A few years back, I worked the “close” shift every week on Friday evenings at the pediatric office I worked in. Everyone else would leave between 4:30-5:00 pm, leaving me and another nurse to care for the pre-weekend stragglers needing strep tests, albuterol nebulizers, etc. There is something about working those off-shifts that really fosters a strong bond between coworkers. My nurse friend and I used to refer to our Fridays as “therapy night”. There in the quiet office, after all the sick stragglers had left, we would go through labs, finish up the day’s work, and talk about things that needed to be said, but are hard to say out loud with lots of people around. We both had small kids at the time, so most of the time we ended up talking about parenting, and the inherent struggles and frustrations that come with having little ones. It was not uncommon for one of us to get teary during our Friday evenings. One of the things we used to lament over was how, when your kids are young, people with older kids, teens, or fully grown children will tell you things like, “I would give anything to go back to that stage. It just gets so much harder as they get older!”, or “little kids have little problems, big kids have big problems”! I cannot even begin to tell you how much distress this caused us. Here we were, two young mothers, feeling stretched to the max, with the people around us telling us it was going to get harder? Lord, have mercy.
If I look back on parenting then versus now, I wouldn’t say it gets harder. It just gets different. It is easier in some ways, but more challenging in other ways. (Let me qualify this by saying I don’t have any teenagers yet!) For instance, I no longer wake up every 3 hours at night to feed and change a baby–easier! I never have to potty train the fruit of my loins ever again–easier! I don’t have to follow a toddler around everywhere to keep him from killing himself on what is normally a totally benign household object–easier!! I can do all kinds of things now like take a shower (alone), go upstairs (and leave the kids downstairs), and even sometimes pee alone. However, there are all these new challenges that come up when your kids are older and just navigating life in elementary school– from math homework, to bullies, to drama with friends, to trying to figure out where they fit in. And something about guiding your kids through it brings up all your old “stuff”. At least it does for me.
I have another good friend whose daughter, when she was younger, was known for saying, “this isn’t as much fun as I thought it was going to be.” She apparently would say this often, usually while on an outing of some kind that one of her family members had carefully and lovingly planned. There they would be, in the middle of bowling or hunting butterflies or what-have-you, and she would make her disappointed declaration. Gotta hand it to the kid for being honest, at least.
It hasn’t really been that long since our family passed the baby and toddler stage, but already, with my kids at the age of 7 and 9 years, I sometimes find myself looking back at their younger years through rose-colored glasses. I remember how fuzzy their baby hair was, their fat little hands clapping together, their conversational babble, and all their “firsts”. I catch myself thinking that their present stage “isn’t as much fun as I thought it would be”. I forget those Friday nights when my coworker and I would put our heads down on our desks because of how hard it was then, trying to hold everything together.
I think it is hard for us to say these things to each other about parenting, because no one wants to be perceived as being ungrateful for their family. We all want to be the kind of people who “count our blessings”. Those of us, such as myself, who had to journey through infertility before having children, feel even more pressure to “be thankful”. Also, there’s always those one or two people who, when you try to lay it all out there, say something like, “oh, I am just loving each and every stage along the way!”, which of course makes you feel like a total loser. So let’s be clear. Just because I think parenting is hard, does not mean that I am not grateful for the experience. However, at least for me, it is difficult to do something that is hard while pretending it is not hard. I want to be able to be as authentic as my friend’s daughter, and just be able to say, “this isn’t as much fun as I thought it would be”, and have someone chime in with a “me too!”.
So, those of you who are reading my blog thinking it is about my trip to Haiti are probably wondering how you got suckered in to reading about my parenting insecurities. Here is how it relates. For me, my late 20’s and early 30’s was all about my babies–getting pregnant, staying pregnant, raising my little ones, and experiencing all of the joy and pain that goes along with that phase of life. My life, my time, and my body were not my own, and it was good, it was what I wanted. I’ve had my head down for a long time, just doing the work that goes along with it. Now they are older and more independent, and I feel like both my kids and I have moved on to a different developmental stage. For them, they are becoming more independent and figuring out the world on their terms. For me, my family is still my primary focus. However, now that I am sleeping through the night again and not changing diapers anymore, I feel like I can lift up my head and look around me. Going to Haiti is, in a sense, ushering in this new phase of looking around and seeing how I fit into the world. For those of you who are in the thick of things with your little ones (or teens, aging parents, marital issues, or other life circumstances), please don’t read this blog and think that you too somehow have to go out into the world and “do something”. Maybe you need to keep your head down right now. A time may come later when you can look up again. Also, let’s not listen to the people who say it “gets harder”.