My Parenting Reality

A few weeks ago, I was going through a bit of a self-constructed personal nightmare and I asked a friend for advice. She very thoughtfully explained to me that she had realized somewhere along the line that I was struggling as a parent. And I really do mean that this was a thoughtful conversation, not a criticism, not an insult, so please don’t think poorly of her. But my very first instinct was to tell her she was wrong. That motherhood was easy, that it was going great, that it was everything I imagined it would be.

But the thing is, she wasn’t wrong. I just wanted her to be.

Before I had Eli, I was told regularly by family and some friends that I would be a great mother. I believed them and went into parenting with confidence because of my experiences with other kids, as a teacher and the like. I smugly expected that parenting would be easy for me, which if anything has made the reality harder to handle.

Loving my son has come easy. I love him fiercely, more than I have ever loved anything else in the world. I maintain that he is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life and anything else I write here does not erase or diminish any of that.

The struggles started on day one. I know everyone is tired of hearing about breastfeeding and I’m not going to stay on this for long, but that was the first wake up call. I just remember being shocked because I had just assumed it would work, and it failed so very miserably. I was struggling because I could not do something that was supposed to be the most natural thing in the world. I failed the very first mothering test.

From there it was dealing with his reflux, trying to figure out what was best for him and for us and what the science said. Then it was sleep. Then naps. Going back to work presented new feelings of inadequacy, even though I had always planned to work part time.

The other night, I bought and served Eli jarred food for the first time and as I stood in the store looking at which variety of plums I wanted to give him, I felt like a failure. Logically I knew that it was perfectly fine and that it would be just fine for him, but inside, I felt like I had failed my child again. Like I wasn’t a good mother because I couldn’t cook all his food, because I had to buy pureed fruits (it didn’t help that I was buying them because I way oversteamed the plums I bought the night before and didn’t have time to do more since I had worked that day).

And now that he’s sick, like legitimately sick (bronchiolitis), for the first time I feel even more helpless. I can’t make him happy right now, I can’t make him feel better, sleep better or do anything else besides whine and cough. He is miserable and I am basically useless to help. It’s awful. I actually called my own mother today and asked her to come down here since my husband is going out of town from tomorrow until Tuesday.

Throughout these past 6 months, I have felt disappointed. Not in my child, never in my child, but in myself. The expectation I had that this would be easy was shattered almost every day in a different way. It turns out that my previous experiences had not prepared me for parenting and even though I have a very laid back baby, it was/is still difficult. And this was so hard to handle because I think at some point, I started to believe that if parenting wasn’t easy, then I wasn’t good at it. That if I was struggling and if I needed help, that meant that I wasn’t really cut out for this, that I wasn’t the best mother for my child.

It’s taken me a while to realize that those two things are not the same. Parenting is hard. Raising a child is hard in every possible way, even if you’re good at it. I don’t think enough mothers say that out loud. I certainly didn’t know it before becoming one. It is amazingly rewarding and I wouldn’t go back and undo our decision to have a child for anything in the world, but I would go back and tell myself to not expect it to be simple. To expect there to be bumps in the road, in fact, I would warn myself that somedays there aren’t any flat parts at all.

And I would tell myself that that’s okay. That it doesn’t have to be easy. That you don’t have to pretend like it is, there’s no street cred to lose here. I would tell myself that it is okay to ask for help, that it’s not a sign of weakness, and that taking that help when it is offered is more a sign of strength than anything else because acknowledging your limitations is one of the toughest skills to master.

I struggle daily with my abilities as a parent, with feeling successful and like I’m doing right by my baby, but I am gradually getting better at realizing that ease of parenting doesn’t mean successful parenting. That some of the biggest successes have been the most difficult experiences. And that if my child is well, if he is happy, then I have succeeded as a mother.

And my biggest parenting goal is that from now on, that is the only score I’m going to try to keep.

fam pic 22-2

16 Responses to “My Parenting Reality”

  • You are amazing and wonderful for your honesty. I just know that someone else who actually has a child and not just an obnoxious resin sheep is going to read this and have their sanity (if not their life) saved by your bravery.

