(Author’s note: This post, as evidenced by the title, is kind of a heavy one. If you’re not up for that today, feel free to keep walking!)
There are so many ways in which parenthood alters one’s reality. Over the years, I have talked with many women about how motherhood has impacted the way they view the world. When my first daughter was born seven years ago, I noticed an immediate shift in my tolerance for movies, TV shows, and books that involved child abductions or death. Even scenes where pregnant women died were enough to make me close a book or turn off the TV. And that was just fiction.
Hearing about tragedies involving children in real life is so very much worse. I had a rough week last week. Three things happened.
- I found out that one of my former music class students died suddenly last year just before her third birthday.
- It was the one year anniversary of the abduction and murder of a local child.
- Friends of my parents lost their two-year-old grandson to an unimaginable act of violence at the hands of a man trusted by a member of the family. The child was born within weeks of my youngest daughter. My mom held this baby in her arms for hours one evening at her friends’ home.
The call from my mom was quickly followed by a call from my childcare provider, informing me that my toddler had a fever. After my initial wash of concern and disappointment, I was flooded with relief- Thank God, I could go pick up my baby and hold her right that instant. I suddenly felt as though I couldn’t be separated from her for one second. Yet another horrifying reminder to cherish every moment we have with our children.
Except what about the moments that we don’t cherish? I feel a bit ashamed to confess that my favorite part of the day occurs as soon as my children are both in bed asleep. I suspect I’m not the only parent who would claim this time of day as their most enjoyable.
There is something so rewarding about that moment of relief and accomplishment that happens when one sinks down into the couch to savor the quiet and lack of responsibility. Who among us doesn’t eagerly count down the minutes leading up to bedtime, often beginning hours earlier at the onset of Crappy Hour? How many real parents would cheer their children on as they select one more tedious bedtime story, request yet another glass of water, or in an act that reveals their bedtime-delaying desperation, plead for a coat of ointment to be slathered onto their irritated hiney? As much as we all love our kids, don’t we all breathe a collective sigh of relief, do a nationwide parental stadium wave of enthusiasm, and pour a collective nightcap the second those little #$%ers are in bed?
Just as I reflected on why I prefer to gaze backward nostalgically on our family vacations, soothed by the balm of hindsight, rather than endure the bedlam of the family adventure through gritted teeth, I suppose I appreciate my children that much more once they are asleep. The pressure is off. I can look back on the day, chuckle about their abhorrent behavior at the dinner table, and even crave the sound of their musical little voices. I am safe. My parental duties are concluded for the day. (Ha- as if. Someone is bound to need another drink of water or coat of butt-cream sometime around 2:00 am.)
When they are sleeping, I have the luxury of integrating the dichotomy of emotions they have evoked in me during the previous 24 hours. It’s the concept of “absence makes the heart grow fonder” on a somewhat feeble, maternal scale. Because, let’s face it- who among us really does savor every moment with our children, even in the face of other parents’ tragedy and loss?
The day after I found out about the two-year-old boy who had been killed, our family visited the pumpkin patch. It was, perhaps surprisingly, an utterly delightful outing. When we returned home to carve the pumpkins, I grabbed the camera and snapped some photos of my husband and the girls covered in gooey orange strands, crouched on the driveway. I sat down for a minute, and my oldest child, 7 years old, snapped, “I need some help! This is too hard!” My husband replied to her that he would help her in a minute, but she barked impatiently, “Why doesn’t Mommy help me? She’s not doing anything but sitting around taking photographs!” Her tone was icy and contemptuous, and my jaw nearly hit the floor. I couldn’t believe my own child would speak to me that way; my feelings were hurt, and I got in the car to run an errand, feeling like a petulant teenager. The intense urge I felt to be near my children was suddenly replaced by a disturbing sense of deflation. So much for gratitude.
Whenever I have those days and I find myself grumbling about all the indignities I have suffered, the countless times I have stood up from the dinner table to fetch someone some essential condiment or Humpty Dumpty fork, or how much more freedom my friends without kids have, I quickly shame myself into remembering those who have lost children, or who have struggled with infertility- people who would give anything to eat their dinner standing up at the counter or spend the wee hours of the morning applying ointment. And I STFU.
