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 in the military. 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.
Solution: 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. At least you got some sleep. And made your kid more interesting.
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.
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 most 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.
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.”