Parenthood is hard, can we just say it?
“I honestly did not expect that becoming a mother would be this hard”. That is a sentence I hear on a regular basis, between closed doors, when people know they will not be judged. I wish more public discussion could happen around this topic. Not just the regular “oh yeah it will disrupt your sleep”, “you won’t have a lot of flexibility in your life”, “the lack of spontaneity is hard”. No! I am talking about the REAL talk, the one where parents can genuinely share that they wanted to scream in a pillow, that they cried many times, yelled at their toddlers, experienced feelings of anger, sometimes regrets, because parenthood is hard sometimes. The same talk where parents can share loving their children but also hating this parenting role because of the mental overload, the societal pressure, and the many many many sacrifices.
Why is this truth still a sensitive subject, why do parents still feel ashamed complaining, why is society maintaining this belief that everything is going to be fine, and that it is a wonderful experience? Because frankly, it’s not that beautiful everyday, especially the first years, it’s actually more challenging than rewarding in my opinion. Generally speaking, having children is extremely hard, it pushes all your limits, triggers your deeper wounds and insecurities, as well as your own attachment history.
Obviously everyone will have a different experience, I am not generalizing. Some families will not experience as much stress, based on the personality of the child, the amount of support and help the family has, the level of tolerance that the parents have, as well as other environmental factors. I just wish that more parents who are struggling could share without the fear of being judged.
Society creates this judgmental environment that puts a lot of pressure on parents, in particular on their parenting styles. “If you get reactive with your child, they won’t learn proper tools to regulate their own emotions, so stay calm”. Technically it’s true, absolutely great advice, but how easy is that to say when you, yourself were probably not taught good emotion regulation techniques as a child? Picture this scenario for a second: you are in the middle of household chores, your phone is ringing reminding you of this time sensitive email you need to send, you turn around and your toddler is drawing on the walls. At this particular moment you are supposed to stay calm, collect your thoughts, gently explain that this is not something your child can do, and offer another option for the kid. Because most of us won’t be able to do that in stressful moments, not only we feel guilty for not staying calm with our child, but now we also feel the shame of being a bad parent (according to society), exacerbated by our own insecurities and self-criticism of course.
In my practice, parents don’t share this right away. They talk about their emotional fatigue, the tension between the couple, their disagreements as parents, the distribution of responsibilities in the house, until I ask “how do you like your role as a parent”, and then, very quickly we realize that a lot of things are intertwined. Let me emphasize something though, I am not questioning the parent's love for their child, I am also not saying that this is the child's fault if things are getting sour at home, I am just distinguishing between loving your child and loving your role as a parent. Especially the role that this society has defined: exceeding all expectations, perfecting parenting skills, while creating this perfect image of a perfect family so that you can post that on social media.
And you? How do you feel about your role as a parent? Are you afraid of being judged? Do you have the support system to talk about your experience?