Most of the parents of young children I know easily state that parenthood is the hardest job they’ve ever had. Actually, most of the parents of older children I know say that as well. Despite that, a number of people have, probably for their own sakes, conveniently forgotten quite how difficult certain aspects of certain ages were with their own children. They say things like, “Oh, I miss that age,” and “Enjoy this stage—it gets much worse.”
I imagine that they say these things because they really do feel sad about their kids growing older and have put a “fuzz filter” on the past because it’s nicer to remember it that way. But, when one is in the midst of the sleep-deprivation and high anxiety of being a new parent, or when one is three tantrums in to a six-tantrum day with a three-year-old, these comments are, shall we say, less than welcome.
One of the greatest gifts I received as a new parent was the fact that I have several close friends, each of whom had children before I did, who were always extremely honest about the challenges of parenting. They clearly adored their kids (and would have done anything for them), but they also openly expressed their doubts, frustration, exhaustion, and general unpreparedness for and about parenthood. Because they were my role models, I didn’t feel guilty when I felt angry or exhausted or desperate when Jacob was a newborn—or yesterday when he demanded something from me for the umpteenth time in his “little dictator” voice.
I can’t imagine what it would have been like to begin this journey with the impression that every moment would be blessed and precious and that I shouldn’t ever wonder what the heck I had done with my life. Because I know, of course, that every moment is blessed and precious, but also mind-blowing in less pleasant ways.
It’s been hard for me to figure out how to share the reality of parenting with people expecting their first child without sounding negative or even frightening them. And, of course, it all depends on the attitude of the person listening. Some people are ready to hear that they’ll have some rough times (maybe daily, at times!) and appreciate that they’ve found someone to turn to. Some people are happy to put a gloss on their parenting lives and suffer alone or with a very discreet few. I am, of course, the former. And if someone is the latter, I try to catch the look they give me and abandon ship.
For me, the company of other honest parents has been invaluable. I hope to give that same gift to as many people as are open to it.