On the humbling nature of parenthood

I had always envisioned myself as a certain kind of parent. At five I imagined coming home from work with a basket overflowing with lollipops. At ten I dreamed of weaving stories for my captive audience of little ones as they grew drowsy tucked into bed. And then, in adulthood, when I encountered painful obstacles on the journey to parenthood I redoubled these beliefs. I would treasure my children. I would never for a minute forget that they were manna from heaven gracing my life.

Did I envision conflicts? Issues? Why ofcourse. I wasn’t naive. I had it all figured out. How I’d calmly kneel down to their level and explain things.  I would mirror their emotions. I would take in dirty footsteps on the hardwoods and paint smears on the walls and hug them after they tearfully apologized with Full House music swelling to crescendo in the background.

I would never resort to yelling.
I would never threaten.
I would never bribe.

Nearly three years ago, when I held my newborn, curled in my arms, I looked at this creature and the dreams that had come true. I imagined the love that would grow between us. I imagined the baking and measuring. The counting of fall leaves. And curling up on the couch with a pile of books. It would be beautiful.

And as beautiful as parenting is, its also side-swiped me with how challenging it can be. And today, as my mind swirled from the exhaustion of two hour sleep cycles, and my baby wailed in my arms, and my eldest soothed him by pinching his toes while doing the bathroom dance and refusing to actually go to the bathroom and I surveyed my home, the sink filled with dishes, the sticky residue next to the fridge, and another high-pitched plea for yet another episode of the Bernstein Bears, I felt something in me coming undone. 

And so I yelled. Get on the toilet now.
And I threatened. I’m calling your father.
And I bribed. Bernstein bears? Sure. Just do pee pee and its on.

Parenthood has humbled me. It has brought me to my knees. Because as beautiful as the moments of baking, bathtimes, reading, and conversations has been, there are the other moments that I never saw coming. The moments where I am so tired. Painfully tired. The moments where I don’t have the energy for the smile and patience in the face of a screaming toddler. And the moments I react in ways I am not proud of.

I can tell you my reasons. Paint my excuses. But in that moment I saw myself as though observing from afar, and I felt an overwhelming sense of loss— because this isn’t the parent I thought would be.

I read this piece a few weeks ago, and I’m trying to absorb the words. Trying to let them be a balm to the blistering disappointment I feel in the moments I can’t live up to the ideal I set myself to:

You are not a terrible parent if you yell at your kids sometimes. You have little dictators living in your house. If someone else talked to you like that, they’d be put in prison.

You are not a terrible parent if you’d rather be at work.

You are not a terrible parent if you just can’t wait for them to go to bed.

You’re an actual parent with limits. You cannot do it all. We all need to admit that one of the casualties specific to our information saturated culture is that we have sky-scraper standards for parenting, where we feel like we’re failing horribly if we feed our children chicken nuggets and we let them watch TV in the morning.

And yet, there is a distinction I feel between comforting myself, telling myself I’m doing the best I can, and letting that simply be enough.  It’s okay to acknowledge that I truly am doing the best I possibly can. But it’s not enough. I must also must strive to improve. To try to reach the ideals I created. It’s the basic set up of being human, to try to reach one’s potential. So while I can understand those moments when I don’t live up to what I imagined, I also can’t stop trying to be a better person and by consequence, a better parent. To try to increase my patience and the elasticity with which my rope can stretch. That is one of the things I believe my children are here to teach me. One of the things I’m desperately trying to learn. 

But in the meantime, as I try to improve, I will also try to be gentle with the mother of my children. She’s not perfect by a long shot, but she’s doing her best every step of the way.

6 thoughts on “On the humbling nature of parenthood”

  1. Seems like a perfectly balanced way to handle things to me. None of us are the exact parent we thought we'd be, and even with my kids way beyond the potty training and crying in the middle night phase, it's a daily challenge to examine what I'm doing wrong and work on it… As humans we have to work on ourselves and continually improve, and as parents it's no different.

    “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” – Maya Angelou


  2. wow…absolutely love it and really needed to hear it (now thats its summer break and they're all home. All day. Every day. Thank you for writing with such beautiful honesty and clarity. Its really such a comfort to hear I'm not the only one!


  3. I loved this post.

    It's easy to say what kind of parent you will be when you aren't a parent yet. There are so many things that I wasn't or was going to do and well life decides differently. It has made me learn to be more patient and really stop and enjoy things more. Pixie


  4. Yes to this all. We all should be gentler with the mother of our children (and what a beautiful phrase/thought that is, btw. It absolutely bowled me over.)

    I try really hard not to yell at Hen for anything other than true danger (ie: my frustration isn't a reason to yell, but getting too near a hot stove is) but the other things?

    Incentives can be an awesome tool. Because let's face it. Sometimes little boys really don't care one iota about the things we care about (like no mess on the floor to clean up!) so a bit of Bernstein Bears for him and a bit of clean floors for you, and everyone's happy!

    I found myself threatening Hen with telling his daddy something the other day and I nearly fell over with surprise. I swore I'd never say that. (But you know what, it WORKED, so I'll probably say it again!

    And remember when you're feeling overwhelmed that you have every reason to be feeling that way. You have a baby and a preschooler, and the one is going all day & the other is going all night. You're superwoman, and a super mom, and don't ever forget that!


  5. you know, the one thing that i am learning about parenting, is that there are no set rules or guidelines to follow. i did not study how to be a parent, i have no qualifications for this. there is just instinct and common sense. and other people's tips. i am never going to be a perfect parent, simply because i am not a perfect person. yes, we can strive to be better, but sometimes it seems to me that we strive too hard. is your ideal parent really possible? or even necessary?

    you are a great mom, don't beat yourself up so much!


  6. Between potty training, giving up bottles and too many Dora cartoons, I know I'm not the mom I had planned to be. But I hope I'm becoming the mom Davie needs me to be. One kiss and snuggle at a time.


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