By Kathy P. Behan
To state the obvious, parenthood is hard. It’s also immensely important and enjoyable, but at times, it’s pure slog. Sometimes you’re just trying to make it through the day. And when you really have it bad, your desperate hope is that you’re not raising serial killers.
A big part of the problem is that it’s non-stop. You can’t raise your hand and say, “OK, I’ve had enough. Bring in my replacement.” It’s 24/7. Relentless. And for long stretches of time, it’s all on you. You can’t put a kid on “pause.”
If you’re lucky enough to have a partner, s/he can share the responsibility and the two of you can work out times when the other can sleep, eat, socialize or just recharge. But it’s still a challenge trying to balance being an attentive parent and yet maintaining your own mental and physical health.
Even when children are good, they can still be trying. Babies have to be watched nonstop. You’re also perennially on the night shift because they tend to be terrible sleepers. Older tykes go on the regular: “Read to me,” “Watch me,” “Play with me” rants. They never seem to tire of the same books or games.
An important parenting salvation trick is to try to teach them to entertain themselves. This way at least you can have a few minutes to yourself. Lucky parents may have a kid who has this trait naturally. My second child had this ability in spades. His imagination and early reading ability kept him enthralled for long periods of time. Children #1 and #3 were a different story. They wouldn’t let me off that easy. I was their entertainment center. For instance, even when my daughter was reading, she insisted on doing it from the same vantage point — sitting in my lap. You can just imagine how much I could accomplish while this child was perpetually sitting on me or when she wasn’t, clinging to my leg.
When I was at my breaking point, I had a sure-fire regrouping trick. I would make sure the kids were separated and safely confined and then I would lock myself in the bathroom with a Time magazine and a Diet Coke. This timeout never failed to help me cope, even though it only lasted a few minutes. Every parent needs to come up with a similar survival strategy.
I’m telling you all this because being a good parent is monumentally difficult, and your behavior is critical. What you say and do matters, a lot. How involved, or uninvolved you are as a parent. The time and interest you’ve shown to your little ones. How you manage them day in and day out. It has a lasting impact on your children. You can’t just choose your finest moments for them to remember, capturing snapshots of the happy times. The album is also filled with pictures of how you responded in anger and how you made them feel about their – and your own — failures, disappointments and hurts.
So, as I said, parenthood is challenging. It takes a lot of time, energy, effort and wisdom. That’s why it fries me when I’ve occasionally heard mothers say how easy parenting was for them. How their children were never difficult. How they never lost their temper, and always did the right thing. Who are they kidding? They either have extremely bad memories or they’re liars. No one gets out of parenthood unscathed.
If you’re a good parent, you always have regrets and at times, wish you were better, smarter or more patient. The fact is that we’re not perfect, and neither are our kids. It’s harmful and a disservice to our children and other parents, to pretend otherwise.
Hopefully, we’re all striving to do, and be, our best. And frankly, that has to be good enough – but it’s still hard.
Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a nationally-published freelance writer specializing in health and family matters.