Friday, October 22, 2010

Parenthood: it gets easier. Or does it?

That mound is one week's worth of laundry in 1996
when we had four children, age newborn to 8.
Oh, do I remember those harried days of parenting babies and young children. The exhaustion of several-time-per-night feedings, the worry of crying babies with fevers, and the constant anxiety about their safety. And just the sheer physical labour: the laundry (oh, my Lord, the laundry!), the putting away, the dressing, diapering, toileting, carrying, and buckling.

I won't claim that I enjoyed every minute of it (you wouldn't believe me anyway). In fact, I clearly remember crying one afternoon (during the kids' naptime) and deciding that I had better "get a job" and put the kids in daycare because I clearly was not cut out for this motherhood crap. I felt like a complete failure.

You KNOW I'm going to tell you that it was worth it, right? Well, as facile as that sounds, it really was. The benefits definitely outweighed the costs. Those grubby hugs, snuggles, kisses ... I miss them. The weight of an infant sleeping on my shoulder. The trust. Knowing how central you are to this person's world.

And it did get easier.

They started taking care of themselves. Suddenly, I was no longer on-call to tie all the shoes, zip all the jackets, and buckle all the seatbelts. They could wipe their own noses and bottoms. Then they were actually able to contribute to the running of the household: making their own lunches, doing dishes, laundry and yard work.

But then I realized that things had only shifted ...

Sure, they were tying their own shoes, but in exchange they had homework. Homework meant, at the very least, ensuring there was time and space to do said work, or, worse, a trip to the office-supply store to buy Bristol board, paint, ink for the printer, and construction paper. Having the kids in school, in our case, also meant confronting the reality of ADHD, though with each of our kids, I left them to struggle for years before I accepted the diagnosis and treatment. You'd think I would've learned after the first one, but, no. It was as if I forced each one to prove it.

Playdates in sandboxes shifted to complicated mean-girl friendships, boyfriends and girlfriends, and broken hearts. Instead of visits to the pediatrician for vaccinations and banana-flavoured antibiotics, we saw psychiatrists and therapists.

I used to worry about scraped knees; now I worry about them behind the wheel of a car. Safety shifted from safety plugs on sockets and locked cabinets to THE WHOLE FREAKING INTERNET!

Discipline shifted from saying no to sugary cereal to saying no to drugs, alcohol, and dangerous relationships. You haven't seen a tantrum until you've seen a young adult thwarted. [Read that twice.]

And, unlike when they were youngsters, they aren't supervised all the time. And at the very same time as we have less control, the stakes are even higher. They have the freedom and opportunity to get into some really, really serious trouble. Life-altering or life-ending trouble. Pregnancy, AIDS, Internet predators ...

I am often nostalgic for those days when I could solve all the problems in my little one's world by lifting him or her to my breast.

As in my previous post, where I talked about guardian angels and trusting my gut instincts, there really is a lot of faith involved, all the way through. And I do realize that, with four kids aged 14 to 22, we are really in the thick of it right now. But I'm willing to bet that, even after they've all left home and started families of their own, I'll still be awake at night worrying about them.

As with the laundry, the wiping, and the inconsolable infants, it will be worth it. I no longer expect it to get easier. (And I will stop reassuring new, frazzled, sleep-deprived mothers that it will. It's a false promise. Sorry, Diane.)


  1. Lol, nice to know I have it "good" right now, especially after a night where Drew went to bed without "dinner" and I woke up freaking out every hour or so. He slept 7 hours (10 hours since his last feeding) before I gave in and woke him up to feed him! :P But yes, worrying over an empty tummy is quite a different thing than worrying over cars, sex, drugs, etc!

    Reminds me of today's Zits comic though...

  2. *You* are a great mother. And a wonderful wife and accomplished professional too. I love you and am honoured that you've stayed by me.

  3. Thanks, hon. Wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

  4. Wynn Anne, very well put!! Grace under pressure is needed all the way along. And a big part of that is "no longer expecting it to get easier", as you say.

    When I read your posted comments to each other, I said "Aaaaaaww, how sweet!!" and it is, but it is also profoundly important, the way you two have supported each other, and have a deep admiration and love for each other. It's such a big piece of the parenting picture. And it's the glue for marriage. Keep on...



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