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Posted on 2 Sep, 2013 | 12 comments

Parenting is VERY hard, people!

Nothing prepares you for how hard parenting actually is. The grinding, non-stopness of it all, being faced with yourself, challenged with things you find difficult, constantly bombarded with incidents that would be totally shocking in any other circumstance – and all with too little sleep and not enough time to balance yourself again between hits.bla

I mean who is actually ever prepared to be kicked, pinched, pulled, hung on, climbed all over, vomited, peed and poo’d on, dragged away from their food repeatedly, dragged out of sleep most nights, shouted at, insulted, not listened to…

Army detention camps have NOTHING on being a parent – and the victims in this case are not even protected by any human rights acts.

Nothing can prepare you for it.

Well, maybe military training…

Recently I spoke to a wonderful couple who have been parents now for almost a year. They are totally shell-shocked. Sleep deprived – “He’s almost a YEAR! Surely this should have stopped by now?”-  in physical pain from hauling around a hefty infant, desperate for normal adult conversation or some time to exercise or meditate, trying to still run a business and treat each other like allies instead of mortal enemies in the face of this onslaught.

“What happened to the dream? We love each other, we got married, we had a beautiful baby, it’s our SON… why does it all feel so bad? Are we awful? Is something profoundly flawed about us? What are we doing wrong?”

They’re doing a lot right by the sounds of it – but nothing can prepare you.

Another woman tells me bitterly how no-one shared with her just how hard looking after a new-born was. “I’m an educated, intelligent woman” she tells me, “I thought, how hard could it be?” Then her baby came. “I had all these things planned to do during maternity leave.  All that free time. I was going to organise my cupboards, make the wedding album finally… but I was too tired – and I’d done nothing all day. I felt like a total failure because everyone else seemed to manage just fine. It was only when I was brave enough to ask my friends that they told me how hard they had also found it. I spent months thinking I was useless. Why didn’t they say anything?”

It’s hard to prepare someone for the constant mindless focus on a being who doesn’t answer back, nappy changes, sleep, wake, carry, rock, feed, feed again, and again… What do they hear when they are happily pregnant and you  explain to them that at the end of their day they’ll be covered in all manner of bodily fluids, not have had a chance to eat properly, rest, catch up on sleep, have adult company, go to the toilet properly, their shoulders and neck will probably feel like they’re about to break and then they’ll crawl into bed for snatches of broken, scratchy sleep before starting again.

And I haven’t even gotten STARTED on parenting 4-year olds or teenagers!

I could be sold as a contraceptive couldn’t I?

Parenting is REALLY hard.

Parents, four things:

1)      Be very, VERY kind to yourselves. What you are doing is what soldiers are trained for in case they get caught by the enemy. You are probably doing better than you think.

2)      Remember to look after yourself. If you are not ok your children won’t be either. In a strange way you must come first. It’s not selfish to take time to exercise, eat a proper meal, meditate or get someone to take over for a while so you can sleep or read a novel – it’s vital for the whole family unit that you do so.

3)      When you feel very emotional or overwhelmed, (if you remember to) pause and ask yourself, “How old do I feel right now?” Then once you’ve identified your emotional age at that moment ask yourself, “What does my four / six / thirteen year old self need right now?” Then please, PLEASE honour and act somehow on the answer you get. Your child will agree with me when I tell you;

YOU ARE VERY PRECIOUS – TREAT YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY.

4)      Be kind to your fellow parents. Do your best not to judge them and as often as possible remind them that they are precious, important people in the world and should treat themselves accordingly.hands

Thank you for your hard work.

12 Comments

  1. Hi Eliat – thank you for a wonderful resource and for the opportunity to share and learn from other parents who are doing such wonderful work. I was recently so bemused and entertained by an experience of difficult parenting that once I had a moment to reflect, I put pen to paper and recorded the events. I share it below in the hope that it helps other parents feel less alone in the challenges that we all face and that it might even coax a smile out of one or two tired faces…

    My daughter is two years and two months old today, a double whammy of terrible two’s should thus be expected and boy is that promise certainly delivered upon. Granted, she had a busy day and has missed that that all important afternoon nap – and here endeth the lesson! I know that when I am somewhat sleep deprived (I state I seem to find myself in constantly these days) I could most certainly see myself running kicking and screaming into the night, flailing my arms like a mad man and lashing out at anyone who got in my way. Kicking, screaming and flailing, I give you my daughter…

