14 Reasons Why Parenting is So Hard

by Danielle Veith


I spent a ridiculous $10 on this pair of socks today, but I know there will be a day when I will want to give these to a mom who will really need them, need to put these cozy socks on at the end of a long day, lay down in her bed and stare down at her toes and know it's gonna be okay. And there's a decent chance that mom will be me. 

I spent a ridiculous $10 on this pair of socks today, but I know there will be a day when I will want to give these to a mom who will really need them, need to put these cozy socks on at the end of a long day, lay down in her bed and stare down at her toes and know it's gonna be okay. And there's a decent chance that mom will be me. 

Why is being a parent so damn hard? If you are one, you know. If you try to explain it to anyone else, you seem insane or inept.

Parenting is seemingly full of easy, mundane tasks, but somehow it adds up to something that is, somehow, really difficult. Change a diaper, make a lunch, go to the park, run an errand… (Oh dear lord, run an errand…)  None of the individual components is anything to write home about…

And yet… the exhaustion, the mania, the loss of sanity, the doubts, the I-can’t-do-it and the everyone-else-is-doing-it-better… It’s so hard to explain why it’s so hard…

Maybe if we take a moment to think about what makes something seemingly so easy actually so incredibly hard, we wouldn’t feel like we’re losing our minds. And maybe we could even think of some ways to make it at least seem a little easier.

1.      The Learning Curve

Before we left the hospital for the first time around, the pediatrician evaluating our daughter made her stop crying… and made us feel totally inept. But, as he reassured us, in 24 hours, we will be the experts on our baby. No one will know her better. It was true. The learning curve is steep—you know nothing and then you suddenly know everything. Except: the learning curve stays steep—you know nothing over and over again. Think you’re doing a good job at this parenting gig? Just wait a week… or 5 minutes… and you’re bound to fall flat on your face. Again.

Solution: Enjoy the three weeks when you’ve totally got this thing, because it will pass so quickly. And know that, during the three weeks when you totally don’t got this thing, that era will end just as fast.

2.      The Anxiety

I may have an official diagnosis, but I think all parents suffer this in one way or another. Some of the most couldn’t-give-a-fuck parents I know have surprised me by sharing anxieties I know well. One mom told me, “As a person, I’m never anxious about anything, but as a mom, I’m like a crazy person.” There’s just a lot to worry about. Someone took your god-damn heart out of your body and let it walk around out in the world like it wasn’t vulnerable as hell and like you wouldn’t feel like a dead person if something happened to it. By it, I mean your kid.

Solution: Meds. Seriously though, just knowing it’s normal takes half the worry away. The other half, there’s no solution. So at least you don’t need to look for one.

3.      Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Bad for gays. Bad for parents. But we do it all. the. time. We’re going through something—yelling too much, worrying that our kid’s obsession with YouTube is going to turn him into a weird, basement-dwelling collector of stupid toys, that sort of thing, ya know, just for example—and we don’t tell anyone about it. Which makes us feel like the only one. Which makes us feel like a failure. No one else is telling us about their inability to get their kids out of their pajamas before 4 pm, so we’re not gonna be the first to confess.

Solution: Confess. Storytelling saves lives, people! Sharing your struggle might just bring another parent back from the brink. And sometimes that other parent will be you.

4.      Our Baggage is Heavy

All of the ideas that we internalized as kids, the ones we didn’t even know we had until we became parents, not all of those ideas are good ones. And they’re super hard to shake. It took me two years to leave my first kids with a babysitter, probably because I don’t think I ever had one as a kid. But it nearly drove me crazy, as a stay-at-home mom, to think that I needed to take my daughter with me everywhere I went. And that’s just a little one. Not a single one of us was parented perfectly and we carry that with us—sometimes repeating it, sometimes obsessing over not doing things the way they were for us. And we each have our own! If you’re co-parenting, you both have baggage—and it’s not ever going to be a matching set. Literally no chance your kids won’t have baggage of their own because of that thing you did just the other day—or all the YouTube videos you let your 5-year-old watch alone in the basement while you slept upstairs.

