This Is Why I Don’t Sugarcoat How Stressful Parenting Is
I love being a mom. It gives me purpose and makes me whole. After I had my first child, I found a lot of things to be a shock. I never knew how much I could love another human being within seconds of meeting them. The second someone put my son in my arms, I fell deeply in love. I was ready and willing to take a bullet for this tiny little person I'd just been introduced to. I was truly changed forever. I also didn't know how much time and stress came along with the endless love and devotion. I had no idea that taking care of another life would be so hard. No one warned me about what motherhood was really like and I didn't feel prepared for the stressful parts. And as someone who likes to prepare herself for every situation possible, becoming a parent left me feeling completely overwhelmed. It's part of the reason that now, three kids in, I don't sugarcoat how stressful parenting is.
When I became a mom for the first time I knew it'd be stressful, of course, I wasn’t that naive, but the reality was so much different than my own picture of motherhood. In my mind, I pictured myself relaxing on a sunny day, lounging on a picnic blanket, drinking coffee and watching my children frolic in the grass. What I got was children fighting for the last blue Lego, an endless stream of diaper blow-outs, obscene amounts of coffee (that was cold by the time I got around to drinking it), and a level of exhaustion I didn’t even know existed. Of course, there were so many wonderful and idyllic moments, but the other stuff — the really hard stuff — made me wonder if I'd ever make it out alive.
I felt thrown into it this whole new world absolutely blind to the truth. I tried to prepare the best I knew while I was pregnant by reading plenty of pregnancy and parenting books, but I failed to find books that painted a true picture of motherhood. I knew all about the financial stress, the changes in sleep, and the need to pack up half your house to walk out the door — all true, of course — but the only problem was that everything people prepared me for and "warned" me about was always sugarcoated. I got plenty of generic answers, advice laced with adjectives like "wonderful," "life-changing," and "rewarding," but all of those words failed to include the whole truth: that parenting, is tough, thankless and stressful and that even when you're doing it right you'll feel like you're doing everything wrong.
Maybe that is why I was so disappointed that no one told me to prepare for such a drastic change. Instead of hearing, “life gets hectic,” I needed to hear, “plan to never pee alone again.”
Yes, words like "life-changing" and "wonderful" do apply to being a mom, but so do "hard" and "frustrating" and "How am I going to get through this?" I am sure that the everyone's intentions were good, but what I needed to hear during my pregnancy was the truth. I needed to hear that some nights I wouldn't sleep at all because of my poor, miserable, teething baby. I needed to hear that when a baby cries, even someone else's, my milk would let down and leak through my shirt — in public. And that things like hormonal changes, giant messes, and a general lack of parental control would sometimes leave me sobbing for reasons I wasn't even aware of. It’s not like I wanted seasoned mothers to frighten me, I just wish they'd prepared me a bit more for the good — and the bad.
Trust me, the good stuff is amazing. I could talk about the wonderful moments forever. Moments like when my son yells, "I'll miss you Mommy!" from the school playground as I walk back to my car, or when my sweet baby girl looks up at me with adoration and smiles, after muttering her first "mama," or when my 4 year old hugs me extra tight while giggling in my ear — they are the heart and soul of parenting. Unfortunately, everything comes with drawbacks, parenting included.
I knew I'd love being a mom, I just feel I should've been warned about the really hard days too. Like the constant soul-crushing worrying that takes place once your child is born. What if he gets hurt? What if it’s my fault? How can I keep them safe, healthy, and happy forever and always? I wish someone had warned me to go easy on presents at holidays and on birthdays, considering the fact that the cardboard boxes they come in are the real thrill for the kids. I wish someone had thought to mention the fact that breastfeeding, even though it's wonderful, hurts a lot at first. Why didn't someone warn me about the tantrums and messes?
I know I'm not the only one who goes to bed feeling like I survived the Hunger Games, so why is no one else talking about it?
I wanted the whole truth, damn it!
I'm a planner. I love to organize and prepare every aspect of my life. I start packing for a trip weeks before we go. I prepare checklists, write out to-do lists, and coordinate outfits. I like to know about everything beforehand so I can plan for every possible scenario. It’s just who I am. Maybe that is why I was so disappointed that no one told me to prepare for such a drastic change. Instead of hearing, “life gets hectic,” I needed to hear, “plan to never pee alone again.” I don’t want to hear that kids fight sometimes, I need to hear that kids fight over the color of their cup, about the shape of their siblings pancake, and over who gets to go first for everything.
Preparation is crucial. Without fair warning, how could I be the best possible mother? Without careful preparation, how could I have real expectations of motherhood? It's why I believe whole-heartedly in not sugarcoating the stressful side of parenting. I want to prepare other women for the journey ahead, like I wish I'd been prepared. At the end of the day, we're all parents, doing the best we can, but we are in this together, fighting the good fight. We need to encourage one another. After all, the hard parts are something to be grateful for. The battles, I’ve learned, make the good parts that much better. The tantrums make the cuddles so much sweeter. The stressful moments make you appreciate the calm ones.
Telling women what to expect from parenthood could actually help them, encourage them, and at the very least, prepare them for realities they'll face. If I'm honest about the fact that some days are full of stress and self-doubt, another woman may feel comforted to know they’re not the only ones who feel overwhelmed sometimes. If someone told me to prepare for the harsh pain and emotional turmoil that come with breastfeeding, I might've been better prepared to stick it out with my first baby. If I was aware of the fact that I wasn't the only one to lock myself in the closet to cry and eat chocolate sometimes, maybe it would've saved me from feeling so alone. I know I'm not the only mom to feel like she is making it up as she goes. I know I'm not the only one who's scrubbed black ink off the walls when my little ones found markers, and I can't be the only one to turn my back for two seconds, only to turn around to my toddler coating my furniture in Vaseline. I know I'm not the only one who goes to bed feeling like I survived the Hunger Games, so why is no one else talking about it?
Being honest about the road ahead gives women the heads up they need to prepare themselves for the stressful, exciting journey ahead. Parenting is a job — a wonderful, life-changing, and rewarding job — but it's still work.
Now that I am a mother of three, I don’t sugarcoat the stressful side to other women with kids. I feel it’s my obligation to paint a real picture. I'm real and brutally honest about my experiences. By being this honest, I hope that I can help women adjust their expectations to plan for the good and the bad, to prepare for the tranquil side and the stressful side. Expectations are important in life. If I expect the messes, the tantrums, the tears and the stress — I can be ready. If I expect every single doorknob in my house to be mysteriously sticky, I can laugh instead of complain as I clean it off. If I expect there to be a diaper explosion every single time I'm about to walk out the door, I can smile instead of cry at the poop-soaked stain on my shirt.
On my own, I've learned to embrace the hard parts of parenting. I've come to expect the chaos instead of doubting my own sanity. Honestly, I've learned to love the stressful side. Stress is just an inevitable part of my job — and don't get me wrong, it's the best job I've ever had. But that doesn't mean I don't still wish I'd been better prepared. Now that I know, I'm doing everything I can to help spread the word.