    So she is riding an ice-cream fueled sugar high and, as mentioned, is one afternoon nap short of a pleasant little girl, thus I thought that perhaps a bite to eat might not be a bad idea to slowly begin to wind down the busy day. I dutifully prepared a lovely dinner for my angel, arranging her favorite purple spoon and purple fork neatly next to her purple plate, her purple cup was filled with just the right amount of water ready for a gulp and a hand wash (don’t ask). I had grated just the right amount of cheese and sprinkled it liberally on the bolognaise sauce (neither of which were purple – although it may yet become a prerequisite if other demands are anything to go by). I make sure that the broccoli is cut to the right dimensions and that the carrots are drenched in just the prefect coating of butter. The pasta has rested and is now to her required standard at just above room temperature, tomatoes have been sliced and I have even cut bite-sized portions of strawberries in readiness, soon to be glazed in “Winnie the Pooh” yoghurt and these rest on the dessert trolley (bread board – its all smoke and mirrors). A comfy highchair and this wonderful spread awaits the princess.

    All that is required is a gentle coaxing away from her nanny, who is busy being fleeced in my 2 year-old’s retail store. The store is a very accurate reflection of a proper retail outlet and is complete with till, scanner, a wide variety of products that fail to deliver the emotional high promised at the time of purchase and of course all is run by an unscrupulous shop-keeper. The boss never gives you the right amount of change and rarely hands you what you thought you had paid for. I believe it to be important that she grows up with a firm grasp of reality –although her commitment to profit at all costs is somewhat concerning given her tender years.

    Needless to say the transfer from the high street to the high chair doesn’t go as well as I would have hoped, and this is where I am yet again reminded of Eilat’s mantra that “parenting is VERY hard, people! That is putting it mildly – parenting skill 452, subsection b. “Under-exaggerating and playing things down in order to preserve one’s sanity” – VERY, even capitalized doesn’t begin to do justice to just how tough it can be!

    I have now picked up an unwilling two year old and before I’ve even got to the kitchen door I am on the receiving end of some short sharp jabs and the occasional upper cut that would make Ali proud. Not only is my daughter capable of delivering that knockout punch, she has also mastered the flat hand slap to distribute some sting amongst the bruising. Like many two year old girls she holds in her arsenal the ultimate weapon of maximum tantrum, – scratching! I reverently and fearfully refer to this tactic as “the claw de tantrum”. Clad her in a lycra suit emblazoned with a bedazzled inscription of her pseudonym “Venom” on her back, strap on a pair of knee high boots, mask her up and chuck her into the ring and you have yourselves a real title contender – and she will compete successfully way above her weight division! Place your bets, we have ourselves a dead cert.

    The lashing out is of course twinned with screaming and a volley of “no, no, no” and as a parent you are left completely bemused as to how things went from “time for yummy supper” to WWIII – the lack of logic being displayed is astounding and can be matched only by politicians in the national assembly. She is hungry, there is food – beautifully prepared food I might add – but the objection being raised seems to suggest that I am about to plunge her head first into a furnace rather than offer her something to eat. As the frenzy is now being whipped up into something that may cause alarm amongst even the most hardened parents it is about this time that I decide that the recently aquired calming technique of “timeout” is required. The “timeout” is an opportunity for the child to express whatever he or she needs to express in a safe and controlled environment, ridding themselves of the frustration, anger, annoyance and whatever else might be bubbling up inside them (or in this case exploding out like an erupting volcano!). They can let it all out by doing what they need to do, scream, shout, kick a ball, punch a pillow, squeeze a teddy until the stuffing all pops out of its eyes, but firmly taking dad out of the firing line. That is the theory at least. The theory also suggests that that for every year of a child’s age, in this case 2, the equal number of minutes should be allocated as the period of time required to cool down in her room or another safe space.

    I have chosen her room as it is home to a lot of pillows and cuddly toys that I can put between myself and the “Venom”. By this point “Venom” is spitting mad. I place her down on the floor which is not that difficult as she is now employing the “washer board” arms-in-the-air, legs trashing “I shall not be carried” technique that she introduces regularly throughout the early stages of the bout. All the while I continue to ply her with calming words and assure her that all is well with the world. “Bollocks is all ok” would be the direct translation of her toddler scream at this point, followed by a salvo interpreted as “I am hungry and tired and you offered me food, and by default a suggestion of a warm bubble bath and imminent bedtime in a comfortable bed – are you off your head man? Come here, no go away, no come here now, um go, no here now now now, I want to scratch your eyes out and use them as marbles”. Needless to say the “timeout” serves to exacerbate the screaming, and Ali has stopped floating like a butterfly and is now simply rooted to the spot and stinging like a bee at anything and everything in her surrounds – all her attackers are imaginary of course.

