I’ve never experienced a bigger disconnect in my life than what I expected before I had kids, and what it’s really like having kids. Now, granted, nothing can truly prepare you. And clearly I didn’t listen when people tried to warn me.
But it seems to me that it would not have come as such a shock if we would just talk about everything more openly, especially the dark stuff, the stuff that makes a mom feel like a failure and a loser and a crazy person.
Well, you know what? I’m sick and tired of moms feeling like half-insane failures. Here’s a very partial list of parenting realities that resonate with me and many other parents that you probably won’t find in the baby books.
– You will lose whole parts of yourself. Things that you used to love, that excited you, now just seem like one more thing you have to do. Somebody said to me, “You’ll come back to yourself in a few years.” Here’s hoping.
– You will have dark, dark thoughts. Like throwing your baby out the window at 4 am after they have been crying for hours. Like getting in the car and just driving away and not coming back. There is a reason they make you watch the baby-shaking videos before you leave the hospital. Nobody thinks they could ever do that. After your first colic all-nighter, you get it. Everybody has those dark thoughts, it does not make you crazy or evil. (But do keep an eye out for postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis if those thoughts continue and are intrusive.)
– This can’t be said enough: breastfeeding is really, really hard. For some women it really does come naturally and easily, and often after the initial bumps it does become very easy. But it DOES hurt, and yet we hear over and over again, “It shouldn’t hurt if you’re doing it right.” This is complete and utter bullshit, and almost every mom I’ve talked with agrees. For nearly everyone it will hurt at some point. It is usually temporary. And I’m definitely in favor of breastfeeding. But we SHOULD NOT prioritize breastfeeding over bonding with our baby! If we dread feeding them, if we dread them waking up, if we become completely sleep-deprived and depressed, this is damaging to the bond. And the bond is what everything else is built on. And most importantly, YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE AS A MOM if breastfeeding doesn’t work for you.
– You will feel like you never accomplish anything, not even the dishes. You will feel like a loser. You might be jealous of the moms who have a profession after their name. You will feel like a failure so many days.
– You will hate your husband sometimes. Especially when he sleeps soundly while you’re up in the night for the fourteenth time and then he says “I’m tired” the next day. When he can just walk out the door in the morning and go to work and not deal with poop or vomit for an entire day. There is no better way to ruin a perfectly good relationship than to have kids.
– Sex with your husband can feel like yet one more person needing something from you. Plus, you can’t take anyone else touching you for One. More. Second.
– You will not likely “fall in love” with your baby right away. It takes time. It’s ok if you feel like an alien has taken over your life for a while. And it’s also ok if you don’t particularly enjoy some stages of childhood. Some stages for some kids are so hard, both for the kids and parents, that only a raving lunatic would enjoy them.
– You will feel more lonely than you have ever felt, when you are actually never alone. Even when peeing. Five minutes alone in the shower is glorious, and a trip to the grocery store alone is like visiting a 5-star hotel, especially if it has a Starbucks. But you will feel completely isolated for days at a time.
– Your kids will watch more TV than you ever thought possible.
– Sleep is a total shitshow. If some parents have great sleepers, it’s probably because THEIR KIDS WERE BORN THAT WAY. They will take credit for it nonetheless. Just do whatever works for your family to make it less of a shitshow. Your kids are probably wired to sleep the way they are and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it anyway.
– I think every parent I know has co-slept at some point. Those who say they never do just might be lying. Do what you need to do, and remember, sleep deprivation is a real actual TORTURE TECHNIQUE. And co-sleeping is the number one shared parenting technique across cultures and socio-economic levels.
– There is so much you can’t really “fix.” You’ve just got to ride it out. This too shall pass.
– Having kids will not necessarily make you “happy.” A sense of purpose in life like never before? Absolutely. The deepest connection you will ever experience? Definitely. But that does not equate happiness. In fact, all of my feelings seem to be more raw after having kids, and I regret making fun of my grandma and mom for crying at everything, because now I’m right there with them.
– Similarly, parenting is not necessarily “fulfilling.” I thought it would make me full of love and joy and contentedness, and sometimes it does. But often it feels draining. I give and I give and I give until I feel sucked dry, and then I have to go elsewhere to refill my own cup. It is essential that we do that refilling.
But the biggest revelation is, if we did a better job connecting with other moms in a real and authentic way, these dirty little secrets would not be so secret, or even dirty anymore. And maybe then there would be less moms feeling shame and guilt for never being good enough. But first we have to make ourselves vulnerable enough to tell the truth. So, you tell me your (not so dirty) little secrets and I’ll tell you mine, and our burdens might be just a little lighter.
Previously published as ‘The Dirty Little Secrets of Parenthood’ in Jami’s BEHIND DOMESTIC LINES column in The Wild Word magazine. www.thewildword.com
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For more great Wild Word essays:
Why Democrats Need to Go Big and Go Home by Maria Behan
Why Jesus Would Want Us To Speak Out Against Prejudice by Reverend Rachel Kessler
The Lessons My Family Have Learned From the Past by Annie Mark-Westfall
How My Mother Saved Summer by Irena Ioannou