5.      So Many Shoulds

Parenting wouldn’t feel half as hard if we didn’t feel all of the shoulds, all the time. Some come from strangers—“Your baby really should be crawling by now,” but a lot of what we think is coming from outside is really just a loud echo in our own brain. My seven-year-old really should know how to ride a bike by now. I really should spend more time reading with them at bedtime. I should be working to give my kids a good example as a feminist mom. I really should be home for every sick day, make it to every end-of-the-week performance, get down on the floor and play, not forget that birthday they were invited to because it got lost in my email, step back and let them do more on their own, get outside to play every time the sun shines… It. Never. Ends.

Solution: Every single time you hear the word “should” come out of your mouth or nag you inside your own head, ask where it’s coming from and then tell it to go back there and leave you alone.

6.      Kids are Insane

Seriously, check the DSM. There are times when they are textbook crazy.  They are tiny little dictators (narcissism) with unpredictable mood swings (bi-polar) afraid of the most absurd things (anxiety) and crying at the drop of a hat (depression). Or rather, over the color of their plate at lunch or how you promised you’d do that thing you totally did not promise to do. At least as far as you can remember. Kids are not adults—they are not reasonable, they can not be talked to as if logic is gravity and agreed upon by everyone, and they will often make absolutely no sense at all. Actually, maybe they are exactly like adults. Donald Trump voters at least.

Solution: Time away. Step away from the crazy. Take a break, take a bath, take a walk, take a weekend. You cannot spend every waking moment with a child and keep your sanity.

7.      We Hold Grudges

We do. And they don’t. One minute they hate us, we are the worst parent in the world, how could we be so cruel as to ask them to brush their teeth or pee before they go to bed. The next minute, they need us to hug them and cuddle them while they fall asleep. It must be weird to have to seek comfort from the very person who caused your distress. But it’s just as weird as to be yelled at one minute and hugged the next. We can’t always roll with it like they do. We’re not built to go from, “This is the worst day of my life,” to “You are the best mommy in the world” (or, more likely, the other way around) in 5 seconds flat. They finish their tantrum and then need us again, but we’re still kinda pissed that we were just screamed at for ten minutes. It’s hard to let it go. We’re just not as resilient as they are.

Solution: Just know it’s coming. And try to let go like they do—it’s kind of amazing. You will fail, but even trying to come close will be better than trying to face the situation like a mature adult. Cuz that’s just not gonna work. At. All.

8.      Everyone is Watching

From the minute you reveal your pregnancy (or start showing to strangers), you are being judged. Your parents, your in-laws, your boss, your best friend, your sister, that guy on Facebook you went to high school with, and most of all—other moms. Everything you do is under a microscope. You feel like there are only two options—perfection or complete failure. Neither of which you are very likely to achieve. Luckily, this one is hardly ever true in reality. Yes, there will be comments you will need to learn how to ignore. But most people are so caught up in their own selves, they really don’t think about you as much as you might imagine.

Solution: You may feel like you’re being watched, but look around. Mostly it just feels that way. Anyone who is watching either (a) cares, or (b) doesn’t matter.

9.      You are Alone

Whether you stay-at-home or work or some combo, parenting can be very isolating. Making plans can feel Herculean. Making parents friends can seem scary. Being with a kid all the time is one of the loneliest things you can do. It can make the more introverted person crave being with other adult people like never before. This is probably the worst part of being a parent today. We are not meant to parent alone. And yet, here we are, in our little houses, separated from each other, with little support, little camaraderie. It’s so fucking lonely and it totally sucks.

Solution: That village that it takes to raise a child? It takes one of those to support a mother or a father, too. But it doesn’t exist unless you seek out fellow villagers. Our only option right now is to build it ourselves.

10.   The Roommate Issue

For those of us lucky enough to be co-parenting, whether that’s with a spouse or another adult who loves you and your kid, we should be really grateful. And mostly we are. But other humans are different from us—they have different ideas about bedtime, different triggers that make them yell, different ideas about just about everything. I had a roommate in college who wanted everyone to use one sponge to clean dishes and a separate sponge to clean the counters and table. I can see how it makes sense (different kinds of dirt and all, it’s probably more sanitary or something), but the rest of us just stared at her while she was explaining it like she was a Martian speaking Cantonese. Living with other people is hard. Parenting with other people is hard. Sometimes they say weird things about sponges.

Solution: Try to remember that parenting with someone else is also a gift. Even if they can be a total idiot sometimes. Because you can also be a total idiot sometimes.

11.   The Hours Stink

24/7 forever. Middle of the night. All day, every day. Until death do you part. Or college. Although I’m 40 and pretty sure I’m still stressing out my mom pretty much every day.