    After a long stretch of shadow-boxing and window-shattering screaming, the now severely wounded vocal chords are less in use and she wanders over to see what I am reading about in her book. I have given up on suggesting that all is well with the world, as it has been made perfectly clear that all is not well in her world. A few token slaps to the knee are dispatched just to remind me that she had a point all along, and that I had no business trying to keep her fed. In no time at all, butter wouldn’t melt in that mouth that not two minutes ago belonged to Icarus and was less melting and more vaporizing anything in screaming/spitting distance. She is now leaning on my legs, swaying her bottom in the air and chatting away to her storybook – I give you the honorable minister of toddlers! We look for, and find Mr. Plod (any character amongst the picture pages in a blue hat) time and time again in her book, and once we are sure Mr. Plod is there, I am taken by my hand to the lounge where dinner is requested and devoured. It is a much simpler affair now, a very uninspiring bowl of spaghetti blanketed in butter and the serving of neatly sliced strawberry. No more, no less, and there is no way I am offering her anything else that might produce a slight state of uncertainty. We all know what happens once uncertainty sets in.

    Bath time is pleasant and brief and we are soon both wrapped up warm and snug in her bed reading books and drinking tea. No sooner is the light off than does the gentle purr of a very tired little girl’s snore send me off to a heaven on earth.

    Another day of parenting is behind me. As with the days that have gone before, many more questions have been unearthed than answers found. I am more confused, slightly more terrified of what tomorrow might bring, definitely more bruised and scratched and ever so slightly more deaf. Above all though, I lie there in the glow of the nightlight acutely aware of the privilege and responsibility that I have been given to help guide this little person from one day to the next. No real clue as to how I am to guide her though, all in readiness to be blasted for walking using my feet, for calling a rice cake “a cookie” and for breathing, but all in thrilling readiness. It is so great to be a dad.

    • Wow!! Never mind coaxing a smile you had me giggling right the way through. What a delight to read this and HOW I can relate. I could picture my little one during the whole hilarious and exhausting adventure. And I’m awed by your conclusion. Your princess is truly blessed to have such a loyal and doting man-servant on hand (and foot).

      By the way, there is a truly excellent book by Aletha Solter called ‘Tears and Tantrums’ that I think every parent should read. It may explain the calm that followed the storm. Check it out and let me know.

      Thanks for your comment. I love it and I’m going to share it on the FB page now!
      I feel like someone just told me the kind of joke that gets you in the gut it’s so true and so funny. That would be parenting I suppose right?

      • My great aunt said that when they are so small you want to eat them. She also says by the time they are 21 you’ll wish you had! Thanks for sharing!

        • Ha! That’s hilarious. It surprised a laugh out of me. Thanks for this. Always happy for a laugh.

  2. When I decided to have children I thought it was going to be a breeze as I had help raise a sibling’s children, boy was I in for a surprise. Yes many many sleepless nights, colic, teething, seperation anxiety and all the bad stuff that you want to pile on top of it. I felt totally inadequate and I couldn’t understand why? I was the one people came to for advise, I was the one who always knew what to do?

    The truth is I believe my children are here to teach me, hoping not to sound too clechè, my children are here to teach me about myself. Don’t get me wrong that doesn’t mean that I should identify with them but using them as a mirror sometimes help. Looking at my little baby son crying and knowing that, thats was how I was feeling inside too because initially parenting was so overwhelming, or seeing my teen son pause when he takes on a new challenge reminds me of myself too.

    What I’ve learnt from having my children is to go beyond myself by parenting because I choose to, not because I have to. This was highlighted to me by a very wise mentor, when she asked me, if what did for my family was out of duty or because of my love for them. When I chose to do my parenting out of love it started to make the task easier.

    My children don’t only humble me and demand that I am present with them, which I can assure you does not come easily but they aid in bringing to light the inner resourses of strength and courage I never knew existed within me.

    So yes, parenting is hard and I think this blog is about highlighting that although we are professionals, the bottom line is we are human. Children point out our imperfections and inadequacies and I believe this space allows me to publically says that you know what, I’m struggling too. I feel affirmed by the author and members that I’m not alone and thats its okay too feel that way sometimes and that it doesn’t make me a bad parent, just a human. At the same time I am being gently reminded of taking care of myself in the process, which is great.

