Mothers Wear the Mask

Mother Putting Baby Into Car Seat
Why should the world be over-wise,    
In counting all our tears and sighs?    
Nay, let them only see us, while            
We wear the mask.
-From Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “We Wear the Mask”

By Morgan Starr from Rookie Mommy Raising Boys

Last week, I implemented a new daily activity in the Creative Writing class I teach where each day, a different student would bring in a poem he or she liked and we’d discuss it as a class. To illustrate how the daily poetry reading and discussion would work, I chose a poem and led the discussion on the first day. I had stumbled across Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “We Wear the Mask,” and I thought it would be great for sparking discussion, since it’s about the way we present ourselves to the world versus our reality, and for some reason, teenagers love talking about that.

However, as we held our class discussion and talked about the images presented in the poem and how we could relate it to our present-day lives, I couldn’t help but think about how I related to the a mother.

Being a mother, as anyone who has ever taken on the role knows, is difficult and sometimes thankless. But as mothers, we wake up in the morning often still tired, put on our happy (or at least “publicly presentable”) faces, and carry on. We have work to do: We must keep our children fed, clean, and content all day long. We are the backbone of the family. We are often the ones who keep things on track, who get the job done. We keep our game faces on from the moment our eyes first open in the wee hours of the morning until we can finally collapse into our beds at night.

But keeping our “game faces” on all day every day—keeping our masks on—is incredibly hard sometimes. And recently, I let my mask slip right off my face.

Over Easter break, I had quite a few opportunities to catch up and visit with friends and family, many of whom have small children or babies. At one gathering, as I was fastening my youngest son, who is only three months old, into his car seat, someone asked me, “How do you do it? How do you keep up with all three of your kids?”

I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t even think. I quickly blurted out, “I don’t know. I don’t, really. I’m kind of a train wreck a lot of the time. It’s really hard.”

A mother as well, she didn’t hesitate in her response either: “It is really hard,” she said, nodding.

And just like that, the masks were gone.

I was fortunate to have several conversations such as that one over a period of just a few days. I shook my head in agreement as my friends and I talked about the trials of parenthood, of the difficult moments, of things we struggled with. We talked about the exhaustion of motherhood and about our relationships, and we admitted things that maybe we would have tried to otherwise hide. We reserved our judgment and we were even able to laugh as we said, “I feel the same way!” or “Me too.”

Allowing my mask to slip, letting myself say the words, “It’s really hard,” was what I needed to do. Those simple conversations made me feel less alone, less overwhelmed, and like less of a failure. Sometimes we feel like, as the matriarch, we need to be as tough as nails; we need to be able to tackle anything that comes our way singlehandedly without flinching and without a second thought. However, as human beings, it’s impossible for that to always be the case, and bottling up all of that normal vulnerability and hiding it from the rest of the world can become more of a burden than a benefit.

So do I regret letting my mask slip and being real? Not at all; not even one little bit, because the support and understanding that was derived from that “slip” led me to realize that I’m certainly not alone in my journey through motherhood.


Morgan_allRookie Mama Musings: This column is published weekly on Thursdays, by Morgan Starr, right here on the Mama Lovejoy blog. Morgan Starr is a mom of three young boys who is embracing the wild ride of motherhood and learning as she goes. She’s a high school English teacher by day and a writer by night, blogging at You can keep up with her kids’ antics on Facebook and on Twitter. For more information on the Rookie Mama Musings column, please visit the Rookie Mama Musings page. If you enjoyed this article and you’d like to see more from Mama Meditations or from Mama Lovejoy, you can follow Mama Lovejoy on Facebook, or @Mamalovejoy1 on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Periscope.

Leave a Reply