Solution: None.

12.   You Are Indispensable

I had a class in high school called “Health and the Human Spirit,” from which I learned everything from how to use a condom to how to talk about racism. One thing that has stuck with me forever is this little pearl of wisdom—the source of all stress is the feeling that you are indispensable. If you think no one else can do your job, or do your job as good as you can, or that you are as important as the only heart surgeon in the world who is always on call, you will be stressed. It’s like never taking a vacation from work because you think you can’t get anyone to cover the work you do and the work you do can’t wait. The thing is, as a parent, you are completely indispensable to your children. They need you. It’s hard not to feel the weight of that all the time.

Solution: You need to learn how to step away. True, maybe no one else can do your parenting job as well as you, but you won’t be able to do it as well as you if you never let anyone else step in to help.

13.   No Exit

You can’t run away. If you do, you’re no longer a parent. But, oh boy, are there ever days when you will want to run away. You will fantasize about driving away in a convertible, Thelma and Louise style, and never looking back. You will want to start over in a new city where no one will call you “mama” 1,000 times a day. You will have all kinds of thoughts like that and you will never do it. Because really, you don’t want to leave.

Solution: Even if you have a great life, there are moments where you will want to leave your body. Or at least your town. They will pass.

14.   The Stakes

There’s nothing more important. Nothing matters more. You have to get it right. Or at least not completely screw it up. My kids came into this world so completely perfect, for the first few years, I just kept thinking, “Just don’t ruin them.” But maybe this is less complicated than we think. Someone once told me that kids take your average—they won’t remember the worst days and they won’t remember the best ones either. Mostly, they will remember how you made them feel, day-in, day-out. Just the regular, boring days. Those ones.

Solution: Just know that everyone fucks up. As some very-unwise person once told me, “You don’t do crack and you have the internet. You’ll be fine.” 

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What Do You Do All Day?

by Danielle Veith


My power suit. No red tie required. 

My power suit. No red tie required. 

A few weeks ago, I went to my state capital, lobbied my elected representatives and gave testimony in a Senate committee hearing. I’ve been overcome by a radical notion that there’s something wrong with a country where toddlers kill more people with guns than terrorists. Where nine women are shot and killed by their husband or intimate partner every week. Where the momentary suicidal thoughts of a teenager are lethal because guns are easier to get than help.

I got a lot of praise from friends and family for doing this important work. Which is nice. There’s not a whole lot of praise to go around for stay-at-home moms. I think that’s the thing I miss most about working—feeling like I’m doing a good job and being told so. Neither of which happen regularly in the parent role.

It struck me as odd, though, and very out-of-proportion with the relative effort involved, that people made such a big deal about it. And it came from everywhere—my parents, other moms, everyone I talked to. My husband even left me a card that said, “Your awesomeness is showing.” Well, that doesn’t exactly happen every day.

I don’t want to say that nothing about the advocacy I (we) did that day was hard, but it certainly wasn’t rocket science. Each little part of it was such a tiny thing—I got up way too early, dressed like a semi-respectable person, drove about an hour, got some signatures and took some photos at a press conference, handed papers to legislative aids (and talked to one adversarial and rather condescending state senator), and then basically sat and waited anxiously for about eight hours for my turn to speak. The testimony I gave was written by someone else, with a little personalization from me, and I’m sure I seemed nervous while I gave it.

Really, anyone could have done it. The truth was that most of my day involved sitting on my bum and waiting for the 90 seconds I was allowed to share my testimony. What was all the fuss about?

All I did was show up. Which reminds me of another thing I show up for every day.

If I was at home, I would have been doing half a dozen things and getting annoyed at myself about the other half dozen things I should have done already. If I sat on my butt for eight minutes, I would bathe myself in guilt the whole time. I would have given myself—and have been given by others—almost zero credit for any of it. Because anyone could do it.

Well, anyone who can handle the crippling lack of positive reinforcement.

In the “90% of life is showing up” category, I’m proud to have taken the time to lobby my representatives. I know it was a big deal because I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the three moms and two dads who juggled my kids so I could be gone all day like someone who has a real voice in the world. I felt really happy to be able to speak and be heard. Especially since so many parents who feel as I do aren’t heard because they can’t get away to spend a day sitting on their butt for eight hours.

I still can’t shake how differently I was treated by everyone, in comparison with a normal day of parenting. Which, more often that not, is a whole lot harder. Although, really, I know the answer.

