Monday, January 28, 2013

Why being a parent is sometimes SO hard.

I've had the immense pleasure of knowing some truly phenomenal parents, in my relatively short existence on Earth (mine, included!).  And do you know what?  Every single one of them has questioned their worthiness, their quality as a parent, their effort, their abilities, their patience, their knowledge.  I think there are natural tendencies inside all of us to question ourselves occasionally, and I think that we can all reap positive benefit from introspection but there's certainly a line to be drawn.

Recently, my close-knit group of parent-friends has been experiencing some true difficulties with our little babies (who are all within a few months of each other in age).  Maybe I shouldn't say that we've been experiencing difficulties with our babies, but rather with the rest of the world and their "concern" with our babies.

This has given me some stress; some grief to know that my friends who are all incredible human beings are being pushed to their limits and wondering if they're good enough on a daily basis.

All parents know that babies are hard.  But in addition to the difficulties inherent to young infants, now there is this interesting (read: infuriating) public belief that pregnant moms and parents and babies are all people who it is appropriate to interject your own beliefs and opinions upon - completely out of the blue and unwarranted.

It seems right now that most of E's baby-friends are sick in some way, or have been recently (or are about to be...).  Sick babies are infinitely harder than healthy babies.  And every joe-schmo and his brother's got an opinion about how what you're doing to help them is totally and utterly wrong and surely you're going to kill your child.

My friends.  My lovely, capable, amazing, effort-FULL, loving friends: You are doing a simply remarkable job.  I understand how hard life is right now for you.  I feel you.  I feel your hearts, heavy with dread about making a wrong choice.  Your stress filters through my bloodstream just as it filters through yours.  The elation you feel deep in your soul as your baby slowly grows into a little person - it is also my elation.  I love each and every one of you and I can say with 100% confidence that you are all the exact right parents for your own babies.  No, none of us are ever perfect.  But I've witnessed your struggle, your compassion, your caring, your effort.  The sheer exertion that it costs us all to know that maybe we could've done better.

There isn't an app for how to raise a baby the perfect way.  There's no GPS to show us where to turn the hell around and try and find a new way.  Our brains and our hearts and our guts are all we've got.

Maybe I've got all this confidence and unshakable faith that we're all doing well because I know what bad, neglectful, hurtful parenting looks like.

Bad parents get frustrated with crying babies and dunk their heads into pots full of boiling water, then wait hours and hours before taking that baby to the emergency room - all the while claiming that "the water splashed him". 

Bad parents get infuriated at their toddlers and burn them with cigarettes and force them into scalding hot bathwater and lock three of them together in a closet with nothing to eat or drink.  

Bad parents get drunk and high and let all their friends come over and sexually abuse their two and three year old little girls.  Regularly. 

Bad parents believe that their babies are possessed because they want to eat every time the parent wishes to eat.  So they just stop feeding the baby, who then loses his will to survive. 

Bad parents lock their infant and three year old toddler in a room together with little-to-no adult interaction, so much so that both children are significantly delayed and the toddler believes she is the only person who will care for that baby.  

I knew and know all of the children who had those things done to them.  I've lived with them, I've helped raise them, I've loved them, I've cared for their wounds and I can tell you that not a single one of my friends would ever dream of letting any of these things happen to their own children - or to anyone else's.

To all new parents who care so much about doing a good job that they question themselves: you are a good parent.  As long as you are doing your best and trying your hardest, you are better than just "good enough".

My friends: I know that it's hard, to be constantly second-guessed and questioned by not only our friends and family members, but by the public at-large.  It's really difficult to not let that get into our heads, over time.   But we must try.

It's also hard when there are so many "things" out there now, so many groups, so many ways of doing something - it can be extremely trying to continually have to defend our choices and decisions, even against other parents.  Whether it's introducing solids or vaccination or cloth diapering or breastfeeding or baby sign language or whatever - somebody's always going to think everyone else is a total idiot for doing it differently.

There is no one right way to parent.  Each of us has to find that path for ourselves.  And in the meantime, I'm just trying to stay out of my own way and do my best every day for our daughter.

