We’ve all been in that pre-kid era where we’re sure we know what kind of parent we’ll be. Admit it, you’ve taken a note or two in your past when seeing a parent with his or her kid in the store and raised an eyebrow or two. I know I have. The parent I was going to be looked awesome on paper, but I never took into account the emotional impact of having children until I was hit with the reality of my own life playing out.
My late husband and I weren’t “trying” and we weren’t “not trying,” but when we were told at our six-month gender-reveal ultrasound that we were having not one, but two baby boys, that “perfect parent” image in my head slowly dissipated. Truth is I hadn’t spent much time around children up to that point, and now we were going to have two of them right off the bat. Driving home from the hospital with two newborns, I kept thinking, “I’ve never been around babies and now they just send us home with two? We’re not equipped! We’re not prepared!” But deep down, I knew my heart would never be the same. I was introduced to a whole new set of emotions and discovered emotions I never even knew were there. Bringing home those babies (now first graders!) created a major a paradigm shift in me—albeit it wasn’t all roses and sunshine. Not only did I realize (much later) that I was struggling with post-partum depression after my twins were born, I was trying to handle the terminal diagnosis of my young husband. These emotions were real, raw and honest—sometimes more honest than I would have liked them to be. These are the emotions of parenting that we don’t usually talk about amidst the pure joy, love, elation and “happily-ever-after” when baby(ies) comes home:
- Self-doubt: There are so many times I lay awake wondering if I’m making the right choice for my three kids—especially since my older two just went to kindergarten. The mom-on-paper me was going to homeschool and do crafts every day. The real-life-mom me is faced with having to come up with a sole income for my three children and myself. We want the best for our kids, but in this society we are inundated with so many decisions and choices and information when it comes to “the perfect parenting way,” it’s sometimes difficult to sift out what we don’t need in order to find the nuggets of truth—truth that settles our hearts and souls when it comes to our parenting. They are there, the nuggets, and when self-doubt comes swirling around, remember, write them down if you have to, the truths you’ve settled on. They’re different for everyone.
- Mental exhaustion: Pre-kids it was easy to make a space for dreaming about how we were going to parent and the kind of kids we were going to have. Now that they’re here, 99 percent of our brain space is devoted to keeping these people that we are in charge of alive, safe, nurtured and growing. Not only do we have to multi-task for our survival and theirs, to make it through the day, but once kids are in school, juggling our schedules and their activity schedules is downright exhausting—even if all you do is sit in a car and drive around all day or fill out a monthly…weekly…daily…sometimes hourly calendar. I’ve found that giving up an activity to make time for self-care (and sleep!) has been the best way to combat this.
- Pressure to be like our parents—or not be like them: Having children of our own undoubtedly makes us look at our parents and our childhood in a whole new light. Either we are even more grateful for the sacrifices our parents made for us, or we recoil at how we were raised and vow to never raise our children the way we were brought up, and sometimes a mixture of both. All kinds of emotions relative to our parents or ourselves, can rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune times—resentment, comparison, anger. Bottom line is that we are the parents we choose to be. We cannot change the way our parents were, but we can take our experiences of our childhood, learn from them and apply them to the way we parent.
- Not feeling joy 100 percent of the time: So many times after my twins were born I heard, “Oh twins! How much fun!” And so many times after my third child was born and my husband died, I heard about how blessed I was that “at least” I had three kids. But if I was honest, being with two, and then three children under three years old at the time and dealing with the whirlwind of emotions that come with post-partum depression and grief of the loss of my husband was anything but fun. Full-blown tantrums, crying throughout the night (sometimes x 3) and the incredible pressure of finding things to do to keep everybody’s minds and bodies busy when all I wanted to do was crawl in bed and sleep didn’t feel like much of a blessing at all. I didn’t feel the joy everyone talked about that comes with having kids and it wasn’t a barrel of fun. These emotions were completely counterintuitive to the fierce and intense love that I had for all of my children the moment I saw them. How could I not want to be around the people that bring me so much love and that I love in return. Bottom line is these feelings have NOTHING to do with your feelings about your children, but everything to do with your circumstance or mental state. Seeking professional help, accountability and someone to talk to honestly and openly can help tremendously.
- Guilt: This is the top of the list of negative emotions I believe trouble parents. We have self-imposed or externally imposed guilt about so many things when it comes to parenting. Guilt about having the TV on too much, guilt about what and how you’re feeding them, guilt about which school they attend and which toys or sports activities you cannot afford to buy. Guilt about working and not being home enough, guilt about not working and not contributing to the home financially…the list goes on and on. Guilt is when you’ve done something wrong and you know it. Shame, on the other hand, is disguised by guilt, and is when you yourself or your feelings are wrong. Do I feel guilty about my parenting because I really could improve on some things or do I feel shame about the way I parent because I’m just not a good parent? That negative self-talk and putting shame on yourself about doing things that are the best you can do at the time is so detrimental. Change the things that you know need to be changed and that you have control to change. For example, if you yell and are impatient with your children that’s a behavior and response that can be changed and improved on. But don’t feel unnecessary shame and guilt if you had to feed your baby a bottle instead of breastfeed or put your child into public school instead of private because of circumstances beyond your control.
In our optimistic, positive, happy-shiny society, it’s hard to admit negative emotions as a parent and it’s doubly hard to address them and deal with them. I’ll never forget the line from the movie “Room,” when the mother apologizes to her son for not being a good mom and her son replies, “but you’re my mom.” We can’t choose the circumstances we find ourselves in and sometimes we can’t choose the feelings that come up with those circumstances, but we can acknowledge them, fight against them if necessary, and push through to the truth that we are to live out as parents: be the best parents we can be with what we’re given and what we know. We need to always be willing to learn more and recognize that, even though sometimes the circumstance cannot be changed, being willing to change our emotions and perspectives accordingly are the best things we can do for our children.
*Previously published in “Multiplicity Magazine”, by Nicole Hastings