Monday, February 7, 2011

Is Parenting Feeling Hard? Maybe You're Thinking Too Much

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so 
~ William Shakespeare

On occasion, I want to
tear my hair out, too
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 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.
My beautiful daughter has really,
REALLY big feelings sometimes
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. 
How can I say no to a snuggle?
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, it is thinking that makes things either good or bad. Without the label, things just are what they are. 

Thanks for reading!
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11 Great Comments Made By Clicking Here!:

Dana said...

Oh no! I just crafted a long response about how glorious children are and yet how rotten and exhausting it can be to raise them. Then it went POOF!
Know this, I find your constant striving to be a better parent inspirational and your honesty when you can't reassuring.
It's a tough road we're on. It's good to have friends who understand.

somethingsweetblog said...

Gina - thanks for the honesty and perspective! It is hard work (really it is impossible work) to stay calm, rational and supportive with two irrational beings. Even though I'm away from my kids 50+ hours per week, I have moments with them that I wish away. I agree with your approach, I try to focus on the fact that this is all very fleeting. Soon they will be older and less needy and I'll be wishing for the temper trantrum phase back instead of the issues of teen life. I stay mindful by thinking of this CONSTANTLY.

The Toad said...

Gina, I think this is a very honest view of parenthood. Ultimately it's a great thing, but it's often a drag day to day. Sometimes I think my bedtime is the greatest part of my day, which makes me feel about eighty years old. We all love our children, but it's good to talk about how hard it is to raise them. And you're right that it's for a limited time so we might as well enjoy it. My daughter is nine, and I can already see her neediness abating rapidly. It's an awfully bittersweet relief, you know?

Christina Simon said...

I still think the infant stage was the hardest, the nights without sleep left me like a zombie nightmare the next day. Everyday brings something new, however!

Anonymous said...

Because of your latest blog posts, I am calming down and listening to my kids more. I'm having a great day. :-) so thank you!

Anonymous said...

Gina, what a fantastic and honest post. I really enjoyed reading it. Thank you.

I'm guilty of clock watching and some days I feel like time starts to go backwards somewhere around 3pm. Yes, I love my child but it's tough being a parent!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this. I am a new mom of 9 month old boy & girl twins (who are both teething right now) and with all the struggles I went through to get pregnant and how bad I wanted to have children- I find myself complaining a lot about how freakin hard this is. I am going to be mindful of my thoughts and actions and deeply breath in these precious moments- Because POOF they go by so fast.

TP Craft said...

Great post. Over this last week I have tried to slow down and truly savor how incredible my children are. It has made me a much happier mama.

Mona said...

Thanks for sharing. Good to know I'm not the only one with thoughts like that. Going to try to be more poitive from now on :)

Aunt Annie said...

I so love your honesty. It's wonderful that you can put these things out there so other parents who are experiencing them don't feel so alone. Well done, you.

Having had a child who at age four could talk about the wheel configuration of a locomotive until I was ready to drown myself, I completely empathise with that desperate feeling of waiting for my sanity time ALONE!!!... even though yes, I knew in my heart how wonderful he was and how much I really enjoyed parenting.

My girlfriend has this saying about bushwalking which maybe can be applied to this aspect of parenting: "75% of the fun is looking forward to it, 75% of the fun is looking back on it. Minus 50% for actually doing it."

Becky said...

Beautiful post, my friend. <3

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