I have three boys ages 5 and under. I’m not complaining about that. Well, maybe I am a little bit. But I know that there are people who would give anything for a house full of laughter & chaos. I was that person for years and years; the pain of infertility is stabbing and throbbing and constant. I remember allowing hope to rise and then seeing it crash all around me, month after month, for seven years. I am working on another post about infertility that will come at a later date.
But right now, in my actual life, I have three boys ages five and under. There are many moments where they are utterly delightful, like last week when Isaac told my sister-in-law that “My daddy has hair all over.” Or when Elijah put a green washcloth over his chin and cheeks, and proudly declared, “Daddy! I have a beard just like you!” Or when Ben sneaks downstairs in the morning before the other boys do, smiles at me, and says, “Daddy and Ben time.”
But there are also many moments when I have no idea how I’m going to make it until their bedtime. The constant demands, the needs, and the fighting are fingernails across the chalkboard every single day.
One of my children is for sure going to be the next Steve Jobs. I now have immense empathy for his parents. He has a precise vision of what he wants — exactly that way and no other way. Sometimes it’s the way his plate needs to be centered exactly to his chair, or how his socks go on, or exactly how the picture of the pink dolphin needs to look – with brave eyes, not sad eyes, daddy! He is a laser beam, and he is not satisfied until it’s exactly right.
I have to confess that sometimes the sound of his screaming drives me to hide in the pantry. And I will neither confirm nor deny that while in there, I compulsively eat chips and/or dark chocolate.
There are people who say this to me:
“You should enjoy every moment now! They grow up so fast!”
I usually smile and give some sort of guffaw, but inside, I secretly want to hold those people under water. Just for a minute or so. Just until they panic a little.
If you have friends with small children — especially if your children are now teenagers or if they’re grown – please vow to me right now that you will never say this to them. Not because it’s not true, but because it really, really doesn’t help.
We know it’s true that they grow up too fast. But feeling like I have to enjoy every moment doesn’t feel like a gift, it feels like one more thing that is impossible to do, and right now, that list is way too long. Not every moment is enjoyable as a parent; it wasn’t for you, and it isn’t for me. You just have obviously forgotten. I can forgive you for that. But if you tell me to enjoy every moment one more time, I will need to break up with you.
If you are a parent of small children, you know that there are moments of spectacular delight, and you can’t believe you get to be around these little people. But let me be the one who says the following things out loud:
You are not a terrible parent if you can’t figure out a way for your children to eat as healthy as your friend’s children do. She’s obviously using a bizarre and probably illegal form of hypnotism.
You are not a terrible parent if you yell at your kids sometimes. You have little dictators living in your house. If someone else talked to you like that, they’d be put in prison.
You are not a terrible parent if you can’t figure out how to calmly give them appropriate consequences in real time for every single act of terrorism that they so creatively devise.
You are not a terrible parent if you’d rather be at work.
You are not a terrible parent if you just can’t wait for them to go to bed.
You are not a terrible parent if the sound of their voices sometimes makes you want to drink and never stop.
You’re not a terrible parent.
You’re an actual parent with limits. You cannot do it all. We all need to admit that one of the casualties specific to our information saturated culture is that we have sky-scraper standards for parenting, where we feel like we’re failing horribly if we feed our children chicken nuggets and we let them watch TV in the morning.
One of the reasons we are so exhausted is that we are oversaturated with information about the kind of parents we should be.
So maybe it’s time to stop reading the blogs that tell you how to raise the next President who knows how to read when she’s three and who cooks, not only eats, her vegetables. Maybe it’s time to embrace being the kind of parent who says sorry when you yell. Who models what it’s like to take time for yourself. Who asks God to help you to be a better version of the person that you actually are, not for more strength to be an ideal parent.
So the next time you see your friends with small children with that foggy and desperate look in their eyes, order them a pizza and send it to their house that night. Volunteer to take their kids for a few hours so they can be alone in their own house and have sex when they’re not so tired, for heaven’s sake. Put your hand on their shoulder, look them in the eyes, and tell them that they’re doing a good job. Just don’t freak out if they start weeping uncontrollably. Most of the time, we feel like we’re botching the whole deal and our kids will turn into horrible criminals who hate us and will never want to be around us when they’re older.
You’re bone tired. I’m not sure when it’s going to get better. Today might be a good day or it might be the day that you lost it in a way that surprised even yourself.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
You’re not alone.
(Due to the incredible response from this post, I had to shut down the comments, because I just couldn’t keep up. But I so appreciate the encouragement and love that this post has gotten!)
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P.S. If you liked this post, you have to read my wife’s earlier post, about her own journey with body image after having twins. You can read it here.
P.P.S The post I wrote about infertility is here.
P.P.S. To read my other posts on parenting, click here.