I’m not going to lie. I’m tired. Exhausted. Irritable. Stressed out. And the short fuse that was already considered too short, well, it just got shorter. What is it, you ask? Chronic Fatigue? PMS? SAD? Some incurable ailment? No, it’s called parenting. More specifically it’s the parenting jog that begins in September and ends rather blissfully a few short days before Christmas. In fact, at the time of writing, the break will be a few short weeks away. Did you hear that? It’s the sound of imaginary champagne bottles popping! WOOT!
But here’s the thing: Rather than indulging in a self-absorbed mommy-rant – and, believe me, I fully support the occasional outburst – I want to talk about the myriad ways in which parents are supposed to suck it up and keep it moving right along without so much as a crack in the veneer to suggest otherwise. Until we can’t.
Last week, I pretty much had it. It wasn’t until I started to openly snark about my children’s Christmas concerts that I realized I had had enough. Enough of the back-to-back colds, viruses and flu symptoms; enough of the emergency hospital room visits, which thankfully didn’t result in overnight stays; enough of the constant self-esteem routine-building reminders that often sound like auto-pilot nagging; enough of the dramas and traumas associated with developmental changes and milestones; enough of the long days which seem uncharacteristically like short days; enough of the intensely agitated mornings; enough of the revolving door of personalized menu requests; enough of the non-parents dispensing parental advice on everything from birth control to what “acceptable” womanhood looks like. ENOUGH!
The upside, of course, is that thankfully there is always an upside. Parenthood is not without its seemingly insurmountable challenges; however, as many of us were taught by our own parents, these challenges often result in reward – not on earth, mind you, but in heaven, which requires an altogether different sort of “leap of faith,” if you’ll pardon the religious metaphors. The ultimate reward is finally seeing your child master the seemingly un-master-able. But, oh, the time it takes to get there.
One of my biggest parenting challenges is patience – both “big P” and “little p” patience. It’s something I assumed I had a lot of working in a highly creative design environment since the personality types were off the charts. But the patience required for parenting is vastly different. Parenting is one of those indescribable acts. And because so much of it is personally skewed to the anecdotal – which means the stories are often played out in case-by-case scenarios – our personal experiences often seem trumped by the assumption that they are, in fact, universal.
To wit: the other day I read an interesting post regarding the “linguistic lack”in describing pregnancy from Arwyn, who writes at RaisingMyBoychick.com. She wrote about the words we ascribe to incubating and “bearing” children and the “work” of pregnancy. However, to her mind there has yet to be a bang-on, grasp-able description of the experience of the work itself in all its majestic glory.
I find that when it comes to the character-building exercise of raising empowered children, in hindsight we’re all too well-aware of the implicit meaning behind our parenting successes and shortcomings – I’m loathe to call them failures – to talk about them with photographic accuracy. And yet in the throes of a so-called “parenting moment,” and perhaps against our better judgment, most of us stealthily assume the authoritarian position. It’s like trying to accurately describe the process of breathing, for example. Sure, most of us are sufficiently able to describe the mechanics of it. But we all do it differently, and rarely do we compare notes unless our breathing is compromised in some way. The breath we draw is uniquely our own. Like our children.
The other day I read an article about toddler tantrums that broke down the act in stages. It was an interesting read, not least because it described the ways in which a parent was encouraged to remedy the tantrum in progress but also how to circumvent the act itself. When I finished reading the article, I laughed. And since this parenting gem arrived at the height of my stressful period, I also started to rant at my computer. “No kidding!” I said. “Parents aren’t stupid!” I replied to the unanswered question. Still, I could totally appreciate what they were saying. By now, we parents have supposedly become supremely skilled at not doing the things that (may) cause irreparable damage our children, but what about the coping skills of parents – or lack thereof? Where are the compassionate studies to help guide and remedy our inconsolable parenting moments?
Women like Oprah have used the word “sacrifice” to describe motherhood, and while the term makes me slightly uncomfortable, I wouldn’t necessarily argue with that position. If a sacrifice means that you will forgo your own desire for the sake of another, then applying that term to motherhood is not altogether untrue. A toddler tantrum is an excellent way to test this notion. Stand back and watch a 3-year-old and see how perfectly restrained, collected and self-possessed you are as you try to gently guide your little fireball of anger into a socially acceptable way of being once again. It’s not easy.
Of course, what it boils down to is parenting mettle. It’s definitely not something we’re born with, but rather something we acquire. Much in the same way our children learn to manage their emotions and behaviors with time, patience, guidance and understanding. I think I’m going to take a page from this script then next time I feel like I’m beginning to suck at coping.
What has tested your parenting stamina lately? And what have you done to remedy it?