Something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the disconnect between what we are “doing” as parents and how we are feeling as parents. Are we parenting perfectly, hitting all of the milestones, keeping our children safe and scheduled, feeding them the right things and playing with the right toys– but missing the point?
I’m pretty honest with anybody who asks me about my first year of Motherhood– telling them that the first few months (ok, let’s call it four months) were extremely challenging for me. And I don’t just mean that they were hectic and imbalanced and tiring– which they were– but I also mean that they were not fun. I didn’t like it. I loved my child, of course, but if somebody had asked me if I “liked” being a Mom at that point, my answer would have been “Meh”.
Now I contribute this to a great many things going on in my life at the time, least of all parenthood. I was working in a job I no longer liked, trying to figure out how to breastfeed and work at the same time, navigating a changing relationship with my husband, attempting to bring back certain elements of my pre-baby life that I so desperately missed– and I was also caring for an infant who was giving very little back. It just seemed thankless, and bottomless– and boring, to be totally honest. When I look back I think that perhaps this was a mix of hormones, a bit of Baby Blues, and totally normal feelings associated with a major life change. In any case, I realized that I needed to bring the joy back in to my life in a major way.
Right around that four month mark, of course, is when babies begin to really show their personalities. They smile, and laugh, and interact, and suddenly you are parenting an actual human-seeming creature. Of course this is a slight exaggeration– there are definitely moments of cute before this, but I always tell people that at Four Months is when things start to actually get fun. And for a while I was so relieved to be actually enjoying my child that I forgot all about ever feeling checked out. But as our babies grow, so do the challenges and the responsibilities– and suddenly we are cooking meals, cleaning up toys, baby proofing, helping them up stairs, and disciplining them.
We are doing everything (everything!) for them, and we get so caught up in doing it well– Are they sleeping through the night? CHECK! Are they eating solids? CHECK! Crawling? CHECK! Speaking and walking? CHECK AND CHECK! We are winning! We are doing it all– our kids are growing and maturing, and that means everything is exactly as it should be!!! Except have you ever actually checked in with yourself during the day, and asked how you are feeling about parenting? In other words– are you having a good time?
Now I mention this because there have been several periods in the past eight months or so when I have acutely realized that I am not having a good time. I am, in fact, walking around like a stress ball, feeling overwhelmed and like I’m somehow a step behind. A step behind what or whom? Who knows. But I had worked myself in to a tizzy, and instead of observing my child and enjoying my child and the experience we were having together– I was at a point where I was just trying to get from point A to point B. And obviously Marlowe noticed this.
At these times, I have had to come from outside myself, and readjust my behavior. I’ve had to snap myself out of it, and really remind myself that this is my one time to be parenting this child, as a baby, at this moment in her life. Of course then I had a miscarriage, and this point was driven home in a much more visceral way. Our children are so funny, so smart, so capable of love in a way we as adults have to try hard to be. We can learn so much from them– even when we are feeling tired or stressed or overwhelmed. I work at this type of joy every day as a parent– but since I started reminding myself to do it, I have loved parenting even more than I ever thought I could. Of course we have bad days, like any Mother and Child duo, but I think we both laugh more than we used to. At the end of the day, Marlowe won’t remember how clean our house was, what she ate for dinner, or what kind of sippy cup she drank from. She’ll just remember how I made her feel– and I’m going to make sure that sippy cup is half full.
(Photographs by Nina Suh for Love And Lemonade Photography)