Parenthood is hard and scary.
There, I said it. Clutching your pearls yet? Shall I get the smelling salts? Or are you already nodding your head in agreement?
About twenty years ago, I was a brand-new mother. Looking back, most of my memories are a blur of sleepless nights, leaky breasts, overwhelming fatigue and cuddling my beautiful baby. However, I still recall clearly a phone conversation with my younger sister:
"Is it amazing?" she asked with awe in her voice.
I wasn't sure how to answer. This was a wanted baby. We had her on purpose. But I was in the thick of things. Struggling. Overwhelmed. "It's tough," I answered.
"Toughest job you'll ever love?" she said with playful amusement, echoing an ad slogan for the Peace Corps.
I think I hemmed and hawed and then maybe changed the subject. She wasn't getting it and I didn't know how to explain it to her in a way that she would. In fairness to my sister, when we had this conversation she was all of 21 years old and living in a different part of the country. Being the youngest child in our family and still quite young herself at the time, she had never spent time around or cared for babies. She wasn't aware of the sleepless nights, the mess, the overwhelm. She's told me since that at that time, she had visions of dressing the baby up in beautiful outfits, putting it in a stroller and sashaying down the boulevard. She's had two babies of her own in the past ten years, and she cringes when I remind her of this story. (Which, as her big sister, I do often.)
Now, as I sit here in my quiet house, with my baby girl and her younger baby brother both off at college, I think I've finally got enough perspective and time to explain what I meant. If I could tell her again, here's what I'd say:
It's scary. And it's hard. And it's frustrating. And it's exhausting. And it's funny. God, it's so funny. If you don't have a sense of humor DO NOT have a kid because otherwise your heart will break into a million pieces. OK, it will anyway but if you have a sense of humor you will laugh and collect funny stories while it's happening.
Sometimes you will look into your child's face and you will see your partner. Sometimes you will see yourself. Sometimes you will see your dad or your mom or your great-grandma and you will wonder how it's possible for her face to have traveled through all of those generations.
Sometimes you will see God.
You will see God in the awe-filled way where you are struck dumb at the miracle of life and the oneness of the Universe and the continuity of family and the beauty of it all. And you will see God in the terrifying way where you worry about judgment and spirit and morality and there is life and death and you are not the baby anymore you just got bumped up a few steps on the stairway to heaven.
You will alternate between knowing that this child is the best and most important thing you've ever done and cursing them as they consume every aspect of your life, changing your entire being in a way nobody could have ever imagined, all the while knowing that you would, without even thinking about it, lay down your life to spare theirs.
So, yes. To answer your question, yes. It is amazing. But it's amazing in a way that your brain will never fully understand until it happens to you. How do I explain vermillion if you can currently only see in black and white? It's amazing in the way a tree growing up through a concrete sidewalk is amazing. It's amazing in the way that a smile from a person who is dying is amazing. It's so amazing it hurts.
As a specialist in self-care, I see countless parents (especially moms) who are making themselves sick trying to do it all "right" and wondering why they feel that they don't measure up. They're pouring oil on the fire. This is a hard and scary job. Yes, there's the dressing the baby up in adorable clothes and pushing the pram down the boulevard. There's holidays and fun and parties and vacation and toys. Yes, yes, those fun things. But there's also pain, and fear, and overwhelm. We need to acknowledge that. Better yet, we need to accept it as a natural part of the gig. (If I had a dollar for every woman I've heard say "Nobody told me it would be this hard!" I'd have many dollars.) When we normalize the challenges and difficulties of parenting, instead of pathologizing them as failures on our part, we're much more likely to give ourselves a break and, just possibly, reduce some of the stress around this hard, scary and... yes... amazing job.
This article first appeared at Good-Enough Parenting.
Leslie Irish Evans, Author, Speaker, and Self-Care Genius, lives on the Internet and writes about it at LeslieIrishEvans.com. She encourages all of her readers to secure their own oxygen masks before assisting others. Her radio show "Get Touched" airs every Friday at 3pm Eastern (noon, Pacific) on Contact Talk Radio. Find her on Facebook at Peeling Mom Off the Ceiling.
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