I love you so much, please go away – the double-edged sword of parenthood

The joy of parenthood can only be matched by the euphoria of escaping it. It’s that heart-warming feeling of seeing your child’s happiness when they get to school and see their friends, while quickly closing the car door behind them and grinning without a backwards glance as you drive off into a few hours of life without them, thinking all the while “I can’t wait to see them again.” Just like exercise, being a parent can be an effort when you’re doing it but you always feel better afterwards. Of course, it’s not always like this; we love our children deeply and we’ve all been known to catch our partners eye often to share a secret smile when they do something endearing. Children seem to know just when to drop these “endearing moment bombshells” so that we forget all the other times that they have screamed, cried, thrown a tantrum, held their breath, decided that they “hated” pasta even though that was all they would eat for the last 6 months.

It’s just that those moments when you are trying to negotiate like a whirling dervish, arrange for the plumber to fix the blocked loo and sort out problems at work that it dawns on you that you seem to be holding it together for everyone in the household and actually sometimes you’re just trying not to go under yourself.

So who throws us a rope when that happens? I see many a harried parent. I was one myself, my children are young adults now so there is light at the end of the tunnel! But seldom do we feel safe to admit that’s it all getting a bit much. Especially when our parents did it without complaint (so we’re told), and many of us have the luxury of help in various forms. So I speak to the harried parent today when I say: I see you and it’s ok to not love being a parent all the time. I know the weight of responsibility you carry no matter how many pairs of hands you have. And it’s ok to take a break. Especially after the last few months.

Realistically, a break is not going to look like a retreat to Bali with juice and yoga or a girls’ trip to Bangkok anytime soon. But there’s a lot to be said for giving yourself permission to eschew the guilt of plonking your children in front of a screen for an hour while you slowly sip a cup of tea before it gets cold and just sit. Carving out time where no one is asking you questions, and you’re not pressured to make decisions and respond, is vital. Or else it can get very overwhelming in that head of ours – the head that does all the thinking and planning ahead. It is that need to plan and provide for every eventuality that often prevents us from enjoying those special moments; It’s the habit we’ve got into of having to plan for what’s going to happen next – for dinner, tomorrow, next week, for the holidays, next year. When we leave our husband’s the task of looking after the children, they are so relaxed, there seems to be no stress. If there is no milk in the fridge for cereal for breakfast or for a cup of tea, I would feel the dire need to rush out to the supermarket – thank goodness for the supermarket near us being 24 hours – to buy some even at 10.30 pm. My husband on the other hand just gives me a hug and tells me that it’s ok, the children can have toast. No rush, no stress, just sense and proper perspective.

As mothers, I think it is really important to understand that we do not need to be perfect. Your family love you whether you have milk in the fridge or not. We should try to adjust our anticipations to a more reasonable level that doesn’t trigger so much anxiety. We can let go of some of the time we spend in our head organising, and give it to ourselves and family instead. Often it’s our own expectations of how things should be, and the gap in what our reality actually is, that causes us the stress. And on that, I just remembered we need more milk!


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