    Striving for individuality often makes us believe that we need to do it all on our own but the truth is, asking for help does allow us to relieve some of that pressure of striving to be the perfect parent and allows us to be more of a present parent.

    • Wow thank you so much for this comment. I’m so glad you shared this. The reason I started this blog is to allow parents to focus on the enlightement children offer – just as you so clearly and heartfully say. Parenting out of love instead of out of duty – and more so, to parent your children out of love for YOURSELF… Imagine that.

  3. Depressed, sad – always the same things. This is one of the many articles that makes people like me (30 some things) think that it’s not worth having kids at this stage. I don’t know if it was supposed to inspire, or re-enforce that parents don’t really have lives for 5-10 years? Makes me think that only the rich (or rich parents) born after the 80’s won’t be able to have kids.

    • Stefan I’m SO glad for your comment. Thank you so much for taking the time to write. I think its vital for us all that you did so.

      What you say and your sadness touches me. It’s not true that you don’t have a life after kids but it is true that your life changes profoundly and those changes can be startling. Many parents are walking around feeling hard-done by. For example this post had a HUGE reading because people passed it around. They found it validating. But if you aren’t a parent yet then hearing all that can be very depressing.

      It’s also interesting to me you had this response because I just wrote a post asking what CAN one tell new or non-parents about the nitty-gritty experience of it all. The woman in this post was hurt no-one told her the truth of it but I know another who is irritated that people keep warning her how hard it is.

      That feeling of why would anyone do this to themselves is exactly why I’m writing this blog. You don’t need money to be able to parent, stay sane and benefit from it. I think there is a BIG personal upside to taking on the experience of parenting. It is one of the most enriching, inspiring, growth-inducing, enlightening, challenging and heart-opening experiences available to us as humans on this planet. If you signed up for a course that promised you all that, would you expect it to be easy?

      My full answer to you is too complex to write here so I will answer you more fully in my next post (or the one after if time is limited).

      I hope you read it and I thank you again deeply for speaking out.

      • Hi Eilat! Thanks for your reply. I think that stuck me about that article that is was really just telling us all the bad, there wasn’t one positive note or positive comment from the parents. This is something parents love to do amongst each other, and then share it with prospective parents as the most important wisdom ever! From the other side of the baby wall, your commiserations about all pain and hassle of having a child is not taken lightly. It’s like when people brag about how tough special forces training was, they don’t tell you about any of the nice things – but hey, we are talking about children here – and for our generation (born at the beginning of the 80’s from middle-class families) who are on very shaky ground in terms of our future, these articles are deeply touching, and to an extent de-motivating – we all now believe that having children is going to be incredibly hard, so hard, that many of us are taking more and more time to not have children – and as you know, biologically we really should be having our kids earlier not later. The way this is being passed around as you said just enforces this view – the people that passed it were parents sharing it with everyone on their wall – kids and prospective parents.

        • That’s a valid point and I’ll keep it in mind. There is a context to the ‘negative’ articles that have been going viral lately and that is that society mostly only condones saying ‘nice’ things about the children and about parenting. The stuff that is hard has been reserved for tearful, ashamed, guilt-ridden confessions in a closed space. This new permission to speak out about the difficulties is such a huge relief for parents and those articles offer a freedom as important as oxygen. You are in a different more vulnerable position of having to make the decision to have or not have children so you pick up on the negatives and they bring fear. I thought very long and hard before chosing to have kids. People who are on the other side of that decision have already decided it is worth it for them. They want the experience and they already know all the many rich joys that come with children. MANY. But boy is it a relief to be able to say its not all sunshine and roses. So read my post – in two Mondays time – and let me know what you think.

  4. Hi Eilat,

    When a child falls asleep it is a sign of God’s grace.

    Looking back over the years when our children were small, I realise that the support of family, but more importantly, my friends were of incredible value. We understood the challenges of being tired, coping with small children and how adult company made the difference in each others lives.

    Many parents with young children do not have the support structures that I had, and if the younger parents are willing to ask, I am sure that the older parents would be willing to help out.

    Asking for help while you get some much needed sleep or a haircut or do shopping is a wise thing to do. If someone offers to help, have a list ready. No shame in asking someone to cook a meal, or do your laundry or dishes.

    Taking care of children is a full time job and the investment of time and energy goes on for a lifetime. It changes as the kids get older, and is always worth the effort.

    • Gretha thank you so much for your comment. It’s reassuring to hear from someone who has already survived the earlier days and teenage days. Parents do need to form supportive communities like you suggest. After all they say it takes a village to raise a child – maybe that’s for the sake of the parents…

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