Have you seen the little cartoon where there is a woman on a doctor’s table, looking a bit bedraggled? The doctor says, “You’ve been diagnosed with motherhood,” or something to that effect. That’s how I feel, often. I feel overworked and underappreciated by the little ones I work for. From time to time, though, there are glimmers of hope.
Every now and then one of the kids says thank you. Sometimes I get a spontaneous hug or kiss. Little sparkling moments where I remember the feelings of holding a newborn in the quiet of night. Or occasional instances of kids actually completing a task before needing to reminded. Flashes of success!
But still, those blasted social media memes that are probably meant to lift my spirits often leave me feeling less than great. Reading how my tone with my children will become their inner voice doesn’t encourage me to be more calm and peaceful. My reaction is more like, “Well, crap!” And hearing how parenting may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’ll be worth it in the end doesn’t help either. I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. Instead, I feel lost in it. I don’t want to hear that someday I’ll miss the constant, “Mama. Mama. Mama!” Because most days I want to miss it.
Most days I’m in it up to here – right about chin level. If I lean my head back a little I can even take a breath. My kids are finally old enough that I can occasionally use the bathroom without interruption, most of the time. But those life-saving breaths still don’t do much to relieve the exhaustion from treading water or wading in the muck. But I do have hope that at some point in the future, I’ll be able to sit in one of those lounging chairs on the side of the parenting pool. You know, with my feet up and big dark sunglasses on – not having to worry about a single thing. And who are we trying to fool, there’s a drink in my hand in this little dream too. With an umbrella in it.
How do I hold onto all this hope in the midst of all that weighs on my parenting shoulders? Two things – an active fantasy life and knowledge that I’m not the first.
I pretend that my husband and I live in a parallel universe where we decided not to have children too. The “us” in that universe has money and time to spare. We laugh a lot, travel frequently, and have fulfilling careers. But, we also have conversations in the comfort of our home where we confess our deepest concerns. In those quiet moments we wonder about what life would have been like if we’d had kids. I guess I find comfort in believing that no matter what path we’ve chosen, we’d probably always wonder about some other outcome. In that belief, I can make the conscious decision to make the best of this life I did choose and do have. I hope the “me” in some other universe has come to the same conclusion. I want her to be content in her life too!
The knowledge that I’m not the first to do what I’m doing (mother, parent, fill this blank with just about anything) is something I sometimes wrap myself in like a warm blanket. And it’s something I always have. I find it a place to relax into – I’m not alone. I am not the first to feel overwhelmed. I am not the first to lose my mind. I am not the first to struggle to like my kids some days. I am not the first to struggle to like myself some days. See? Many a woman has come before me…and survived. So, even if I can’t see the end of the tunnel, it must be there. Even if I wonder if it is all worth it, maybe it truly is and I just can’t see it yet. Maybe, “Someday you’ll miss this,” isn’t just a platitude but really is a truth I’m not privy to yet.
So, with all the reminders to clean something, encouragements to play nice and be respectful, running in five directions on one day so the kids can be happy…
With all the meals served to yuck faces, new clothes shopping (again), and all the, “No’s” answered to all the, “Can we have’s”…
With all the late night tears, stress stored between my shoulder blades, and wishes to have five minutes of quiet… With all of that, I do have hope. I have hope that they’ll grow up to be healthy, well-mannered, young adults. I have hope that they are learning something from my not-always-patient guidance. I have hope that more of me is the parent I want to be than is the parent I wish I could change to something better. I have hope that the diagnosis of motherhood isn’t just about being worn out, but it’s also about growing into a woman that can say she not only survived but also blossomed because of the often cloudy days of parenting.
And I hope that I can find an even more fantastic hat to wear on the pool deck. Join me for a drink?