Except that, in spite of that complex wave of chagrin, contrition, and yes, gratitude, I feel that parents do have a right to gripe about their daily challenges. The reality of parenting is not rosy- it’s not all sleeping cherubs and peaceful bedtimes. When we send ourselves the message that, lest we forget how lucky we are to have our children, we’d better enjoy every single second of our time together, we are setting ourselves up for failure.
I think this phenomenon is fairly normal even outside of parenting. When you take a day-long hike, which part are you most looking forward to- the exhilarating moment when you reach the top, or the 15 minutes prior when your legs are burning and you are hallucinating with fatigue? When I take a yoga class, I love the feeling I get when I sit up from Savasana at the end; I feel refreshed, tingly, peaceful. I do not love the part of class when I have done 14 Chaturangas, my arms are shaking, and I am fantasizing about kicking my instructor in the face. But the struggles- the burning legs on the mountain and the shaking arms in yoga class- are part of what make the view from the top or the post-yoga Zen buzz so gratifying.
Parenting is the same way. The meltdowns, messes, and time management disasters all contribute to the overwhelming sense of satisfaction we have when we settle into the couch after the kids are tucked in. We can appreciate our hard work, our small victories, and reflect on how lucky we truly are, all from the safe vantage point of the day’s end. Even though we are always mindful on some level of the aching love we feel for our children, and the privilege we have of being their parents, it is sometimes easier to tap into those feelings when they are asleep.
I am a mother who has experienced pregnancy loss three times and the accompanying layers of grief. Earlier this week I announced that I am a contributor to the new book Sunshine After the Storm: A Survival Guide for the Grieving Mother. If you know any families who have experienced pregnancy loss, infant loss, or the death of a child, please share this book with them, as it may be a valuable coping resource. You can download the book here, and follow the Facebook page here.
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post.
This week’s sentence was: “The best part of my day is…”
Next week’s sentence is: “One Halloween, I….”
Janine at Janine’s Confessions of a Mommyaholic
Kristi at Finding Ninee
Kate at Can I Get Another Bottle of Whine?
Link up with us below, and share your favorite posts with #FTSF!
First off, I am so sorry for your family friend’s loss and seriously can’t even imagine. I know that feeling well of wanting to hold your kids that much closer when you hear of such a tragedy. But I also know the feeling of relief too once they are indeed in bed and asleep for the night. Total guilty pleasure, but couldn’t agree with you more. Also, huge congrats on the book. I read it and seriously couldn’t put it down. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us!
Thank you Janine! And speaking of the book, with as raw as I have been feeling, I haven’t even been able to read it yet! 🙁
I appreciate this very real post. So many are eternally rosy about parenthood. I agree with you on the hiking and yoga comparison – I’m not always loving the pain, but I love the way it feels afterward. I imagine parenting to be like that, sometimes, so that you described it that way just fits the whole post into place for me.
Thanks for that, Natalie. I’m sure you have noticed by now- I am not one to paint a rosy picture of parenthood!
Dude. How is it that you always always always speak to me like this? As if we have known one another for years? First. Because I am completely with you on no longer being able to tolerate any fiction where a child or a mother is harmed, dies, or even has the possibility of that happening, and choosing to close the book, turn the channel, whatever, I’m so very sorry to hear about the recent tragedies that have hit you so close to home. I cannot believe it’s been one year since the abduction.
Second, and maybe more important overall? Yes. There are moments in parenting that suck. And yes, we feel guilt. But mostly? We’re doing it all right when we can flop down on the couch after an imperfect day, and realize that it was mostly perfect after all.
Thank you so much for that comment. You have no idea how good it made me feel! (((HUGS)))
I am so sorry to hear about your sad news this week. Just terrible.
And I HEAR YOU on the time to yourself as a mama. Not surprisingly, I wrote on the same topic for today. I loved your explanation of precisely why that time to ourselves is so valuable. Mine involves economic theories and even a graph.
And I love that pic of your daughter sleeping while sitting up – precious!
Wow- uncanny that we are on the same page again! But I have to say- you took this subject to a whole new level in your post! You rock.
The many demands on a mother get less as they get older. I’ve got three teenagers now and they are all precious. None of them are rebellious. Although, my middle daughter is still being taught that having a snippety attitude is not welcome in our home. I think it helps when kids can learn to appreciate what they have by being exposed to those less fortunate and also learn to be generous. I’m joining in on the FTSF, but I wrote a total of two sentences. Hahaha!
