On Parenthood: The thing is…

February 22, 2014 in Education


I’ve gotten a few emails this week from people who are struggling

  • Struggling with adjustments to travel
  • Struggling with interpersonal issues
  • Struggling to manage a range of expectations across a family
  • Struggling to keep all of the balls in the air
  • Struggling with disappointment
  • Struggling with work-life balance
  • Struggling with kid issues
  • Struggling with letting go and loss
  • Struggling with deep sadness
  • Struggling with intention vs. consistent action

Some people seem to be struggling with the very concept of struggling.

It’s easy, isn’t it, in the world of social media, to instantly compare our lives and get “feedback” from everyone from Aunt Merle to the so called experts we follow? We scroll past Facebook posts that make it almost impossible not to compare our (well known) weaknesses to the (carefully marketed) strengths of the people we think we know.

We sit on a kid stained couch, the one with the slipcover that’s all wonky because some kid has burrowed underneath it like a wombat, the one that’s stained with marker and peanut butter, surrounded by toys strewn across the carpet, a sippy-cup of milk fermenting from last night, or maybe last week. We know that there are piles of laundry waiting to be washed, never mind folded. Dinner is looming. What to make? Whether to fight the battle of trying to get everyone to eat it? One kid is crying. Another kid is vying for attention, a third kid appears: enthusiastic and completely filthy. The toddler is ominously silent, and missing in action.

Friends post about date nights and thoughtful partners while we feel like ships passing in the night, swapping babies like relay batons as we move between responsibilities, just trying to keep our heads above water.

Cousins post about gourmet dinners, we slam frozen pizza in the oven, again feeling guilty. Pepperoni is a lean meat, right? Onions and peppers, those are vegetables? And we wonder where we missed the boat, how these fabulously together people manage to get it all done and pull off a three course meal five nights a week.

If I were to have posted to Facebook about this morning, it would have read like this:

Boys schooling, Hannah musicking. Turkey dinner in the oven for a family who just welcomed their 11th baby. Tea. Writing. Daffodils & tulips. Wanna take a walk with me later?

And you’d be left to paint in the margins with watercolour images of domestic bliss, because, of course, that’s what my life is, right? Right.


The thing is…

The thing is, that while that Facebook post would have been 100% accurate, it’s not 100% complete. 

The boys are schooling, but also making a mess of the free world with lego, dirty socks, and paint. Ez hauled in pockets full of rocks, excavated from under the ice in the driveway because he is determined to get the crystal growing experiments off the ground today. Elisha has tromped in and out with barn boots checking on eggs; we are chicken sitting. Gabriel has interrupted at least four times with updates on which community teenagers may, or may not, be joining us for music this evening at The Mill in Bristol. Ezra periodically shouts in his score on a particular subject for the day: 92% in math, 86%, 78% and 90% in his three geo-quizzes. I forget the other one. He interrupts again to report on Sir Frances Drake’s escapades of the morning; not what I’m interested in hearing about when I’m trying to partition my brain to write, he knows this, but cannot help himself, as he’s just reading about it for the first time, and it’s terribly exciting.

Hannah is musicking, which is lovely. But she’s also fretting about school, grumbling about one of the sites she writes for overhauling their platform and now she cannot figure out  how to use make money. She wanders through the kitchen, grabs a piece of cheese out of the fridge, asks me if a week is too long to stay with a family friend in Germany this summer, and she stomps three wasps on the floor with loud crunches and doesn’t bend over to pick them up. The scrape of the metal fork she’s chosen to stir the caramels with is like nails on the chalkboard when one is trying to edit something for a third party. She interrupts to ask me to help pour the liquid lava into a pan to cool. Then she dives into brownies, chattering to me all the while. I love this. I will miss this sorely all too soon. I take a breath and remember to pay attention. She makes brownies for the family we’re taking dinner to, and leaves the faucet dripping, which feels like it’s inside my skull it’s so loud.

Turkey dinner is in the works: the bird is ready to go in the oven, as are the roasted veggies. The remains of a previous bird cooked for us are boiling on the stove for soup. The kitchen counters are covered with cutting boards and knives, olive oil and salt, two boxes of macaroni and cheese that Gabe, apparently has decided to make for lunch, mid afternoon.

Hannah just delivered my second pot of tea. Teaching my children to make (and deliver) tea is one of the crowning achievements of my (self serving) motherhood. Do I feel guilty about this? No. Should I? Meh, who cares, really? They also deliver wine, and chocolate, and sometimes cookies if they make them.

