Adventures along the journey to parenthood

The highs and the lows and the zen

Ellyn and Erin both shared a blog post from a pastor who has 3 sons under age 5. His article has now been re-printed in multiple publications. It’s refreshing to see this new era of parenting where folks can be very honest about the hardships and annoyances in addition to the joys of parenting. For people who are considering having kids, I think it can become a little scary – like “Gosh, is it really that bad? It seems like all anyone talks about anymore is how awful it is.” But I think this new trend of exposing the ugly side of child rearing is in response to years of moms feeling like they can only say how wonderful it is (and it IS wonderful). There is a pressure to put on a big happy grin 100% of the time, and to be perfectly composed and in control at every moment – at least that’s the image parents saw as their guide for decades. Regardless of if you were up all night with a sick child or haven’t had an afternoon to yourself in six months. You didn’t see images in a magazine or parenting book of a mom sighing in relief and mixing a cocktail the second her kid went down for a nap (though I bet this has changed).

We all want to do right by our kids. That’s a fear and anxiety most parents can relate to. For some that fear and pressure dominates their lives and happiness more than others.

In my own short experience as a parent, I’ve learned that the highs are especially sweet and joyous and the lows are especially maddening and overwhelming. They each pass. The beautiful shining moments I try to fully embrace because I know it is a fleeting little special blip in time: Archer shrilling with joy as I play with his feet. Archer proudly sitting in his little kid chair after figuring out how to climb in it by himself. Archer marching through the house on a mission to transport blocks from the couch to the chair. Archer bringing a book over to me and curling up in my lap to be read to. Archer playing peek-a-boo. Archer smiling and toddling over to me as fast as he can when we’ve been a part for 10 hours (or 20 minutes), hugging my legs or reaching his arms up wanting to be held by his momma. How sweet is that? I know these moments are precious and will disappear. 10-year-old Archer will have a whole new bag of tricks, but not these.

When I’m gritting my teeth, it’s harder to appreciate the moment for what it is, but I try my best and continue to take deep breaths and reassure myself that this too will pass. And it does. And I almost always laugh at it later: Archer pooping in the bathtub right as the bath ends, then we have to clean out the tub and start all over. FINALLY ready to leave the house for work with Archer in hand, my purse, my work computer, his diaper bag, my lunch, his bottles, my coat, the car keys, we’re locking up the door, and then I get a huge splurge of spit up all over my work outfit, after struggling to find something spit-free to look presentable in from the start. Archer crying, whining, fussing for hours, and it’s only 9am and I’m already exhausted. In these moments I have a flash of “How can I do this?” but then I sigh and I do it and usually, it’s not that bad. At least not looking back on it.

There’s no way to know when either will happen and what each day will bring. Someone at work mentioned how it makes all other annoyances in the world seem trivial. If I’ve had a high stress day at work, it is forgotten within 10 minutes of being at home – because I have no choice but to be in the moment with my son, and as we’ve all been told, living in the present moment (as opposed to focusing our thoughts on the past or future) is the best way to live. This is why Archer is a zen master.

Here’s my favorite lines from Steve:

“You’re not a terrible parent. You’re an actual parent with limits. You cannot do it all. We all need to admit that one of the casualties specific to our information saturated culture is that we have sky-scraper standards for parenting, where we feel like we’re failing horribly if we feed our children chicken nuggets and we let them watch TV in the morning. One of the reasons we are so exhausted is that we are over-saturated with information about the kind of parents we should be.

So, maybe it’s time to stop reading the blogs that tell you how to raise the next president who knows how to read when she’s 3 and who cooks, not only eats, her vegetables. Maybe it’s time to embrace being the kind of parent who says sorry when you yell. Who models what it’s like to take time for yourself. Who asks God to help you to be a better version of the person that you actually are, not for more strength to be an ideal parent.”

Read his full article below, it’s great:

To Parents of Small Children: Let Me Be the One Who Says It Out Loud

By Steve Wiens

I am in a season of my life right now where I feel bone-tired almost all of the time. Ragged, how-am-I-going-to-make-it-to-the-end-of-the-day, eyes burning exhausted.

I have three boys ages 5 and under. I’m not complaining about that. Well, maybe I am a little bit. But I know that there are people who would give anything for a house full of laughter and chaos. I was that person for years and years; the pain of infertility is stabbing and throbbing and constant. I remember allowing hope to rise and then seeing it crash all around me, month after month, for seven years. I am working on another post about infertility that will come at a later date.

But right now, in my actual life, I have three boys ages 5 and under. There are many moments where they are utterly delightful, like last week, when Isaac told my sister-in-law that, “My daddy has hair all over.” Or when Elijah put a green washcloth over his chin and cheeks, and proudly declared, “Daddy! I have a beard just like you!” Or when Ben sneaks downstairs in the morning before the other boys do, smiles at me, and says, “Daddy and Ben time.”

