I have been “blessed” with three children. My oldest was born in 1996 and my youngest in 2012. I’ve written about waving goodbye to your pretty vagina, surviving my daughter’s teens, and cleaning human shit off my couch. I have no doubts that, without humor, I’d be heavily sedated in on a locked ward.
I consider myself somewhat a veteran of whatever’s “typical” about parenting. Some have suggested I qualify as an “expert.” To be fair, anyone who claims to be an expert in something akin to stapling Jell-O to a tree should not be trusted. Personally, I don’t think the words “expert” and “parenting” belong in the same sentence; no matter who you are.
I have learned the hard way that no matter how brilliant, stealthy, or witty you think you are, you will struggle as a parent. No matter your education, how many peer reviewed articles and books you’ve read, or how ready you feel to take this step, you will trip and fall. If you’re human, you will fumble. At the end of the day, we’re fallible.
We – of course – set out to do our best. Still, at some point, between birthdays and death, most of us will falter. Interestingly enough, even if you manage to perfect the art, it’s still possible that everything you do or say to your child can and will be twisted into something ugly and used against you. If that thought alone doesn’t spin you into an anxiety attack, I would like to congratulate you on your exceptional mental health and stability.
It has been my experience that parenting is often like taking a super important, life altering exam without the aid of study guides or cheat sheets. You can try to cheat, obviously, by looking left or right and copying the answers of that ever-so- enlightened parental unit next to you, but the joke will inevitably be on you.
All the questions are different, and none are multiple choice.
There are a lot of parenting moments that really suck, and it’s often difficult to admit a parenting struggle without fear of being railroaded by judgment and/or advice. Let’s face it, some people (especially those without actual children) love to tell us what the obvious solution is. Sounds easy enough, right? But where are those people going to be when the therapy bills start to roll in?
If there was ever a simple fix, someone would have found it by now and written a book about it. Wait, they have – and then 2000 other people did too, and they all say different stuff. Again, no cheat sheets. Different questions require different answers, and when it comes to parenting it’s a mixed bag.
I held my breath until each of my kids turned two, in fear of all the things that might go “wrong” according to statistics that changed with the tides. Having anxiety is less than optimal without the responsibilities of carrying a human inside or outside of you. After all my years on the front line, the only thing I can offer – without question – is that anyone who suggests any aspect of parenting is “easy,” is at least one of the following.
As my kids have grown and learned how to better communicate, screaming fits have lessened, but so has my level of sanity. How many times can one person ask “Why?” in 30 seconds? Unclear. I have learned to enjoy that phase a little more, because adolescence is far less forgiving of an average intelligence.
It has been my experience that once our kids realize we’re not all-knowing or here only to placate their every desire, parenting gets a little more… challenging. Once this secret is out, there runs a serious risk of being viewed as “basic.”
If you don’t know everything, it might stand to reason you don’t know anything. Suddenly, everything they’ve learned from and about you might just be a well-played conspiracy aimed at ruining their life.
NOTE: If Santa Clause, The Easter Bunny, and/or Tooth Fairy are referenced during this conversation, your child should receive extra credit and perhaps consider pursuing a law degree.
The fact that you were able to shamelessly hide your complete ineptitude for so long might appear as the worst kind of betrayal.
Obviously, I can only speak from my personal experience, which (again) might be worth less than a flaming bag of dog mess, but it’s all I have to give. Parenting can be a lonely, painful job that may leave you wondering why anyone thought you might be qualified to tie your own shoes. If you have a partner, it may be easier, but only if the weight is distributed equally – and when does that happen? No, seriously – if you have mastered this, please reach out with deets. The world needs to know what’s possible.
My point is, nothing about parenting gets easier. That’s some bullshit white lie we believe might “help,” in the moment. Maybe the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train. I’m a firm believer that these lies – especially parent to parent – only perpetuate the unrealistic expectation that some day we’ll feel more competent.
Without apology, I’m writing this to burst that imaginary bubble. I have been a mother since I was 17 and I’m on the other side of 40. The Am I – Will I – Could I – Should I – questions have not lessened as my kids have aged, and I’m fairly certain I’ll carry them until my last breath.
I’ve made some terrible parenting choices. Guilt and shame have brought me to some very dark places. My only consolation has been in talking openly with other parents and the understanding that none of this shit comes easy to anyone.
We live and we learn. If we’re lucky, we are gifted with enough sense to realize our job is not to ensure our kids a smooth sail through life. Our job is to arm them with the tools they’ll need to weather storms and waves and guide them (if they’ll let us) back into their boat when it capsizes. And it will, because at the end of the day Life is Life, and challenges make or break.
Parenting gets different. With each new phase comes another hurdle to jump or mountain to climb. With each step forward, we learn to rely on the knowledge we’ve gained from the last.
Honesty is so important when it comes to human struggle. It reminds us we’re not alone and provides a lifeline when we start thinking we’re the only one in the dark, parenting by the seat of our pants.
So, the next time you’re at Target and some poor parent covered in screaming, boogery kids looks to you for reassurance, maybe don’t say, “Hang in there; it gets easier.” Look them straight in the eye and tell them they’re doing a great job. Ask if they need a hug (try to avoid the boogery parts). Go get them a Starbucks gift card for a vente something and let her know it’s okay to want to run away sometimes.
Because that is the kind of shit that values the hard stuff. Honest interactions can serve to remind us that there’s no cheat sheet solution for difficult moments. None of us have the answers. And some of us are just bullshitting our way through the essay portion, hoping for extra credit.