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    Katie Reply:

    @Eustice The Sheep, Thanks. xo

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  • It really IS so hard, and there is no way you can understand how hard it is until you’re in the proverbial trenches. I think it also might be particularly hard for you because, damn girl, I mean this in the most complimentary way, but you are an overachiever of the highest order. Which is a truly wonderful, amazing quality to have 99% of the time. But it also means that you put so much pressure on yourself to be, not just good, but EXCELLENT, at everything you attempt. And parenting is just one of those nebulous gray areas where you get no real definitive feedback and you basically just flounder for a long time until you start to find your feet.

    It does get easier. It really does. And when Eli is old enough to communicate his needs/wants with you, it’ll help you feel a lot more on solid ground with what you’re doing.

    And in about, oh, probably less than 2 years, when you get your first unsolicited “I love you, Mama”? Yeah. You’ll know then just how much ass you’re kicking at this whole motherhood thing.

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    Katie Reply:

    @cindy w, Who ME? An overachiever? I know not of what you speak.

    I look forward to the easier days. And the I love yous. And really any day that my child isn’t sick and miserable, if we’re being honest.

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  • Tia:

    Being a mom is absolutely 100% the hardest thing I have ever done. We’re dealing with some serious health issues in our 4.5 month old, and we cry daily over the stress, exhaustion, and general sadness over not being able to make our baby instantly better. Interestingly, the people that have been most on our side volunteering to watch the baby so we can sleep or have a break are fellow parents of young kids. I think as a group we all know it is HARD and we have to support each other. No one prepares you for how hard it is going to be.

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    Katie Reply:

    @Tia, Ugh, that is unbelievably hard and I’m so glad that you’re getting that support. If you need to talk it out, feel free to email. xo

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  • I agree with everyone else that has commented before.

    Look at it this way, as a Ph.D holder, you are used to being one of the the ‘expert’ 1.1%, so to not be an expert on something is rough. I so get that, because I feel like I fail daily at helping my son navigate the real world.

    I feel like I failed because I didn’t push the doctors when they disagreed with my assertion that there was something going on, that I didn’t spend a lot of money out of pocket for social skills therapies and that at 16, he’s still a long way from being able to live independently. Then the rest of the world looks at us and thinks we’re doing great, that he’s where he is because we did push.

    The hard part admitting that sometimes, you’re not the expert, you are having a problem and most importantly, that you need some help. That you are sharing this, my word, you are helping not only yourself, but any other woman who is also beating herself up about all this stuff and finds that you also struggled. It’s likely that because you spoke, others won’t be so hard on themselves.

    That doesn’t help you now, but I’m pretty sure that you will look back on this and realize how much that silence was crushing you. To Eli, you will be supermom, even if you mismatch his socks, or feed him jarred baby food, or put his onesie on inside out, then bring him to daycare dressed that way. (Or mistake a fruit sticker for something else, like Amy http://www.amalah.com/amalah/2008/08/bait-tackle.html#.ULhdf4XaiiY) Go read it, you need a glimpse of the future.

    If I wasn’t on the wrong coast, I would head over to bring you sweets and wine and help you out with that adorable child. You’ve earned it. <3

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  • Editdebs:

    I always say that parenting is the hardest job I’ve ever done and the only one I fail at every day. But I also know my son is happy, pretty well adjusted, and he knows that he is loved beyond measure. He’s 17 now, and though it is sooooo much easier than the first 2 years, there are always challenges, which can make me feel overwhelmed.

    During my first few years of parenthood, I had a friend (who has a masters in social work/counseling) who kept telling me that parents need to be “just good enough.” Being a perfect parent wasn’t really what kids need, they need parents who try hard to be good parents. Perfection doesn’t help a child develop they way they need to. I clung to that for many years.