We all know the answer. (It’s sexism.) But it’s more complicated that that, because—as they say in the movie—“The call is coming from inside the house.”

Part of why what I did was acknowledged as something is because I was doing a “man thing,” something that our male-oriented world values. Something determined to be worthwhile, and not coincidentally, something usually done by men. We were outnumbered that day, two or three times over, by the many men (and two women, one a paid NRA lobbyist) who showed up for the other side.

Politically, I believe that, central to any discussion of gender equality, we have to have a conversation about why we place a lower value on traditionally women’s work (caregiving, teaching, etc.). And that’s when we think it should be paid at all—elder care, childcare, social services…We all know that a stockbroker’s day-to-day work is not 100 times more worthwhile than a kindergarten teacher. This is way beyond an argument for equal pay for equal work, though that figures in, too. It’s about making the work visible in the first place.

But politics aside, on a personal level, deep down in that place that can make it easier or harder to get through a day, I believe in the value of the invisible work women do only when it’s someone else’s work. I can support a friend, but not myself. I know that the other moms around me are doing good, hard work, deserving of recognition. But all I can see is myself doing something one cares about. All of this effort and nothing to show for it. The exhaustion of a long, hard day’s work without the acknowledgement that any work was done. No way to measure it, value it, make it seen.

In fact, it’s when my work is seen that I am most uncomfortable, like I’m walking around naked in public. When I’m with my kids and our day crosses over into the working world that I don’t currently inhabit, I feel a deep discomfort. Like I’m showing something that shouldn’t be seen. Kids—and therefore those who care for them—shouldn’t intersect with the rest of the world as it goes about it’s business. Why are we in this restaurant? In this neighborhood? What are we doing there anyway? Shouldn’t we be invisible, hiding in some sanctioned, approved-for-kids-space? Grocery shopping seems to be allowed.

So, there it is. I feel better about myself when I take a day off to forward my controversial (how is it possible that this is controversial) political agenda of trying to make it harder for kids to be killed and kill themselves with guns. I feel like I’m doing something. Other people acknowledge that I’m doing something.

There’s this idea out there that stay-at-home moms labor under some sort of halo. That supposedly everyone thinks we’re doing this great thing, staying home with little children. Aside from an old lady here or there, who knows it because she lived it, or an old-fashioned man, who thinks I’m doing what I should be doing, I hear no chorus of encouragement and support.

Especially not from my own damn self.

I find it almost impossible to move through each day as just a mother. Because… what else do you do? If there’s nothing else, if it’s just mothering, what exactly do you do all day? Basically, what is being asked it this… Can I think of you as a daycare worker? Is that what you do all day? And for anyone who has worked in a job more valued than caregiving—basically, anything else—it’s uncomfortable to know both how important and undervalued this work is and simultaneously want to be thought of as someone who can do more, who has more value in this world.

I never thought I’d hear myself say that what we need to do to achieve equality for women is to fight to free poor, oppressed straight men. But as a mother, it’s clearer than ever that we really aren’t free until everyone is free. As long as men feel limited to traditionally men’s work and men’s roles in the family, there is nowhere for women to go. As long as being with kids during the day is primarily the domain of women, it won’t be acknowledged. I really don’t see another way of raising up the value of what women do, other than to invite men onto our team.

As they say, if men got their period, menstruation would be a sacrament. Well, if more men knew what it felt like to live your life, day-in-and-day-out, doing something that’s hard and that seems like nothing to everyone (including their own self)… Well, maybe there wouldn’t be a halo, but we maybe we could appreciate each other’s labor in a different way.

Or at least work would seem like work.

Because I can say, “All I did was show up,” about lobbying as a citizen, but it seems like the little tasks of that day add up to something more in a way that parenting doesn’t. All I feel are the little tasks and I don’t dare take credit for anything bigger that it might all add up to at the end of the day. I’d like to at least get to a place where I feel the value of the whole picture more than the exhaustion of the little tasks that make up the day.

 

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Failing at February

by Danielle Veith


Even a playground looks sad in February.

Even a playground looks sad in February.

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November* in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.” 
― Herman MelvilleMoby-Dick

 

It’s raining and cold and it’s a minor miracle that I’m not in bed under heavy blankets, watching TV and eating canned cherry pie filling. 

It must be February. 