And I hope, that maybe... if you've made it all the way to here, you'll consider taking it a bit easier on the new parents that fumble with their stroller in the mall and accidentally get in your way.  Or the dad whose baby is crying in line at the grocery store.  Or the cute pregnant lady next to you in the department store - just take your hand off her belly, for pete's sake!  She doesn't need to hear your horror of a birth story.

Everyone.  Please ask permission before you go touching some infant's sweet little face with your germy hands.  Keep your hands to yourself until given permission to do otherwise.  Or do as my sweet Aunt Claudie does - ask to touch the baby's feet, instead.

Let's take things a little easier on one another, okay?  And a bit easier on ourselves.

Okay.  It's a deal.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sunday morning

It's been cold here lately.  The temperatures at night have dipped below freezing; the mountains surrounding our city are capped in snow.

When it's cold, for whatever reason, I feel more domestic.  More like keeping my home and my family cozy. More like keeping our home clean so we can cuddle up in it and not worry about how much the laundry is piling up.  For instance, this morning, before 9:00 am I: washed dishes and set the dishwasher running, wiped down kitchen counters, got E's first bottle of the day ready for warming, took out trash, set a load of baby laundry running, and played with our daughter.

Now I sit contentedly on the couch, my mind and body soothed by the gentle hum and swoosh of the dishwasher, the little grunts and sighs from a napping baby, and the snores of an aging dog - napping curled in a ball in front of the swing where the baby sleeps.  Our living room has a comfortable, amber glow to it emanating from one single lamp in the corner.

Inside these walls, life feels simple and kind.

Outside these walls, though... it's hard.  It's long hours away from home; it's the harsh reality of money being earned and spent; it's the stress of not seeing enough of my wife; it's a crying baby in the car while I sit, stuck in traffic, on my way to the grocery store.  I don't like to venture away from home on days like these.  Days where I have E to myself all day and there are no magical, milky boobs to fix things.  Days when home feels safe and outside feels far away.  But I don't always get my way.  Sometimes, you just have to go outside.

In the next few months is the busiest time for T.  She works long hours, long days, long nights.  Typically, I dread January through April every year.  I cannot even imagine how T feels about this time.  Last winter, she was newly pregnant and working these insane shifts.  I'm sure it was immeasurably hard for her, though she says it helped pass the weeks of nausea and general yuckiness that the first trimester offers.

These first few months of each new year are always a struggle for us.  Nobody gets enough attention, communication gets dropped, both of us get hurt feelings and feel driven away from each other.  It's not unusual for us to go several days without seeing one another while awake.

Now that E is here... I'm extra scared.  I worry that it's going to be worse than ever this year, but I hope that it won't be.  Every year, we tell ourselves that, THIS YEAR will be different.  We'll communicate better; it won't be so bad.  And every year, it still kicks our butts.

I fear that T is going to be really upset and feel like she's missing out on these months in E's babyhood.  I worry that E won't see enough of her mom, and that T's milk supply will dwindle and we'll have to supplement with formula.  I'm concerned that once T comes home at night, E will nurse all night long and T won't get any sleep.  I'm afraid that my inner demons and negativity will come crawling out of me and insist that I'm not good enough for my wife, and that's why she's never home.  That I am not enough of a mother to be the sole caretaker of our daughter, and that's why she cries.  That I can't make it through with my relationships intact.

Each and every year though, we have made it.  It usually involves a lot of crying and fights over stupid things because we each have stress pent-up inside that we haven't let out for fear of hurting the other.  We each try to put on a brave face, put up a wall, so it seems like we are tough enough and we aren't bothered by the long days and nights and loneliness.  But all those walls ever do is push us further apart.

Someday, maybe, we'll learn to show one another our vulnerability without worrying that we'll be judged as incapable.  You would think after eight years, we would be better at this.  But you would be wrong.

But for now, it's still Sunday morning, and life still feels simple and kind.  Except that I miss T, and I wish she were here with us.

E says hello.