This parenting thing is hard.
The progression of it is the exact opposite of what people led me to believe.
When I was strolling two babies and carrying a third down a flight of stairs to the subway platform in New York City, people told me to hang in there, it would get easier.
When I was waking up two to five times a night for the first eight months because I decided to let my babies settle into their own sleep rhythms, people told to hang in there, it would get easier.
When my idea of an evening out meant roaming Target at 10pm by myself because babies were asleep, chores were done, and this was the first chance in my day to go somewhere and not be touched, people told me to hang in there, it would get easier.
Just for the record—and maybe I’m the only mother who has experienced this, though I suspect not—“easier” is not the word I would use. Different, certainly. Less physical for sure. But not easier. At least not for me.
Because today I had to help a child who sometimes feels angry at the world. A child who feels misunderstood and alone. A child who hasn’t just yet developed healthy ways to cope with these complicated feelings.
Give me a toddler struggling with potty training any day.
Though, and I hope this is clear, I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Because believe me, I’ve been the mother trying to potty train and that is no picnic either. We all have our different versions of hard. I guess, then, what’s hard isn’t necessarily the things we face as parents, but the moments in which we face them.
Isn’t that kind of the crux of it?
It’s one thing to sympathize with a mom who is just beside herself with anxiety and stress as she listens to her angry toddler throwing the fit of his life because she took away his pacifier. We can reason and theorize an issue like that all day long, nodding sagely and patting ourselves on the back for being so thoughtful and thorough in our approach. But when we step into Momma’s shoes for a minute we realize that nothing rips a mother’s heart like her baby’s cry, no matter how assured she is that he is safe, he will be better off for having weathered the storm, and he will soon be all right. The bigger issue may present a few interesting points to ponder, but it’s the moment of experience that brings the walls crashing down. Nothing is hard like the moment.
Today my moment was hard. Looking into my baby’s eyes and seeing anger and, worse, hardness—that’s what broke my heart. It was my moment. And while I can look back on it now and see how Jesus can turn it to something beautiful because for a little while instead of turning away from me she turned toward me, and instead of shutting me out she let me in, I still remember the pressure and the pain of that moment as I thought Please God let the words spilling from my mouth right now be the exact ones she needs to hear.
Parenting now feels hard because I cannot control the outcome. Perhaps it feels harder now than way back when because emotions and internal issues seem more nuanced or more complex or more hidden. All of those things are true. But I wonder, too, if it just feels harder now because I’m in it, and way back when is just a lovely memory. I’m pretty sure bathing three babies at once, though sometimes amusing, didn’t always feel like a piece of cake at the time. Hard is what hits us when we feel like what we’re up against is stronger than we are. And that’s a scary place to be no matter what the circumstances.
No, I’m pretty sure hard is a moment, not a particular problem. Hard is facing a challenge and not knowing how it’s going to work out in the end. And no parent, no matter how old their kids, is immune to the anxiety of the unknown.
Parenting is hard. I feel sure about that. But boy am I glad every parent I know has at some point felt the same thing. I’m glad we are all in this together.