I am almost six months into parenting. Even though I am still in the beginning months of this new era called Parenthood, I have already learned a lot. When my husband and I were preparing to have kids, and when I finally got pregnant, we were told countless times to take advantage of sleep while we could, enjoy our babies while they were young because they grow so fast, and to make time to keep dating each other after kids. All true, yes, but all typical things everyone says. There has been so much that we weren’t quite prepared for, things no one was talking about.
I don’t think anyone goes into parenthood expecting things to be easy. It’s pretty much a given that things are about to get tough in a lot of ways. And I doubt that anyone expects joy 100% of the time while raising children. I’m willing to bet that all of the future parents know at least a little bit of what they’re getting themselves into. We know that babies require a lot of attention (understatement of the century?), that selflessness is essential in ways it has never been before, and that there will inevitably be moments when parenting is really not that joyful. These are all the things everyone knows when entering the journey, but there is a problem with this. This is really almost all we hear. There is so much more that we aren’t prepared for, and even though we know our lives are about to change, we can’t know all the ways in which this is about to happen. But why aren’t other parents talking about these other things? Maybe I am an exception, and I somehow missed the memo containing all the tough parts of parenthood, but I still sometimes feel overwhelmed and unprepared.
In this day and age, we are constantly bombarded with snippets of others’ lives through social media. We see the perfect families with their clean homes, real food meal preparation, dream careers, efficient cars, and well-behaved, beautiful, smart children. It’s easy to get discouraged by thinking that we are somehow falling behind everyone else because we don’t have our lives as together as they do. But what we must remember is that what we see on social media are the snippets of life these people are choosing to share. And, really, who shares the icky parts?
I am absolutely guilty of this. I am ashamed of the ways in which I don’t have it together, or I am embarrassed, or I simply don’t want to be a Debbie Downer. Whatever my motives have been for sharing only the good parts, I have managed to make my family look almost perfect online. However, this is not even close to reality. There are more hard parts than I could imagine, and I have learned some huge lessons that I didn’t expect to learn.
1. Moms are generally an overly judgmental group and that makes being a mom even harder.
I have never felt more watched and more judged than I do now.
Feeding my daughter is the hardest thing I have ever done. I chose to breastfeed, but she still gets formula. Sometimes I don’t have enough milk for her, and sometimes I just really don’t want her on me at that moment so my husband feeds her a bottle of formula. Some moms believe this is the worst thing in the world; breast is best! Other moms’ babies don’t get any breast milk ever. No matter how my baby is getting fed, there’s always someone there to say that what I am doing is wrong.
I personally choose not to let my daughter “cry it out.” I can’t emotionally handle letting my daughter cry while I do nothing about it, and I have heard countless times that this will only cause her to be spoiled, that it’s not okay to always pick up my baby when she cries. I disagree. However, other moms choose to let their babies cry it out and that’s what works for them. These moms also receive unbelievable amounts of criticism. Whatever we do, it’s a lose-lose!
When someone parents differently than me, it’s not better or worse, just different. There will always be someone to point out our flaws. Social media feels like a constant game of Who’s the Best Parent Today, and the constant criticism can easily become overwhelming.
2. I’m not as good at taking care of myself as I thought I was.
Self-care has always been important to me because I have struggled on and off with depression for several years. I can recognize my triggers (change is a big one!), and I have learned how to care for myself in these seasons. However, everything is different now, and so is the way I need to self-care.
I am absolutely crazy in love with my daughter and I am so thankful that I don’t have to work and I can spend my time with my growing girl, but a large part of my identity has always been placed in the work I do, and not having a job is hard. Yes, of course raising a baby is hard work, but it’s not the same as having a job. I am not leading. My responsibilities are mundane. I don’t have daily adult interaction. I am lonely. My closest friends and family don’t live in this city, so I spend the majority of my time at home, and my face is the one my daughter sees all day, everyday.
This has taken a toll on me emotionally and mentally. I am irritable 80% of the time. I have lost the desire to do the things that I love. I don’t shower everyday, even though I have opportunities to do so. I am thankful for my body, but I don’t love the way it looks, and I don’t do enough to fix this. I have found that cancelled plans with friends have been discouraging enough that I have stopped reaching out to others, and accepted that my days will be Charlotte and me.
The reality is, I still don’t really know how to be this new version of myself. I am now my last priority and I don’t know how to change that. I have learned that postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety are real, but that experiencing these struggles doesn’t make me a bad mom. I know that I am a great mom, even though I don’t love every second of it. I have countless moments of admiration and love, and I can’t get enough of my daughter, but I also have moments when I want to be selfish and worry only about myself. When I don’t want to feed another person every two hours, especially with my own body. And when I want to spend my day completely alone without being bothered. And this is all okay. I still love my daughter well. I shouldn’t be expected to only have the best things to say about being a parent 100% of the time.
3. Marriage is freaking hard after kids.
Oh man. Can someone please re-teach me how to love my husband well? Because I seem to have lost that skill. I have heard moms say their marriage was even better after having kids, and that children didn’t really strain their marriage, but I have heard this from maybe 3 moms ever. So why isn’t anyone talking about the difficulties of marriage after kids?
I find myself just wanting to sleep after the long day I’ve had with my daughter, and not be bothered with caring for my husband. I still ask him about his day, but I don’t check in with him past anything surface level. I still kiss him and hug him, but other than that I don’t want to be touched. After feeding a baby all day, I don’t want to make him dinner. After cleaning the house, doing laundry, and changing dirty diapers all day, the last thing I want to see is his mess lying around, and I get unreasonably frustrated about it.
My husband and I are learning how to be parents, but we’re also learning a new way to be married. It was so easy in the beginning. We fell in love quickly and married after a year of dating. We had some rough months in the beginning of marriage but never lost sight of who we wanted to be as one. We dreamed of starting a family. But when we did, we started to lose sight of the couple we once were. We don’t play or laugh like we used to. We don’t dance like we once did. We don’t touch, we don’t cuddle, we don’t communicate, we don’t pray. This is not to say that we don’t ever do these things. We do. But not as often as before, and not in the same ways. We’ve been on three dates in the last six months (one of which was our anniversary date), even though we’ve had several offers from friends and family to care for our daughter while we go out.
I spend more time griping at my husband than I do speaking life and encouragement over him. I feel annoyed when he says he’s tired because he sleeps more than I do at night, even though he works long, hard hours in order to provide and care for our family. We purposely say and do things to get under each other’s skin. Sometimes it feels like the arguments are endless. We have accepted that we need wisdom and guidance from others to help us figure out how to do this, because trying to figure it out on our own is just not working. This doesn’t mean we have a bad marriage, it just means we’re not perfect. Knowing where we need to put in work and being committed to it doesn’t make it easy. I think we thought that somehow wanting to be parents so bad would automatically make us good at doing all of it, and that’s a lie.
I don’t need to expand on how great my daughter is, because chances are if you’re reading this you’ve already seen and heard me talk about her often. I will say that even though I have had the best six months of my life, I have also had the hardest. I feel like it’s an unspoken expectation of new parents to share the joys but hide the difficulties, and that’s not okay. I am not okay with plastering photos and posts on social media about all the wonderful moments of motherhood without being transparent about the rest of it. So there it is. There is the some of the rest of it.