Honoring The Stages of Parenting
Recently I was on social media and noticed a meme. The meme said something to the effect of “When I’m pouring out my heart to you that I am exhausted from taking care of my young children, it’s not helpful for you to tell me ‘I’m going to miss these days’”. Sometimes I’ll read these things and they will stick with me for quite some time. I don’t just hold these statements as a therapist, but I hold these statements also as a mother. I think those two parts of me make very good progress when they play well together! That statement was very important for someone to post on social media. It resonated with enough people it managed to go viral.
I remember those days all too well. They were literally like one year ago! Every single day was this consistent struggle for some form of rest or survival. Daily, my children inevitably turned toward me for some need to be met. Their cries weren’t a gentle, soft reminder of their need for me and my maternal nurturing; it was a 2am screech to find the exact comfort object that would end the suffering; it was the hour long preparation of diapers, bottles, extra clothes, and non-choking comfort snacks to run an errand that probably only took a half hour tops to complete; it’s your husband walking through the door after his 8-9 hours of office work only to greet you with, “This house is a wreck, what did you do all day” instead of embracing you with the same excitement and zeal for life you once had prior to children coming into the picture. It’s all too real and raw at that stage.
That stage, while so long and exhausting while in it, did indeed go by so quickly. These days my children have more autonomy. Neither of my children require that same vigilant attention when they play in the backyard. Birthday parties no longer require my constant attention. In fact, if I choose to stay at a party now, it’s about socializing with the moms who I’ve survived the combat of childrearing with. We made it through. Today is still busy but it doesn’t elicit the same necessities as the beginning stages did. I’ve gained back a little bit of my freedom and it’s been welcomed with open arms.
On Saturday, I had a couples intensive in the morning. The day was beautiful. The sky was blue, the sun shining, the temperature enticing. Jeff is my adventure seeker and realized it would be a waste to let the day slip away without an embrace of its friendly appearance. He took the kids to a local beach adorned with sand dunes and the gorgeous shore of Lake Michigan. In his text message, he indicated he and the kids would be going straight to the lake house upon completing their day excursion. I knew his language. In his sweetness, he was inviting me to be there when they arrived. Normally I would have jumped at the chance to go be with those lovelies and soak in all of their post-fun exhaustion and joy.
This time was different for me though. I could feel in my body the absolute need for rest and decompression. My children have this beautiful, unending energy that kickstarts the moment their eyes open in the morning, and doesn’t cease until they’ve laughed their last giggle at the end of the night. My body was begging for silence and unfiltered permission to think about “nothing”. I declined the invitation and went home to curl myself up in a heat blanket and cozy up with the mindlessly entertaining 1980’s film “Shag”. What more could a mother ask for? Heck I even splurged and made the most delicious, unapologetically fattening homemade Shrimp Alfredo. In that moment, life was perfect.
That evening in the silence, I picked up my phone and scrolled through my pictures. Two, three, four years gone by. I saw my babies and their cute littleness. I watch the videos listening for toothless giggles and high-pitched stutter-laden sentences. I smiled. The onesies are done, the eye to eye bottle feedings are done. The fumbled first steps and curious squishing hands have figured out their functioning.
So as I reflect on the meme from the mom whose very clearly in the midst of her hard, I empathized with her hard and it resonated with me as it isn’t all that far away from me. But I simultaneously grieved. I realized, I probably would have been the jerk who told her to enjoy it while she can.
Our bodies naturally desire to get us out of situations of “survival”. Raising children is an extremely hard task. As a therapist and as a mom, I’m not sure that anyone should be internalizing someone’s meme such as the one above and discounting her own grief of a time gone by in order to be vigilantly empathically aware. While it’s important that we hold space for others and their journeys, it imperative that we not disregard our own. Individual journeys are exactly that – they’re individual and they are sacred. So while one mother is in the midst of suffering, another is in the midst of grieving and recollection. Rather than that being an isolating place of disconnect, try making room for comradery, joint empathy, and connection.
We are all in the midst of our journeys, attempting to balance out the joys and the sorrows, the gains and the losses. It would be an utter shame to stifle an opportunity for community due to our differences.