Sometimes I wonder why parents are surprised when parenting is hard. The things I hear from other parents about what they found surprisingly challenging, well, surprise me. Haven’t they been around kids before? Doesn’t everybody know? Of course children are hard. Amazing but difficult. Because they aren’t adults. Wait, who am I kidding, adults are hard too. Hold up: people and relationships are hard. Children have an important job to do too, they help make their parents, parents. It’s a shaping, refining, molding. That of which is never easy. So why do the challenges of parenting take people by surprise? Maybe they didn’t babysit or have a community with children around them when they were teens and young adults. Maybe they did and those parents they saw were just ah-mazing. Then I realized it may be because the parents that came before them didn’t want to sound like wimps or complainers or like they were struggling to handle being a parent. That would be unacceptable. Or worse, we’d sound like those parents that… uh… constantly
bitch “complain” about how hard their life is with their children to the point that one might wonder why they had children.
Let me go ahead and be a wimp, a complainer, and admit that yeah, sometimes I struggle to handle being a parent: parenting is hard. I’m tired often, bewildered even more often, and hoping I’m not screwing my children up too bad pretty much every. single. day.
And that I can pay for therapy.
I have found that having a baby will lead to lots of physical, emotional, and mental pain for the rest of your life. You will be more tired for a longer period of time than you ever imagined. There will be times, lots of times… lots and lots and lots of times… SOOOOOOOOOO many times… when you’re not sure what to do and won’t be sure that what you are doing is the right thing when you do decide what to do. (Phew.) Your opinions and views on many issues WILL change. There will be blood: yours, theirs, and probably someone else’s. Snot, vomit, shit, and piss too.
You will think your child is broken. That you broke them. That they are the only ones that don’t sleep.
Or poops like that.
That can’t stand daddy.
The only baby that cries that much.
Eats like that.
Wants to be held all the time.
The only kid that lies.
Throws temper tantrums.
Won’t pick up their mess.
Says shocking things.
But you didn’t and they’re not.
Some parents do break their children. They burn them with cigarettes on purpose. Intentionally harm them to feel powerful. Belittle and shame them until the child withers. Exerts control or ignores them. Uses their child’s little body, spirit, mind, and heart to satisfy their whims.
Some people do break their children. They aren’t the ones worried about it.
Parenting is hard.
You’ll probably want to run away sometimes.
Sometimes that will be daily.
Your issues, ones you’ve pushed down, thought you worked through, or never knew existed, will rise to the surface. Surrounded by others, you’ll feel alone and then when you’re alone, you’ll feel at once found and lost.
There will be judgment.
From yourself which will be harsher than you can imagine and keep you up at night even when the kid is sleeping.
From others which will probably be quiet but will seem so loud.
From your partner which will feel like betrayal and you’ll forget this isn’t a contest.
From your parents which may awaken an old ache.
From friends which may “make” you feel something and you’ll forget you are in charge of your feelings.
But none of that judgment will stun you, knock the wind out of you, and have the sting that the judgment of your own child will.
Condescending judgment from a place of superiority may not be new to you. Felt it and dealt it, you’re likely familiar with it to at least some extent. It hurt in the past but maybe it made you stronger too. You’ve probably faced being called a loser or maybe an overachiever, insensitive or oversensitive, stupid or nerdy, a fat pig or a string bean, and a host of other creative and less-than-creative put-downs.
And if you’re a woman you can probably add bitch, whore, and slut to the list.
And if you’re a man, your very masculinity has most likely been challenged and someone took back your “man card.”
You may have believed those judgments before or maybe you let them roll off your back. Sometimes the judgment crossed over into bullying. It hurt, it may have even caused you to question your existence.
Things are different when you’re a parent, judging isn’t just about you now, it’s about you, your child, and how you’re screwing them up.
We’re all screwing them up.
So the stakes are higher. It’s not just your life you’re questioning.
But none of that judgment will cripple you, undo you, and fill you with grief like the judgment of your own child will. And they will. As a small child. Then older. As a young adult. When they have children.
Then you will question yourself again. Or not. But hopefully you will.
We are learning from our children.
Because children shape us at least as much as we shape them. Maybe even more.
Together you will survive and if you can be open and honest with yourself, your partner, your children, and your community, you will even thrive.
Parenting is hard.
I won’t lie to you.
The fatigue. The guiding and directing of a growing human being. The choices and decisions. Filtering out the voices and opinions. Balancing schedules. Balancing needs and wants in the family. Work. Not losing yourself. Finding community. Education. The meals and the housework. Letting go of perfection and embracing the imperfect. Dealing with temper tantrums. Dealing with other people. It’s hard.
People and relationships are hard.
All good things are.
P.S. Because I know some will read this post and only this post and think that in this snapshot of a few hundred words you know all there is to know about me, let me share that I’m not a bitter or angry or jaded parent. Being a mother is the most important thing I’ve ever done and I truly love it. But I will always be honest. I wish more parents would be. No man or woman is an island. No family should be either. We need each other and parenting isn’t a solo sport. Community is critical to health and balance but community will never flourish if we don’t admit our struggles. If we can’t be vulnerable. There’s only so much you can know from what people share and to an extent you’ll never really know until you live it. Still, honesty can save lives and minds. The beautiful part of parenting is easy and fun to share and I’m not about to stop being open about that but the hard stuff is just as important. Maybe even more so. With embracing the struggles we can more deeply enjoy the beauty the struggle is for.