The Most Common Mistake that Parents Make

Bambinos: To Have or To Have Not

When I was in my late twenties and early thirties, there was a particular conversation that would always leave me feeling really, really frustrated. The conversation was about whether or not I was interested in having or adopting children. Not an inherently maddening subject; in fact, I’m thankful that it was a question that was being asked of me instead of assuming that I’d dive headfirst into motherhood just because I was equipped with a uterus. It was a genuine question, and like all questions, fun to ponder. For me, the pondering lasted about a millisecond.

“You think you’ll ever have kids?”

“No.”

Since the kid-question usually came from the child-bound folks in my life, the conversation would then morph into what it’s like to have kids; again, not an inherently maddening topic – potentially a hilarious one. Yet, inevitably, mid-conversation, a false accusation would arrive out of nowhere and leave me feeling peeved.

“You don’t understand because you don’t have children.”

The statement was delivered as if the childless layperson couldn’t grasp the reality of parenthood with their inexperienced, child-free, peabrain. Yet…for anyone who has spent time with a child, it’s not hard to imagine what it’s like living with one. Just like you’d intuitively get the hell away from the long, finned shadow in the water even if you’ve never seen a shark, you can tell that having a child is a lot of work simply by watching one on the monkey bars. An extra double full-time job. No holidays, no sick days, no extra pay for staying late, no nothin’ but a bundle of boogery sweetness that moves faster, talks more, and climbs higher with age.

But let me repeat, just to be annoying. Before I had a child, it was very obvious to me that having children = A TON OF WORK. Gratifying work, sure. But exhausting work.

I mean, duh.

Having a two year old is kind of like having a blender, but you don't have top for it. - Jerry Seinfeld
Having a two year old is kind of like having a blender, but you don’t have top for it. – Jerry Seinfeld

Anyway, fast forward a bunch of years, and here I am with a fat and funny two year old. Though I had imagined myself remaining child-free, voila! One day I had a strong sense that I should go to the Dollar Tree and get a pregnancy test (yes, they work, even from the Dollar Tree) and true to the tiny voice that had guided me to the store that morning, the test was positive. My partner and I had a very brief, super intense huddle. Though we were both freaked out and whimpering, we were ultimately excited about this turn of events and decided that it was okay. Now we have a two year old daughter who is adventurous, playful, and whom even uses irony in her day to day joke-making!

…And who leaves me collapsing into bed every night at 9:30 pm. I used to READ BOOKS until two in the morning.

And guess what? I now know what those parents were trying to say. The thing is, they were saying it wrong. In fact, when I had my daughter, all my assumptions about parenting proved to be correct. Big love? Check. Big worry? Check. Big fun? Check. Big stress? Check. Big exhaustion? Huh, what? Oh, sorry, I fell asleep with my eyes open.

What those parents could have said to me, back then, was this: “Losing your alone-time can be a very difficult adjustment.”

And I think that’s what they were trying to say. What they really wanted was someone to listen to them talk about how hard it is to adjust to parenthood. They wanted someone to understand that losing, in some cases, ALMOST ALL OF YOUR FREE TIME, is like wicked freakin’ hard. They want you to know this simple truth: If you have time to brush your teeth every morning, go to the gym a couple times a week, keep your toenails trimmed, and bake a loaf of banana bread on a whim – well, then your life is not like their life.

That’s it. They are jealous of your free time. But they don’t want to say that because that would be rude. And worse, they wouldn’t want someone to mistakenly think that they are lamenting the fact that they had children….as if EVERY SINGLE PARENT doesn’t occasionally daydream about their child-free, banana-bread-baking, leisurely-book-reading, stroll-taking, sure-I’ll-have-another-one because-I-can-sleep-in-tomorrow past. Because that would be bad.

Except for the simple fact that it would be honest. Healthy. Cathartic. Real.

You know – all those good things.

But here’s the thing, and here’s where I finally stop ranting about word choice and become more compassionate (because if you rant too long without offering practical solutions people start silencing their phones when you call). Having a moment of solitude is how most people rejuvenate. It’s how they unwind. It’s how they heal.  Think about it. If you’re super stressed, what do you do? Go for a run? Get comfortable on the couch and crack open a novel? Meditate? Make cookies? Have a beer and work on the daily crossword puzzle?

There are things that we naturally do to unwind, and most of them involve getting into a somewhat quiet, meditative space. They normally don’t involve someone screaming in your face, puking on your shirt, or lunging for your breast. So, when new parents realize that this meditative, rejuvenating space is now the size of two-lentils holding hands, they kind of freak out. Flossing your teeth becomes your free-time activity. You count the minutes until your child goes down for a nap so you can gobble a slice of turkey from the fridge and do 4 loads of laundry that all, literally, smell like crap.

And when you finally get out of the house to catch up with your best friend for dinner, let’s call her GinaBeth, who is child-free, just got back from South Korea, whose toes are cherry apple red and newly pedicured, and who can’t stop raving about all the hot sex she is having with her partner, you say things like “You just don’t understand.”

But wait! That’s not true! GinaBeth can understand. Instead, tell her all about your overgrown toenails, your unchanged oil, your atrophied quadriceps, and your neglected garden. And don’t worry, GinaBeth knows you love your kid. You don’t need to explain to her that even though you only sleep 3 hours a night, your child is a beautiful miracle that’s made you a better person, when actually you’re kinda worse since your fuse is super short from lack of sleep and your breath is bad because of lack of flossing. If you’re honest, GinaBeth will likely hear you and give you an extra hand since she is your best friend.

Which is the point of this post. Be honest, parents. The culture we live in simply isn’t designed to properly help new parents, especially new moms. So swallow your ego and give it a shot: ask for help. Because that temple you live is equally important to that baby’s temple, even though it’s not nearly as cute.

And though this blog is titled”The Most Common Mistake that Parents Make”, I just called it that so people would read it. SEO stuff. Just know that I wanted to call it “Parents, You are Strong and Brave and Good and Let Me Take that Baby From You So You Can Nap or Trim Your Toenails or Do Whatever The Heck You Want For the Next Hour, Ok, Good, Now Get Out of Here.”