I was at a 4-year-old’s birthday party with my two kids. One of my kids had a meltdown because of a clown and the other was going through all the beautiful stages of a sugar rush. I stepped out for some fresh air. It was the second Saturday in a row that I was attending another kid’s birthday party. My husband was at work and I was barely surviving with out his help. I thought back to how different my Saturday afternoons were just a few years ago. As I exhaled and prepared to get back in there like a fighter getting back into the ring, I looked up and saw a middle-aged man exiting a van shoving himself into an Elmo costume. We made eye contact and our expressions conveyed the same thing, how’d we end up here? We both put on our game faces and got back to the circus that is a typical kid’s birthday party. And inside, where the party was in full swing, we both put on perfect performances. When this man was all done with his act, I watched him tiredly accept his payment and rush outside to peel off his costume. In that moment, I had a realization. Although I love my kids and would do anything for them, I don’t love this whole parenting thing.
Immediately, I felt guilty and ashamed that yet again I was fantasizing about what my life was like before I sucked boogers out of an infant’s nose or cleaned poop out of my tub. For a brief moment I let myself dream of sinking into my bed and getting not 3 or 4 hours, but 8 glorious hours or sleep. Or maybe, just maybe using the bathroom alone. And then I told myself to shake it off like Taylor Swift. Because I wouldn’t dare admit it or tell someone that I wasn’t enjoying my life as a mother or that this wasn’t how I expected parenthood to be. I knew I’d be judged and I knew people would think, then why’d you have kids? And in truth, some days, more days than I’d like to admit, the thought has crossed my mind. Why did I have kids? What was I thinking? How did I think for even a second that I could handle all of this?
Later that night when the tantrums and the sugar rush subsided, the guilt increased. Although I only slept 4 hours, changed 23 diapers, made 8 bottles, cook meals my kids refused to eat, and cleaned up more messes than I could count, I watched my kids sleeping and I hated myself because motherhood is so hard for me. I love them in ways I can’t even express, yet this whole thing has shifted my life in ways I never anticipated. I was the last one out of my friends to have kids, and when they see my little children they tell me to enjoy it because they miss their kids at that age. And I find myself lost somewhere between mommy-bliss and grief. Because my kids have simultaneously opened my eyes and heart in so many ways while also pushing me so far off the path I knew. Yes, I have become more empathetic. I’m convinced nothing makes you more humble than becoming a parent. Yes, my heart melts when my kids smile and they’re happy. But also, it feels like my heart is expanding and breaking all at once. I struggle to find time to do things that I enjoy. I’m doing a balancing act to keep my marriage healthy. I worry that I’m messing my kids up. All while I smile for family photos, clean up poop, handle tantrums, and attempt to keep the house afloat.
I know I’m not alone. I know other parents are struggling too. But instead of being raw and honest, we share acceptable memes and make jokes about it. We complain but then follow it up with cliche sayings like, “but I wouldn’t have it any other way.” I think I had this false perception of what parenthood would be like and every day is a struggle to accept that the image I had isn’t real or possible. There’s this narrative out there about becoming a parent that only shows the acceptable side of parenting–yes, it’s hard but it’s rewarding. There are some days or weeks that it’s all hard. And that’s what I was unprepared for. I thought that no matter how hard it was, at the end of each day I’d feel accomplished and grateful. But, that’s not always the case. So, let me say it since no one else will: I love my kids, but I hate being a parent. I hate constantly worrying, planning and being in charge of someone else’s life. I hate the sleepless nights. I hate when they’re sick, and then as soon as they get better, I get sick. I hate that there are no days off. I hate that I have to choose between my career and my kids. I hate that there never seems to be enough hours in a day yet my days feel too long.
Parenthood can be equally hard and frustrating as it it is amazing. The good parts don’t outweigh or erase the difficult parts.
These are the behind-the-scene moments of parenthood that we shove out of focus so no one can snap a picture of it. It’s time we stop lying and passing down this warped idea that parenthood fills a missing void or makes your life more complete. Although there’s some truth to those statements for some, there’s another side that comes with all of the mushy stuff we have come to expect. Parenthood can be equally hard and frustrating as it it is amazing. The good parts don’t outweigh or erase the difficult parts.
I’ve been in therapy, afraid that I might have been having a mental break down or postpartum depression. However, my therapist says a lot of what I’m feeling is actually normal. I’m exhausted and my whole life has changed in such a short time and I’m adjusting the best I can. I’ve learned to stop pretending that I can do it all and that I’m okay. I’ve learned to ask for help. I’ve learned to stop signing up for more than I can handle. I turned down an invitation to a birthday party a few weeks ago and we just laid on the couch and watched movies. The party was over an hour away and during my kid’s nap time. The old me would have felt guilty. But now I know I have to be real with myself instead of playing this unrealistic role of the perfect mom.
If you are struggling with depression or anxiety, please talk to a therapist or doctor. If you are having suicidal thoughts please reach out to The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for free and confidential support.
This essay was submitted anonymously.