Thanks for linking up with us, and I appreciate hearing your perspective! I always enjoy reading what moms of teens and older kids have to say…
You’ve captured the essence of what parenthood is. Yes, it’s not rosy but sometimes we are shocked into appreciating what we have. At first, I wanted to write my post for FTSF with spending my time blogging, because I eagerly await the moment when my toddler takes a nap. But then, I realized the sense of accomplishment I feel when I play with him at the park. It’s an amazing bundle of contradictions – motherhood!
So well put- an amazing bundle of contradictions. Thank you for that!
I wanted to add that I feel so distressed when I hear of a child’s death that I often block it from my mind. Very sorry to hear about your student and what happened to the child your parents knew.
It’s a myth that we have to cherish every moment. Our children are people just like any other person. Loving them involves many layers, some of which are really complicated and difficult. Even if you’ve been through loss and grief, like we have, you still have days were it is complicated to simply love your family. Like others above, I now have a low tolerance for any kind of fictional violence against women and children. When real life is so sad sometimes, that fictional life does not entertain me.
Thanks so much for weighing in, Kathy. I really value your opinion on this subject. You always write about parenthood and grief with such a genuine, down to earth, honest voice. I appreciate that about you and your beautiful writing.
I am trying to type through the tears…wow…. As moms we all complain and compare our tantrums, exhaustion, fears, and moments when we just want five minutes to ourselves…but in the end we deeply love our children and know through it all life wouldn’t be life without them.
Very true, Karen. Thanks so much!
Appreciate your openness and honesty. Great post 🙂
Thank you Mari! Glad you stopped by!
Well, I am still insanely new to this parenting thing, but I agree with you – the level of pain and the grief and loss that are possible is out of this world. I am so sorry for your friends and for the family of your student – no child should die, ever, it just implies something very wrong with the world. I think that your post is raw and real and fears of the unknown and uncontrollable when it comes to parenting follow me around like a specter. Thank you for sharing this story!
Yes, those fears of the unknown and uncontrollable are especially haunting as a parent, aren’t they? Thanks for your comment…
This resonated so much with me. I feel the exact same way. I have been shamed by other moms for not enjoying motherhood more! It doesn’t feel good and it isn’t right. One of my favorite TV shows is Parenthood, and this last week the Dad was talking to his grown son who just had a baby and was complaining about how hard it was, and the Dad said to him something like, it has to be hard in order for you to appreciate it when it’s all over. I believe that. And, I also believe though that I will definitely force myself to remember how hard it was so that I can be more sympathetic to young moms when I see them!
I love Parenthood, and watched that episode, and you are SO right. So many insights in that show, aren’t there?
I am so excited for “your” book! And I am soooooo sorry to hear about the tragedy that has been surrounding you lately. Here’s hoping for sunnier days, and I’ll be keeping those lost in my prayers tonight <3
Thanks for that, mama.
Thanks for the “author’s note”. I came back later 😉 This was heavy and so real. And yep – breathing a sigh of relief after bedtime from accomplishments or exhaustion so true. If you ever had to find the gratitude after bad day – look at your child when they’ve fallen asleep. The early days of infant-hood my heart would seem to swell to bursting with how much I loved Christopher when he was napping and I’d look in on him. It’s almost hard to explain.
It IS hard to explain. I guess unless you’re a mom, because I totally get it. Glad I put that author’s note in. 🙂
This post speaks to me, and reminds me of Momastery’s post about Chronos and Kairos time. Thanks for sharing your conflicting parental thoughts! Here’s Glennon’s post: http://momastery.com/blog/2012/01/04/2011-lesson-2-dont-carpe-diem/
Thank you so much- two people have shared that link with me today! Can’t wait to go read it now…
there is so much to what you write that applies, directly to families and children, and nevertheless to most of what we go through in our lives. They say that there are only two motivations underlying much, if not all behavior: the fear of loss and the hope of gain.
While it is easy to discount this as an over-simplification, there is something to be said about how often we are caught negotiating between these two drives. We love our children/families/friends and yet will feel at times that they are a burden. I choose to believe that that is a part of the human condition, what we do about (these feelings/conflicts) is where we can rise above simple fear of loss and hope of gain.
The content of your Post may speak of feelings that you would rather not admit to, but it is a sharing of the good with the bad that allows others to benefit (from your situation).
