The title of Jennifer Senior's new book about modern parenthood claims to reflect the feelings of many parents: All Joy and No Fun. We love our children. But we don't always like parenting.
I love being a mom. But, sometimes, I don't.
We can pretty much say this about anything else in our lives without people batting an eye. Think of how acceptable it is for women to complain about and mock their husbands (see any cleaning product commercial for evidence).
I propose that we speak honestly about the things we don't like about parenting, and then rethink them. Mindfully.
Motherhood is profound and amazing and life-changing. It's also really hard. And we knew that going in. We knew we wouldn't sleep much. We knew spit-up and other gross bodily fluids would be involved. But we weren't as prepared for what Jessica Valenti describes in her book Why Have Kids? as "the soul-crushing drudgery of day-to-day parenthood.... The boredom, the stress, the nagging dissatisfaction, and the sense of personal failure that [we] feel when raising a kid isn't all it's cracked up to be." And then there's the guilt and shame that come from thinking this way in the first place. Sometimes, "hard" doesn't even come close to describing it.
And yet, we still repeat the ubiquitous mantra that implores parents to "love every minute of it!" Paging through a parenting magazine the other day, I came across an advertisement with a cute play on words. It depicted a smiling mother serving rice to her smiling children and claiming they "love every Minute!"
I don't think we would ever say we love every minute of our jobs, or even our marriages.
When I was on maternity leave, well-intentioned friends and colleagues would ask, "Aren't you just loving every minute of it?" And it made me feel like a failure, it made me feel so guilty, because I didn't love every minute of it.
On the day my colleagues went back to fall teacher workshops while I was on maternity leave, at the moment they were sitting down to breakfast (prepared by someone else!), sharing stories of their summers and talking with other grown-ups, I was rinsing poop out of a onesie in the bathroom and listening to Dora drone on about her favorite part of the trip. I didn't love that. I didn't even like it.
There are other parts of motherhood that I don't like. Whining. Sibling bickering. Potty-training. The part of the toddler brain that thinks "I don't know" actually means "Mommy really does know but she is withholding information from you," and thus encourages shrieking "JUST TELL ME!" at the top of one's lungs. And oh, the noise, noise, NOISE, NOISE!
But here's where the "mindful rethinking" comes in: we just need to ditch the "like" button.
Everyone seems to be talking about mindfulness these days. Well, I've learned a bit about liking things based on my mindfulness practice. Despite the blissful images we may see on magazine covers, mindfulness is not about loving every minute of your life, or being happy all the time. In fact, when I started my mindfulness practice, it felt so awkward, because I thought I was supposed to start liking everything. I thought I had to change the thoughts in my head to things like, "Oh I love washing dishes. The water is so warm on my hands, the soap smells so good..." It was like trying to talk dirty about washing the dishes and it was really creepy.
Mindfulness, instead, is about non-judgmental awareness. It's not about "I like this and I don't like that," it's just observing what IS. In the age of Facebook, we need to train ourselves to not approach the world by deciding whether to click "Like" or not. And I think that goes for parenting, too.
I know the parts of motherhood that I don't like right now won't last. My son will get potty-trained. My house will be quiet, eventually. My children will learn what "I don't know" means. They will stop whining and fighting. (Won't they?)
And, sadly, I know that the things I do like about motherhood right now won't last either. I know my children won't always beg to hold my hand in the parking lot. My daughter won't always freely tell me she loves me "to the moon and back again a hundred thousand times, times infinity!" They won't always tell the ridiculous knock-knock jokes that make no sense but still make me laugh. Someday, I'll probably even miss the noise.
Ultimately, it's not really about what we like or dislike about parenting, or whether it's fun and happy or draining and exasperating. It's about understanding and accepting what it is. It is cozy snuggles and poopy onesies. It is the adorable and funny pictures we post on Facebook, and the whining. It is holding hands and breaking up fights.
So let's stop feeling guilty about not "liking" it all the time. Let's change the mantras for enduring the hard times. Instead of "love every minute!", how about...
It is what it is.
This too shall pass.
They will change, and I will change.
Like it or not.
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