The Sheer Intensity of Parenting
Last summer, my partner and I took our children to Lands End for an easy nature adventure. It was foggy and awesome. The high school band practicing near the parking lot stunned and entertained our whole family. Our walk down the smooth path to the little rocky beach was fun and mostly effortless. I even stopped and showed a first-time mom how to use the ergo to carry her 15 month old on her back -- she was ecstatic and we had a laugh at how every bit of ease is so appreciated as new parents! My children were 3 and 5 then -- and so the light at the end of the early childhood tunnel was getting brighter and closer... and yet, they were still young with specific, inconvenient-yet-valid needs.
For instance, the tall, hefty three-year-old needed to be carried the entire walk back. And the five-year-old had an uncharacteristic, hike-halting fit about a couple things that I can barely recall now. We were all just tired and hungry. Do you know that acronym, HALT? If you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, HALT. Stop what you’re doing and do what you can to take care of your needs? Well, I would have loved to have done that, but in this case, we just had to get to the car.
On the drive home, I looked over at my partner and thought, no wonder our relationship has been so strained. It takes work and effort to stay emotionally regulated when young people are loudly and irrationally emoting in the back seat. Or at the dinner table. Or in the middle of the cross walk. And it takes everything we have to make it through those first years of irregular sleep and infant caregiving.
As I sit here this Saturday night with my kiddos tucked in their beds, it occurs to me that non-parents are out there having dinner, seeing shows, grabbing drinks with friends… All after a long weekend day of doing whatever they pleased. I used to be a childless adult. And until I became a parent, I had no idea how blissful it was to wake up whenever I was rested, go idly stand in line for brunch for an hour, meet up with So-and-So mid day, and on and on.
While I am completely enamored by conception and pregnancy, childbirth, and babies (it is all just so incredible and miraculous), I am also struck to my core at the relentlessness of it all. From the second we decide to become parents, our lives begin down this irreversible path of unparalleled challenge. There may be other experiences in life that are more overtly difficult, but when we become parents, we are permanently altered in our identities, lifestyles, and perspectives. One of my favorite moments with my therapist was when I referred to a teaching by the Dalai Lama in reference to a challenge I was having with my first child who was two and a half at the time. My therapist laughed. Then, with a compassionate smile, she shared her wonder of whether even the most enlightened person in the world wouldn’t be challenged by a tantruming two-year-old.
Now, my children are six and a half and four and the challenges are not so different than a year ago, though certainly I could not have predicted how sassy a 6 year old can be or how many times a day the four-year-old can repeat the term "butt hole." And while every day brings new awareness and wisdom, there is just no escaping the truth that parenting is challenging -- beautiful and challenging -- and that we simply must have support in those moments when we can't just pause to take care of our needs. Because the older one is freaking out about something, or needs us to see the most incredible boob she just drew (it was really amazing!) and the younger one is building a lego tower up to his penis (apparently I'm slaying the whole comfort with their bodies thing)!
So, I humbly offer up this small gesture of solidarity to let you know you're not alone. We are all in this together, secretly wondering if anyone else could love their children as much as we love ours, wondering if anyone else has felt as angry at their children as we did this evening, wondering if we are the only ones who break down in tears from the sheer intensity of it all.
With you - Ginny
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Q: What's one thing you do that resources you when you're feeling drained, done, or challenged in parenting?
Coming Soon! A post from Natural Resources Sleep Consultant Teresa Morris on the often-daunting transition from crib to big kid bed.
-- Ginny Zeppa is a parent educator and coach and the President of the Board of Directors for The Natural Resources All Families Foundation. She lives in Mission Terrace with her partner and two young humans.