Is Parenting Feeling Hard? Maybe You're Thinking Too Much.
Sometimes I can't wait for the day to be over. Yes, I said it. Sometimes I am just trying to kill the seemingly endless hours between the crack-of-dawn time that my kids wake up, to the can't-come-soon-enough hour that they go to sleep. Perhaps this feeling stems from the really intense phase our daughter has been going through in which she needs to be in control of everything. And when she's not allowed to have her way, holy Mother of God...watch yourself! Or maybe the recent four month long phase where our son was using me as a human pacifier and waking every two hours to ask for a snuggle is what makes me feel that the days are, at times, interminable. Or maybe it's because my husband had a heart attack two months ago and I am trying give him more time to relax on weekends (hello, Saturdays on my own with the kids). Or maybe this tense feeling comes from micro managing every quarrel and crabby interaction my kids have in a misguided attempt to teach them to get along.
Whatever the reason, some days I am not having fun. A friend sent me a really interesting Huffington Post article the other day, titled "The Myth of Joyful Parenthood" in which the author says:
Study after study has shown that parents, compared to adults without kids, experience lower emotional well-being -- fewer positive feelings and more negative ones -- and have unhappier marriages and suffer more from depression. Yet many of these same parents continue to insist that their children are an essential source of happiness -- indeed that a life without children is a life unfulfilled.
How do we square this jarring contradiction? Two psychological scientists at the University of Waterloo think they have the answer. They suspect that the belief in parental happiness is a psychological defense -- a fiction we imagine to make all the hard stuff acceptable. In other words, we parents have collectively created the myth of parental joy because otherwise we would have a hard time justifying the huge investment that kids require.
The research the author discusses basically finds that parents who find something about parenting uncomfortable are thus motivated to focus on the joys of parenting, which then makes the discomfort disappear. I don't agree with the basic premise that parents don't actually enjoy being parents - there is too much about it that is actually wonderful. Although I do wonder about those who never complain about it. The fact that thinking positive thoughts is merely a defense mechanism is a bit discomfiting, but the process does makes sense. When I spend my day focusing on how tired or cranky or frustrated I am, I simply feel more of the same. Additionally, it can lead to that obnoxious voice in my head that makes me sarcastic to a 4 year old, or snappish with a husband who is trying to help.
So while I sat, contemplating these thoughts, another friend sends me a link to a blog called "Live With Flair" (I have such nice friends) in which the author had written a brilliant post entitled These Aren't Interruptions:
Many times over the years of being a mother, I've felt like I'm just trying to get through something. I'd think to myself: I just have to get through this night waking, this potty training, this noise at the dinner table, this driving everywhere, this laundry, this cleaning, this bedtime routine. I need to get through these interruptions in order to arrive at what I really want to be doing.
I believed some clever lie that kept me from embracing motherhood fully. Motherhood was something to endure, and this made me so deeply troubled and ashamed that the dark days of depression stole half a decade of my life.
My doctor told me one afternoon that "my children are not interruptions" to the life I want to have. They are my life. Exactly how God designed it.
This thought stopped me in my tracks. Was I considering my children to be "interruptions"? I felt the guilt rising because I knew that sometimes the answer was "yes". I knew that it was true because when other parents talk about how they can't wait to spend their weekends with their children I think to myself how I often dread those long, unbroken hours. Please don't take this the wrong way, I do adore my children and they bring me boundless joy. AND being a mom can be exhaustingly hard work. I hope that for you it is always easy and wonderful, but for me I have days when I am so glad they're at school or that the nanny has taken them out. I just want some time to be alone, or to go to the bathroom uninterrupted, or to write without having my concentration broken, or to not think 50 times a day, "I am doing this mommy thing badly"! So I went back to Life With Flair and read the rest of the post. And there it was, like a brick hitting my head:
Our days are not something to get through as we endure interruptions to our real life.
This is our life: wonderful, beautiful, and just right for us.
Once again, I am reminded that it is simply the way one interprets each moment that gives it its meaning. Instead of simply "getting through" a day, and being frustrated by the kids, I can shift the way I think about what is happening. Perhaps, instead of being annoyed by my son waking me so often at night, I can instead focus on how wonderful it feels to have him close. How very soon this little boy will be a teenager who won't want to snuggle with mommy anymore. Before I know it, my little girl will have friends to whom she tells all her secrets and mommy will no longer be her confidant. How can I rush her through her night time sharing if, perhaps, tonight were the last time she were to do it? Wouldn't I actually miss these moments? More importantly, wouldn't my life just be simpler if I wasn't annoyed by these moments?
So I am going to be mindful of my thought process and the way I label my interactions with my kids. As Shakespeare so wisely said, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so". Without the label, things just are what they are.
Gina Osher is a former holistic healer turned parenting coach and SAHM to boy/girl twins. She is also the author of the popular blog, The Twin Coach where she writes about exploring mindfulness as a way to enjoy parenting more, as well as advice and research on everything from breastfeeding to bed rest. One part friend who's been through it all. One part mom of twins trying to figure it out. One part mentor willing to share. Gina's work has appeared on blogs such as The Mother Company, Rookie Moms, Visionary Mom and A Child Grows. She can also be found on http://www.blogher.com/sites/all/modules/custom/elf/elf.png); background-attachment: initial; background-origin: initial; background-clip: initial; background-color: initial; text-decoration: none; color: #516bb3; background-position: 100% 50%; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat; margin: 0px; border: 0px initial initial;">Facebook and http://www.blogher.com/sites/all/modules/custom/elf/elf.png); background-attachment: initial; background-origin: initial; background-clip: initial; background-color: initial; text-decoration: none; color: #516bb3; background-position: 100% 50%; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat; margin: 0px; border: 0px initial initial;">Twitter!