Saturday, November 6, 2010

Parenting: Not For the Faint Hearted

Out to dinner with a couple of girlfriends last night, my friend Lisa made a statement so fundamental and yet profound, that I am inspired to write about it and explore it in all its truth and glory. She said, "The hardest part of parenting, the most exhausting part, is the constant, never ending, twenty-four hours a day of standing your ground and backing up your bullshit." Bullshit being whatever principles you hold dear, and whatever values you endeavor to impart on your offspring.

God, isn't that the truth.

Before you have kids, you hear the stories of sleepless nights with colicky babies, of nursing troubles, of tantrums in grocery stores, of playdates gone bad, and of that mysterious but apparently frightening Teenage Stage. You know parenting isn't going to be a cakewalk, but until you are in it, elbow deep in the blood, sweat, and tears of actual parenting, you just don't know how hard it really is.

In all the wisdom experienced parents try to pass along to new parents, nobody talks about the relentlessness of it all. Of the absolute stamina parenting requires. About how one challenging childhood phase evolves into yet another, and that raising your kids is years and years and years of exhausting effort.

The truth is, kids are born at odds with us grownups. It's us against them, from the moment they come squalling into the world, imposing their demands on us while we impose our wills on them. Kids are needy and dependent and willful and determined all at once, and they employ strategies like whining (has ever there been a more tortuous device than whining? seriously.), and tears, and dramatic threats, and wheedling, and optional hearing, and spontaneously lying-down-because-every-muscle-in-their-body-has-turned-to-Jello-because-they-are-not-getting-their-way, and ignoring our advice, and bending our rules, and pushing our buttons, and trying, trying, trying, always trying to see how far they can go. And we the parents are required to stand firm in the face of all this and take the blows as they come without breaking. For years and years.

I mean, we do break from time to time. I know I do. I yell too often. Sometimes I hear myself, from a distance, screaming at my kids, and I am horrified and ashamed. Sometimes I close myself in the bathroom for five minutes and release a deluge of tears and frustration, and emerge, swollen-eyed but resolute, ready to go back into the trenches. Because that's what you have to do, you have to summon up the fortitude to keep going, to keep being the grownup even when you wish someone else would come in and be the bad guy for you so you can just go take a nap for crying out loud. Giving up isn't an option. Surrendering on a large scale can be disastrous.

I don't mean to say that it's not worth it. I love my kids so much that it's often a physical ache I can feel in my core, and I would not trade this gig of motherhood for anything ( . . . okay, sometimes I'd like to trade it - just temporarily - for a trip to Hawaii, or, you know, five minutes of peace and quiet). There are rewards along the way: sloppy kisses, strangle-hold hugs, glimpses of your children showing kindness to others, occasional moments when it feels as though all the stars and planets are aligned exactly right and you and your kids are in perfect harmony for a short while. The big payoff doesn't come until much later, though. Not until they're all grownup themselves. Only then will you get to stand back and know if all your hard work - your stamina and exhaustion - paid off in the form of a happy, well-adjusted, productive adult who doesn't hate his or her parents.

It ain't easy. And it's a long row to hoe.


diane rene said...

you tell it, sister!
so true, so so true

mbasa said...

Parenting is a lifelong journey but very rewarding at the end. Good post on parenting...keep it up