Parenting is Hard and I Don’t Like It

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.

Parent this. Be this as you parent. One or the other or both is my every day.

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.

Pop quiz: Put this back together.

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.

Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

7 Discussion to this post

  1. Rachel says:

    Oh my goodness, so much THIS!

    There are days when I love parenting. I love seeing tiny glimpses that indicate my hard work is paying off. Those moments when my baby can entertain herself for a few minutes, the increasing times when my toddler takes deep breaths and slowly breathes out “like blowing out birthday candles.”

    But the time in between those moments is a hard fought slog of challenging situations that I do not love.

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    • Shawna Ayoub Ainslie says:

      I think, here, there have been longer stretches in between the beautiful moments despite my constant reframing. The kids are pushing boundaries, I have been dealing with some background noise, and there is the running to and fro. Mama, we need a break.

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      • Rachel says:

        I hear this <3. Is it any different when your kiddos are knowingly pushing boundaries? E and A both push my boundaries, but at 3 and 1 I can tell myself they're still learning and redirect them. We do need a break.

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  2. Sarah Fuste says:

    I have definitely snickered at the glowing pregnancy photos of first-time parents, in a bit of an evil way (of course, we took them too)…knowing that the romantic notions of parenting are about to be slathered with a good dumping of reality. It is hard. It is mostly hard. There are rewards, and I am grateful for the wisdom that it teaches, and the school of maturity you CANNOT QUIT. But yes. So much true here.

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    • Shawna Ayoub Ainslie says:

      Sarah! How wonderful to see you here.

      Oh, I know just what you are talking about! That first child. We have no idea what’s coming. I wish I had, but the romance did make pregnancy sweet.

      The wisdom makes the journey worth it for me. I have grown so much. I do wish I could set it aside. Afford childcare. Leave for weeks at a time. But I hate missing those moments. There is a balance even to the dislike and resentment.

      How has your relocation gone?

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  3. Norah Colvin says:

    This is so true. I’ve often said parenting is the most difficult job there is, and perhaps the only one without a manual. Or too many manuals with everyone telling you that you should this or that or something different. It is impossible to do everything right, and no matter how hard you try, your kids will always blame you for something you have done to create their foibles and failings. There were many times I wanted a break – just to be me, not just somebody’s mother.
    Having said all that, and agreeing with you about the difficulties, I love being a parent, and a grandparent. The hardest job, the worst job, but, for me, also the best. My children are the best things in my life and I could not imagine life without them. They are the ones who give me the unconditional love I never received as a child. They are the ones who affirm my existence. Without them there would be nothing to make being me worthwhile.
    Congratulate yourself on a great job you do as a parent. Feelings are real. We need to be able to share, express, and accept that, even if we don’t all feel exactly the same way, parenting is a very difficult job.

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    • Shawna Ayoub Ainslie says:

      Yes, very true. We need to be able to share.

      I am so glad you love the parenting. It is very unnatural to me; a constant battle to be kind. Even now I am struggling not to be angry about crumbs and drips and kids who refuse to listen the first or second or third time.

      I look forward to each task they learn to complete on their own. Each bit of independence. But I am also working hard to enjoy the other moments. Books are almost always a win. Sharing stories fills my heart. 🙂

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