The thing that makes children so very frustrating is that you’re constantly at loggerheads: you need them to do a certain thing or act a particular way, and they just don’t give a flying fuck! Parents are forever devising new and improved ways of compelling the little creatures to do their bidding – from putting socks on, eating the sandwich you made for them, and being polite to Grandma, to brushing their teeth (without having to pin them down and prise their jaws open), wearing a seatbelt, and going to sleep when it is ACTUALLY BEDTIME. You can’t control a child, because they are human beings – fully capable of doing exactly as they please, with none of the restraint or sensibility we tend to exert as adults.
It is this constant struggle that makes parenting immensely wearying. I feel bad about it, the relief I feel when they finally conk out for the night, or when they toddler off to daycare or kinder. I feel like I ought to enjoy them more when they’re around – it’s not like I don’t love them with every fibre of my being, and indeed, I do enjoy them – at times. Snuggles are the best. Those cute moments where they hold up their very artwork are divine. I love watching my gal put on a dancing or gymnastics performance; my little man woos me with his delightful role play and baby-care. But… those are just moments dotted throughout the day, interspersed with things like whining, incessant demands and sibling rivalry.
Bringing up kids is crazy hard. I’ve learned that over the last five years. It’s the kind of thing that gets whispered amongst close friends as we huddle protectively over semi-warm cups of coffee and keep half an eye on our gaggle of kids to make sure no one gets too seriously injured – but it’s not widely advertised. Certainly, it’s not until the kid is at least born that we let new parents in on the big scoop: parenting frequently sucks! It’s miserable! It’s thankless and gruelling! It’s pretty damn lucky for kids that they’re also adorable, because if not for that, the human race would not have got this far. But we try to present a good face to the world, toning down the soul-destroying tumult of life-sucking emotions that flood our beings on the daily, reducing it to cute memes about needing more coffee/wine/a vacation, or spinning those horrifying moments of “what the crap did my child just do?!” into funny status updates.
The older generations tend not to be much help, as far as empathy goes. “We’ve all been through it,” they say dismissively. “Back in MY day, we didn’t have XYZ to help.” No, it becomes increasingly important as you step into the thick of the parenting gig to source out fellow parents with similarly-aged children who can commiserate properly, who can reassure you with their own stories of how they lose their temper and yell at their kids, or lock themselves in the bathroom sometimes to eat a Snickers in peace, or secretly just aren’t enjoying this stage of life too terribly much. These experiences are validating and encouraging. You’re not just over-reacting, your feelings are real and legitimate. This journey is universally difficult.
Words cannot express how grateful I am to have my little gaggle of mum friends, who will happily chill together and be totally real with each other. Having others to help shoulder the burden makes all the difference. Having people to laugh and cry and feel feelings with, all while our children run amok all around us, is joy. I hope that every parent has such a group – or even just a bestie – to do this parenting thing with; I can’t imagine how much harder it would be without that moral support.