A few weeks ago, I enjoyed reading “My Life Is a Waking Nightmare,” by Ruth Graham on Slate.com. She wrote from the perspective of a childless person who is encountering what feels like a new wave of parenting articles, spoofs, and blogs–including my post, “So You Would Like to Have Three Children.”
In short, Ms. Graham says that we complaining parents are scaring her. I appreciate her perspective. She writes with humor and closes with goodwill and a good-natured jab. However, I have to say I do not agree with one of her major points: “But the cumulative effect…is that the Web is now flooded with ‘honest’ anecdotes, and ‘brave’ confessions about less-than-perfect parenting. Is it really ‘brave’ when honesty is what’s getting the book deals these days?”
The thing is, I don’t feel flooded with people being honest about parenthood (or possibly anything). A number of studies show increased negativity, loneliness, or envy with increased Facebook use. And I’ve had those moments where I’m alone with my kids on a rainy Saturday morning, and they seem bent on destroying the house and each other, and I feel more isolated and miserable because I log onto Facebook and see all the photos of people making pancakes and pillow forts with their beaming children. Many (most?) mainstream magazines and sites aimed at mothers or parents are full of crafting ideas and joyful, heartwarming moments.
I like crafts. I like heartwarming moments. Sometimes, though, crafting with my children creates heated moments instead, as the baby is hell-bent on throwing the beads everywhere, angering the oldest, who spent 30 minutes carefully sorting them into different trays, and making even more difficult the task of the four year old, who will not listen to me when I try to teach him the easy way to keep them on the wires. “What wires?” you may be asking? Well, PLEASE STOP ASKING ME QUESTIONS I CAN’T HEAR YOU OVER THE BABY’S SCREAMING!
This Is Our Normal
Also, I don’t really have time for this craft, because we have to leave in five minutes and I haven’t gotten the oldest to put her shin guards on yet.
I joined a mom’s group when I first moved to Sacramento. This was a wonderful thing in many ways. I found a lot of support in that group over the several years I belonged to it. But the real support came not from the formal presentations, but from the small-group discussions, which would sometimes kind of devolve into hauling the skeletons out of our parenting closets. Sometimes when I would break down into tears about something,* one or two other people would begin to cry too, mostly with relief from realizing that I too had a hard time dealing with the whole parenting thing–or that I too was secretly afraid I was both crazy and ruining my children.
I have enjoyed (usually enjoyed**) reading the responses to my blog, which have included these thoughts and many like them:
I wish I had had some insight like this blog prior to embarking upon [parenting] because I could have been better mentally prepared.
I was beginning to come to the end of my tether after another hard week and thinking that perhaps it was my parenting at fault but your uplifting blog has made me realize that this is “just third child syndrome” and I should accept and maybe even embrace it.
I have also appreciated the comments of people who already succeed in raising children:
Those were the hardest years of my life. Anyone who says differently has amnesia or Alzheimer’s. BUT they all survived, as did I.
Thank you for helping me remember my Mom and the stories she shared about the trials of being a young mom. Her stories helped me through that same time in my life, as yours will help many other mothers.
I have felt so, so relieved to be a part of this community, sharing stories and encouraging each other. Those who say I should not complain publicly about being a mother largely make me appreciate that I live in our current era, and that I can find relief in this baring of war-wounds. “Airing your dirty laundry” is still frowned on by many. But it’s also starting to become a little more common. And if that were not the case, if I did not hear that others were feeling discouraged and if I could not share that I was, I would be struggling indeed.
This is partly because in being honest about my struggles, I often find something I didn’t particularly expect–help. Sometimes, when I have shared that I am having a hard time, people help me because they know I need it! And I accept that help with gratitude. We’re not supposed to do this on our own. We parents, regardless of gender, are so isolated and so badly need help from each other–and childless friends as well.
So, in my own long-winded way, I guess I am trying to say I wish that we were slightly more immersed in a culture of shared story, even if sometimes that meant producing a narrative that made people nervous or uncomfortable. I do try to keep the birthing stories and the tale of my offspring dropping a turd on Trader Joe’s floor off the table when I am sharing a meal with childless friends.*** I just hope that they can see that I benefit from this sharing the same way they do when they compare notes with others in their various same boats (and I won’t take offense if the stories they share are about parents oversharing).
And speaking to Ms. Graham: One of my favorite comments from my blog was, “Speaking about the struggles we face in life does in no way, shape, or form, negate the love and joy we experience, or mean that we love our children, husbands, friends, or family any less. As mothers we all need help and support at times, and to deny the existence of struggle is completely fake and unrealistic.” Please, don’t be frightened away. You will often be glad that you had children if you do have them someday. And you won’t be alone if, once in a while, in the heat of the moment, you feel like you are not glad.
*I was often either nursing or pregnant in the course of my membership in that group, so this was reasonably regular.
**There was that guy who said I would have been burned as a witch in the 1600s. While that is reasonably likely, I still feel a bit puzzled over what his point was.
***I don’t always succeed. My sincerest apologies. And man, was that turd incident mortifying.