That is where the higher levels of our natures can be seen. To be willing to give to others, even at personal cost/discomfit, that is very much the better side.
Thank you Clark- you are right on with the fear of loss and hope of gain. So many of our experiences can be broken down that way.
Stephanie, I am so so sorry to hear about the deaths of those little children in your life. How agonisingly sad. I have also lost my tolerance for reading or viewing anything to do with children suffering – I think it’s a maternal survival instinct, the same as how we forget anything and everything because our brains are so focused on our little ones. A friend a mine has a nineteen year old son and she told me “no matter how old they get, you still love them most of all when they’re asleep”. I loved reading this post.
I am grateful for your comment- thank you so much for that.
So pleased you’re in the book too, and am hugely happy to share a chapter with you 😀 I love/hate that we got to do this.
And as to the rest – to the whining – I can put it absolutely no better than this, with which I wholeheartedly agree (in principle, if not in practice) – http://momastery.com/blog/2012/01/04/2011-lesson-2-dont-carpe-diem/
Off to read it now… it seems like I’ve seen it before, but I can’t remember!
You’ve written what many of us mothers have in mind in a very poignant yet hopeful way. Thank you.
It must have been hard to talk about the loss on the book but I am pretty sure this will touch many lives, especially those who suffer in silence.
I really appreciate that. While it is difficult to write about, it is also therapeutic. I can only hope it touches others.
I know exactly what you are talking about. Those feelings haunt me so much. I have a good friend whose daughter has an inoperable brain tumor. She is only 4. Every time I see a FB post I want to smack myself for being ticked at the boy an hour earlier.
The other day he said, I don’t know what I would do without you. That started a whole other spiral of sadness…..
Anyway, you’re right, we still need to give ourselves permission to be normal.
Ugh, motherhood is brutal and gut-wrenching. Those moments pop up out of nowhere. Thanks for that comment…
It is so reassuring to read your words. I have an art project from a former student that hung in my class every year. Now, it hangs in my mini-office. The girl was killed a few years after she left our school and as devastating a reminder it can be, it (and her story) also helps me focus on appreciating the now with the kids. But it doesn’t help all the time and I’m OK with that, just like you suggested we should all be.
Thank you for that comment- equally reassuring to me! xo
I know that you’re a sensitive soul and I know that sensitive souls are not normally blessed (?) with thick skin, yet every week you put yourself out there in ways that inspires awe in me. You’re such a brave and talented writer. I loved the way you talked about several topics here but found a very seamless way to connect them.
Wow, thank you so much for that. I certainly am sensitive, and definitely do not have a thick skin, but I never thought about “putting myself out there” in those terms before. You rock. I love how you catch those wise little insights that I often miss!
I totally related to this, especially what you said about the difficulty you have with watching shows or movies about people who have lost children since becoming a mother. I am way more sensitive to that stuff now… I can hardly stand it.
Yeah, one of those things I never expected when I became a parent… It’s hard to avoid.
This is a heavy post, but also very true. I don’t think we can be expected to love every minute of parenting – just as we don’t expect anyone to appreciate and love every single minute of their corporate job or their teaching job or whatever occupation they have. But, when we hear those horrible stories it is hard not to feel guilty. All I can say is that all of these feelings are normal and I think all parents experience them.
Such a good point about the career satisfaction Lisa! Thanks so much for your comment…
Oh sweets. I would have loved to have read this in its entirety because you write with such passion but I had to stop. Kid stuff is a huge trigger for me. I’m so sorry. xoxoxo
Obviously, I totally get it, as my threshold for that stuff is low. Hence the author’s note at the top! xoxo to you too!
Man, each of those things is a lot to take in, but all 3 in one week? That’s awful!
It is sad how it takes a story like the ones you described to make you fully appreciate what you have. But I think that’s just the reality of life. The grass is always greener.
What I love most about your blog is how honest you are. And you and I just seem so very much alike. We need to go out for a beer one day. 😉
Yeah, it was a hard week. And I totally agree about the beer! In the next year, perhaps? 😉
Read, shared and then forgot to comment the other day – nice. I love this post. There’s that whole feeling of how you’re “supposed to” feel. Or at least how you tell yourself you’re supposed to feel – or at least myself. I wrote that post about how I hate that Oatmeal Kisses poem because it lays the mom guilt on so thick. It’s like don’t we have enough on our shoulders as it is. Loved this!