But there are also many moments when I have no idea how I’m going to make it until their bedtime. The constant demands, the needs and the fighting are fingernails across the chalkboard every single day.

One of my children is for sure going to be the next Steve Jobs. I now have immense empathy for his parents. He has a precise vision of what he wants — exactly that way and no other way. Sometimes, it’s the way his plate needs to be centered exactly to his chair, or how his socks go on, or exactly how the picture of the pink dolphin needs to look — with brave eyes, not sad eyes, daddy! He is a laser beam, and he is not satisfied until it’s exactly right.

I have to confess that sometimes, the sound of his screaming drives me to hide in the pantry. And I will neither confirm nor deny that while in there, I compulsively eat chips and/or dark chocolate.

There are people who say this to me:

“You should enjoy every moment now! They grow up so fast!”

I usually smile and give some sort of guffaw, but inside, I secretly want to hold them under water. Just for a minute or so. Just until they panic a little.

If you have friends with small children — especially if your children are now teenagers or if they’re grown — please vow to me right now that you will never say this to them. Not because it’s not true, but because it really, really doesn’t help.

We know it’s true that they grow up too fast. But feeling like I have to enjoy every moment doesn’t feel like a gift, it feels like one more thing that is impossible to do, and right now, that list is way too long. Not every moment is enjoyable as a parent; it wasn’t for you, and it isn’t for me. You just have obviously forgotten. I can forgive you for that. But if you tell me to enjoy every moment one more time, I will need to break up with you.

If you are a parent of small children, you know that there are moments of spectacular delight, and you can’t believe you get to be around these little people. But let me be the one who says the following things out loud:

You are not a terrible parent if you can’t figure out a way for your children to eat as healthy as your friend’s children do. She’s obviously using a bizarre and probably illegal form of hypnotism.

You are not a terrible parent if you yell at your kids sometimes. You have little dictators living in your house. If someone else talked to you like that, they’d be put in prison.

You are not a terrible parent if you can’t figure out how to calmly give them appropriate consequences in real time for every single act of terrorism that they so creatively devise.

You are not a terrible parent if you’d rather be at work.

You are not a terrible parent if you just can’t wait for them to go to bed.

You are not a terrible parent if the sound of their voices sometimes makes you want to drink and never stop.

You’re not a terrible parent.

You’re an actual parent with limits. You cannot do it all. We all need to admit that one of the casualties specific to our information saturated culture is that we have sky-scraper standards for parenting, where we feel like we’re failing horribly if we feed our children chicken nuggets and we let them watch TV in the morning.

One of the reasons we are so exhausted is that we are oversaturated with information about the kind of parents we should be.

So, maybe it’s time to stop reading the blogs that tell you how to raise the next president who knows how to read when she’s 3 and who cooks, not only eats, her vegetables. Maybe it’s time to embrace being the kind of parent who says sorry when you yell. Who models what it’s like to take time for yourself. Who asks God to help you to be a better version of the person that you actually are, not for more strength to be an ideal parent.

So, the next time you see your friends with small children with that foggy and desperate look in their eyes, order them a pizza and send it to their house that night. Volunteer to take their kids for a few hours so they can be alone in their own house and have sex when they’re not so tired, for heaven’s sake. Put your hand on their shoulder, look them in the eyes, and tell them that they’re doing a good job. Just don’t freak out if they start weeping uncontrollably. Most of the time, we feel like we’re botching the whole deal and our kids will turn into horrible criminals who hate us and will never want to be around us when they’re older.

You’re bone-tired. I’m not sure when it’s going to get better. Today might be a good day or it might be the day that you lost it in a way that surprised even yourself.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

You’re not alone.

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2 responses

  1. Ellyn

    Once when Otis and I were at the playground, a seven year-old girl (she told me her age about five times) came and sat down on the swing next to me. “Are you a Mom or a babysitter?” she asked. “I’m a mom,” I replied. “Wow, you know,” she said, “being a mom must be really, really hard sometimes, right?” I totally teared up and almost started bawling. I wanted to curl up in her lap and really let her know about it. Then she came back with an incredibly adorable story about when her dog was a puppy and barked at her all night because he didn’t know the difference between night and day. And then I realized that all kids are awesome. That their innocence makes life simultaneously hard as hell and completely worth living. Anyway… you hit the nail on the head, girl.

    May 9, 2013 at 10:52 am

    • I love this story Ellyn. And your realization that all kids are awesome. I also appreciate your insight that the innocence that people most often mention as their favorite thing about children, the sweetest, most precious thing, is also what is responsible for a lot of their maddening behavior – they just truly don’t know any better. They truly don’t understand and are not yet at a place where they can understand. We are left to deal with it as it is. Happy Mother’s Day! Give yourself a big ol’ sweet hug and an overpriced fancy cocktail.

      May 12, 2013 at 9:24 am

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