So here I sit, at my lovely wooden table, with the Guatemalan weaving my friend Imelda handmade for me down the center. There are daffodils and tulips artfully arranged in their vases. Lilies and roses just beginning to fade a bit, left from Valentine’s day. There is a rushing river and snow covered forest outside my window and I am writing: Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream…

The thing is…

There is also a 2/3 empty box of salad, a meat cleaver, an onion skin and the remnant of a red pepper sitting next to me, with a dead-soldier of a salad dressing bottle. My dirty plate is just down from that; the kid who has lunch clean up is online playing with a friend in Europe. A crumpled up dish towel, an open bag of potatoes, the box of gel food colouring from Ezra’s crystal dying project, a crumb filled empty cookie plate, and a bottle of floor cleaner round out my idyllic table setting. Oh yes, and the stack of books I was writing about this morning are heaped next to my tea cup.There are six dead bottle flies on the window sill. We don’t know where they are coming from. Worse are the six dead wasps that Elisha, thankfully, swept up this morning. Gabe, cute though he may be, is driving me border-line batty by dancing around the kitchen with a wooden spoon singing his own creation: “Mother Clementine.” Don’t ask.


The thing is…

Everyone, and I do mean everyone, is struggling with one mess or another. Some of them are just more obvious than others. 

I remember when my kids were little and I was doing nothing, and I do mean nothing more than mothering. It took 110% of my time and effort to feed, clothe, educate and entertain my little darlings, keeping general mischief down to a dull roar. Free time was a mythical creature, like the unicorn or a forest fairy; something I’d heard of and wanted desperately to believe in but could see no real evidence of actually ever existing. I was exhausted. For years. I studied other mothers and was quite sure I was missing the big key to success that allowed them to look like fashion plates with a work-family balance I could only dream of. For me, there was no balance: it was all work and all family.

Of course the game has changed. No one “needs” me in the same way any more. I have work that is not related to shoe tying and nose wiping that is rewarding to me, separate from family life. But, this idea of balance and getting it “right” is, I think, so much nonsense. 

There is no such thing as balance when you have a family. Parenthood, by nature, is an all consuming pursuit. You don’t get to clock out. Everything you do is somehow related to your kids, even if it’s self care that allows you to nourish your own soul, it’s ultimately what allows you to keep giving to your partner and your kids. The idea that (young mothers especially) should be seeking to keep things “in balance” is laughable and, unfortunately, guilt inducing; because every young mother knows that balance is as mythical as the fairies and unicorns. You do it as right as you can, every day, and you pray like crazy that your best is good enough. Sometimes things go smoothly, you feel like supermom and like you could almost take the training wheels off of your bike. Then, the sidewalk ends and the path gets messy and dirty and people start turning up during the one bubble bath you’ve had this year with skinned knees, bloody foreheads and pockets full of frogs to show you.

The thing is…

It’s okay.

  • It’s okay if you kind of suck at motherhood somedays.
  • It’s okay if your laundry never sees the inside of your dresser drawers.
  • It’s okay if you feed your kids hot dogs and frozen pizza sometimes.
  • It’s okay if you get through a whole day and have “nothing” to show for it.
  • It’s okay if your house is messy.
  • It’s okay if you’re working at five in the morning and ten at night because 7-9 p.m. is for crayons and mud pies.
  • It’s okay if your five year old is not reading chapter books and doing algebra like the neighbour’s kid.
  • It’s okay if you’re not always happy.
  • It’s okay if your marriage is sometimes a bit of a train wreck.
  • It’s okay if every single day isn’t dreamy.

The thing is…

This marriage thing, this parenthood thing, this life thing, it’s hard work. 

It’s harder than anyone tells you it’s going to be. You’re not a failure if you swore your kids would never watch TV and yet you plug them in for an hour so you can breathe, or do laundry, or clean a toilet, or take a shower, alone, for heaven’s sake! You’re not a failure if you yell at your kids sometimes. You’re not a failure if you secretly wonder WHAT you were thinking, getting yourself into this mess! You’re not a failure if you sometimes dream of another life. A quiet one, without stickiness or midnight vomit. You’re not a failure for parenting by heart instead of the book. You’re not a failure for occasionally dropping the ball, or falling down on the job, or for needing to ask for a hand up.

We need to offer one another that hand up.