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  • Nellie:

    Can I tell you, I feel like I wrote this and even though my hard parts are not all similar to yours, they are all felt the same way. Love, love, love this post and your heartfelt goodness. I’ve always had that “life is wonderful,” “everything will work out perfectly because I’m always in control” attitude but once my daughter came into the world, those fairytale dreams of motherhood being blissfully perfect and wonderful couldn’t have run out the door any faster than I could catch up to it and whack it with a stick!

    My daughter is 5 years old now and there are days and will be for the rest of my life that I feel like I’ve failed her as a mom, that I am not good at being a mom, that I can’t seem to have it easy as a mom. None of that matters at the end of the day when I am kneeling next to my daughter’s bed watching her sleep.

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  • Have I told you yet that we’re like alter coast twins? My Eli(jah) has bronchiolitis and was hospitalized this week and it was the scariest 36 hours. After we got through the crisis part, I totally broke down and decompensated and cried on the kitchen floor about having to give nebulizer treatments to my baby. I completely blame myself for ignoring his wheezing over the weekend, and for him getting so bad he had to be hospitalized. I judge every parenting choice I make, comparing it to my intentions, and I see my choices as failures, as I can never live up to being the mother I had intended to be.

    All the same, I know in my heart there are very few actual “wrong” things to do, and that jarred baby food wont be my children’s downfall any more than not having the “right” kind of developmental stimulation. our kids will all figure out walking and talking and they’ll love us anyway.

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    Katie Reply:

    @Mrs.Apron, OH NO. I’m so sorry your Eli is sick too, how very scary that must be. If it makes you feel any better, ignoring his wheezing is unlikely what resulted in him being hospitalized. My Eli is wheezing and they’re not treating it and it’s just running its course. I think perhaps it just hits some kids harder than others.

    We need to meet somewhere in the middle of our two coasts, I think we would get along fabulously. Big hugs to you.

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  • purplebreath:

    I kinda want to shake you. I know from experience that no one believes how hard it is until they do it (we all think, pshaw, I’ll be different) but you SAW it. Girl, how much time did you spend with me and my babies?
    The reality is, your life is being re-written. Growth IS painful, but I think you’re working too hard at it. Nobody’s going to grade your work here. Don’t you know that if you were deficient in any way that we would swoop in? We’ve got your back. Stop making yourself crazy!

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  • Susan:

    Yes, parenting is hard, mothering is hard, and when I had my first baby, the best advice I was given was, “Having a baby is like being in a war. You just need to survive.” And it’s true. And four years later, it hasn’t gotten any easier. Life is hard, and having children makes it exponentially harder.

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  • Love this post and your poetic frankness. Thanks!

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  • Wendy Wainwright:

    I have a five week old baby. I had really incredibly low expectations of myself and parenting…I taught, I have a masters degree in child and adolescent literacy, so it wasn’t for lack f experience. I am 38 and have always suffered from anxiety, insomnia, and depression…and I was terrified of how much harder these issues would make being a parent. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to deal with waking up in the middle of the night and not be able to deal without enough sleep…or that i wouldn’t wake up in the middle of the night because of my medications for insomnia. And here we are, five weeks in, and so far it is actually much better than i expected. It isn’t easy at all but I do hear the baby and wake up, etc. I was so terrified of being horrible that I haven’t gotten around yet to worrying about decent not being good enough but i expect it will kick in at some point. It helps that i like having a baby infinitely more than I ever expected to.

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  • I love this post! It’s exactly how I felt myself…the only thing I wanted to say is that (for me at least) it does get better! I have an 18-month-old and I swear the first 6 months of his life I was barely surviving. Little by little though, he gets a little less dependent on me for his basic needs, I have a little more time and freedom to actually think about what I’m doing, and I enjoy the actual process of motherhood a little more. Getting older comes with its own set of challenges, it’s true, but for me, it has become more rewarding and a lot less stressful. I wish the two of you so much luck!

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Welcome!
I'm Katie, a 30-year-old, wife, mom, former teacher-turned PT, who also had brain surgery in November of 2007. This blog chronicles my daily life, from mundane to crazy, often with far too much detail. Sit down, get comfortable and stay for a while.
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