When I was in college, my best friend and I had an agreement that you were allowed to do whatever you needed to do to get through February. The big one I remember was: eat ice cream every day. And she was a former ballet dancer, so that’s a pretty good indicator of how awful February is.

Wanna play Tetris instead of writing your paper? Yes, yes, I do. Can’t be bothered to walk across campus for that morning class? Yeah, it’s cold out. I get it. What are you doing with that guy? It’s February! No judgement! 

My parenting equivalent of Ice Cream February is “Say Yes to Everything.” 

Let’s just go to Target and wader the aisles together, okay? I’m sure there’s a toy in it for you. Or at least some chocolate milk. You don’t want the chocolate milk you just opened? Fine, we’ll get the vanilla, too.

Have you seen that Onion headline (http://www.theonion.com/article/kids-love-when-mom-sad-enough-just-order-pizza-50515), “Kids Love When Mom Is Sad Enough to Just Order Pizza”? I’m right there. I can't be bothered to fight with my kids over anything. I’m worn down. Resistance is futile.

“Can I have another Girl Scout Cookie?” Sure, why not. (Those Girl Scouts aren’t fooling around with their February sales strategy!)

“I don’t want to take a bath tonight.” Well, that works out fine, because I don’t want to give you a bath tonight.

“Can I just wear this to bed?” Sure, good night.

“I don’t want to go to school.” How about watching Gilmore Girls reruns in bed with Mama?

“Do I have to get dressed today?” Nope. Do I?

I’m mean, really… What's the worst that could happen? Don’t answer that.

Winter is so isolating. And it’s not just seasonal affective disorder, so don’t try to sell me a mood lamp. It’s more like a conspiracy of everything at once telling you that there’s just no good reason for ambition right now.

Or maybe more charitably, there’s some core biological wiring that makes us feel drawn toward the human version of hibernation. Instead of going to the park, let’s just get out of the cold, stay at home and hunker down.

February isn’t a very charitable month, so it can be hard to just be ok with a slowed down world. And it really is more than that, too. It’s not just a cozy-by-the-fireplace kind of phenomenon. It doesn’t feel good.

But if we’re all out there hunkering down alone, it’s almost like we’re doing it together. You think of me, I’ll think of you, and see you in April? I feel like I can almost see other moms, out there, taking another deep breath, holding it inside and then sighing it out. This day will eventually end. All prior evidence points to the fact that days all finally come to an end. And all Februarys end, even ones with the pesky extra leap year day.

It’s usually about this time of year that I start feeling like I’m behind on everything. The kids always seem to get sick and suck up two weeks of time just like that. And then there’s whatever pathetic amount of snow we get in DC and the corresponding unexpected days off from school. And then I get sick. And we cancel plans because someone else’s kid is always sick, too.

So, everything just piles up, like I imagine actual snow does in other places in winter. And before I know it, flowers are popping up everywhere mocking me for having accomplished nothing since November.

I’m not exactly excelling at motherhood. I don’t do enough with the kids. I don’t engage enough. I’m not patient enough. You’d think with all of the not-accomplishing-anything, I could at least feel like I’m indulging in special time with the kids. It certainly doesn’t feel that way.

Combine extra kids-at-home days with my general lack of motivation and I’m not working enough. I’m not getting enough done. A whole month passed and I can’t point to anything.

Even the regular stuff. I can’t stay on top of the regular stuff.

The laundry. I can’t even think about the laundry. There’s not one corner of the house that feels relaxing, each vantage with its own to-do list taunting me. I don’t do enough around the house. I’m there all the time and still, all the dishes.

I just feel like the days are lost. One after another, they just fall off the calendar while I stare at the naked trees through the window. 

There’s some peculiar characteristic of motherhood that can make a woman feel like she is simultaneously not enough at every single thing she does. I would think that failing in one area would mean that another area is thriving, but it’s not like that. When my energy is low and I’m feeling very self-judge-y, nothing is spared.

And kind of like the beginning of Moby Dick (see below) with wanting to knock the hats off of everyone’s heads, I know when things get like this, there’s just one thing I need to do. And it’s not get to sea.

It’s time to see a friend who understands, get away from the house and the kids and the need to prove anything and go have a coffee or a cocktail with a real live friend. And there’s actually something we need to toast—we’re almost there! Just one more week… 

 

* All due respect to Melville, but clearly, he means February.

 

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