfect mom. How I wish I’d been more like my own mama and my mother-in-law. The first taught me to sew, the second taught me how to mend. They both put up with me at my worst and gave to me their best. 

I realize it’s not easy for anyone to be a mother, but sometimes I feel like it’s hardest for me. Like I’m some special breed of scattered that doesn’t deserve these beautiful children. Like the truths I want desperately to instill in them get warbled in the white noise of our daily obligations.  

No one climbs a lone mountain to hear philosophy from a woman scrubbing mold from a lunchbox.  

But if they did — if these truths can rise above our cacophony, my darlings — here’s what I’d say: 

  • Don’t let others control your emotions. Just do what’s right and accept that others will be jerks sometimes.  
  • Don’t worry about who’s cool and who’s not. What is uncool is looking back on your school years and realizing you shunned interesting people because you were being a social climber.  
  • Don’t police others. Refine your own character.  
  • Take the high road.  
  • While you’re young, dive into work and learning to see what sparks your passion. Weld, cook, play an instrument, try a sport that you’re not coordinated enough to play. Dance, talk to weird kids, play some dorky role-play card game. Don’t be so worried about your performance that you miss out on living your life.  
  • Be a friend. Don’t try to be a stud or an enigma or an icon. Just be a friend.  
  • Know that I love you. I always have, always will.  

In the meantime, as we plunge into the boys’ middle school and high school years and they grate each other’s nerves raw, I’ll be here. 

Sometimes I’ll feel like I can’t do it, and I’ll vomit on The Husband’s shoes.  

And he’ll remind me that I’m already doing it. And we’ll all move forward.   

Clair McFarland can be reached at

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter