It’s easier to be a parent in summer because the kids take care of each other. You know the saying: “It takes a village to raise a child.” There’s something to be said for having multiple children to pitch in with raising each other.
I imagined I would have four kids. Four perfect children evenly spaced and matched, who knew how to accomplish chores with a single instruction. Children who stuck with lessons, completed what they started, cleared their dishes from the table, and existed without raging screen or sugar addictions. I have three kids and two dogs. The dogs clean up after themselves better than the kids.
Parenting is hard. I’m not saying that in a whiny, take pity on me way. It’s just really, really difficult. When you have your first child, the world opens doors for you and makes promises about all the amazing experiences you and your child will share. The world paints a picture. For me, that picture had little bearing on reality. My first child screamed almost constantly for the first three years of his life. Once he stopped screaming, he started fighting. Anxiety is an asshole. Especially in children.
My second child came with severe post-partum depression. My third was a bubbling miracle who arrived like a salve but has shown me in the last six months that she has more fire than most stars. I work hard not to get burned daily.
Where am I going with this? Well, I thought I would like parenting. Sometimes I like it. Sometimes I love it. But most of the time what I feel toward parenting is a very strong, sharp, exhausted loathing. I mentioned this to another mom and she said so quickly I was sure I misheard, “Me too.”
“We were made promises,” I told her.
She nodded, her mouth in a tight frown. Parenting isn’t what either of us thought it would be. And we love our babies desperately, can’t imagine life without them, would never choose not to have them. Because how could we choose to not witness these beautiful little humans fumbling at life now that we’ve started?
I shared a post on Facebook yesterday, and it is still receiving a surprising, heartfelt response.
Truth be told, if I knew what parenting actually is, I would have stopped at one child. Possibly none. I wanted more children for my children. You caught that, right? I had room in my heart to love more (loving one grows the heart exponentially), and I wanted my children to know that love, so I provided them siblings. Had I stopped at one, I could have provided a single child consistent, mentally well parenting. But I proceeded to two and then three. Somewhere around two my brain told me a big fat nope. I’d found my threshold; the point at which my function became disabled. By my children. Not in the way of being tired. Not in a neurotypical way. No. What I’m talking about is autism rearing its head in my head.
It had always been there. I’d taken great pains to hide it from others and myself throughout life. But then came Kid Three, and my mind broke. My heart still holds all the love with caverns for more, but my mind fractured in an unexpected way. One no one tells you about.
Before having children, I did not know I had PTSD. My first child showed that to me. Before having children, I never accepted my dyslexia or ADD. My second child showed that to me. Before having children, I refused my place on the spectrum. My third child showed it to me.
Parenting is the process of falling apart and doing the work to put yourself back together. That is my experience. It is deeply painful, horribly unpleasant, fraught with danger, and not a role you could ever have pushed me into if I’d understood that it meant dragging my own heart and mind and looking at all the festering bodies of past Shawnas, then recomposing them.
Even without neuro-divergence and the repercussions of past abuse, I still don’t think I would like parenting. I mean, I would have to be a completely different person. One who was brimming with unattainable dreams due to a full-time full-time job.
I am grateful for having been pushed this hard. I am still discovering who I can be. That, in itself, is beautiful and amazing. But it doesn’t make me want to parent. It doesn’t grant me immense, shining vats of joy. It fucking hurts. Every day. I need a break. A lot of breaks. A bigger village than the one I birthed, maybe. In fact, I recently had a 3-day break and what I learned was how much longer I needed that break to be.
I am thinking about that in conjunction with how it has never been okay to admit what I’ve said here: that I am a parent who does not enjoy parenting. But I am not the only one. And here’s something very important–stating my truth and having another parent say “me too” was so deeply affirming I have been able to parent better and with more joy. I’m not alone. And if you don’t like parenting, you’re not alone. We are a village. And we can love our children without liking the trappings of taking care of them. We can take care of them with a healthy revulsion for the tasks we assume. Just like we complete other jobs we don’t enjoy (dishes! faxing! making phone calls!), we can accomplish this daily grind.
It’s okay to have preferences outside parenting.
Mamas and papas, whether you were born to parent or realized you are not a natural parent after your kids were born, I raise my coffee mug to you. Cheers! Keep up the hard work. You’ve got this.