… said a friend the other day, to hoots of laughter from the rest of us! I laughed so much my stomach hurt.
She was recounting how, only the day before, she had yelled at her kids in sheer frustration “Why, oh why, did I have children?!” – and yes, she did say that in front of them! Their arguing and bickering had got to her so much, she couldn’t take it anymore. Our hilarity at her words was, of course, in reaction to her honesty about something we all totally related to: Feeling unbelievably badly equipped to be the calm, text-book mother to our kids.
I may not have actually thought these exact words, but I’ve definitely wondered what madness led me into having children when the day starts with high-pitched hollering over how many shreddies the other has in their cereal bowl. Lets just say I’ve done my fair share of mirroring my kids’ screaming and shouting. My daughter jokingly refers to me getting angry as when I go “Ka-boom”! I’m glad she can laugh about it.
My kids have the amazing ability to test every bit of patience I own. Sadly, I don’t own a lot. They test every bit of calmness and poise I possess, every bit of positivity in adversity. I’ve had many moments of wondering if I possess the vats of patience needed to survive the occasional storms of dislike, disgust or disappointment that come my way. Nor do I know where to find the lake of calm that my husband seems to walk on during moments of petty sibling annoyance. I’ve often thought they should do a TV episode of ‘How do they do that?’ featuring my husband…
Being honest with yourself, how many of you reading this haven’t at some point thought this or some similar sentiment like My life was so much easier before kids?! If not, please tell us a). what planet you’re from and b). your address so we can dump ours on you when the next desperate moment comes along….
The thing is, although I was laughing, I realised very quickly that this statement isn’t actually true.
The fact is, most of us probably aren’t fundamentally different since bearing children. I haven’t read in any of the million books on babies, toddlers and child-rearing that bearing kids releases a load of chemicals in your body that make you more irritable or impatient. To my dismay, it’s actually the opposite – at least in the post-natal weeks.
What is different is they, the dears, expose our weaknesses and frailties by the sheer pressure and exhaustion we find ourselves under. Their tantrums in the early years, amateur dramatics and bickering are bound to wear us down (isn’t that the point of them?!), all the more so if we lack the mettle to lay down firm boundaries or consequences.
And think about it, for many of us our lives before having kids was so much easier. Sure we had full-on exhausting jobs, but every five days, we had two whole days off work. Yes, two whole days. Now, we’re lucky if we get one day a year off from responsible parent duty. It’s taken me years to re-programme my brain that the word ‘Saturday’ does not always equate with ‘relaxation’…..
I’d say that one of the biggest challenges of parenting is that it brings the testiness and pressures of life more starkly into the home. You can’t just leave it at the office.
Of course I was ‘nicer’ before I had children. I didn’t have two little beings to feed, clothe and organize social lives for, to chase and chivvy into bed/out of bed/out of the house every day of the week, including on days I am dog tired. But by nicer, I mean ‘pleasanter’. A nice, smiley I’ve-had-the-weekend-off kind of person, who’s not been awake half the night with a sick child and able to think straight for more than two minutes.
But who wants pleasant when we can become men or women of character?
You see, I wonder if the experience of having children is refining us and building in us the character that only comes from the coalface of life. I may not feel very patient on days when my son whinges about the food put on the table or my daughter puts on her best Medusa look when she’s over tired, but I’m wondering if I have more than when I started out. Put it this way, I’ve HAD to learn more patience, or else I’d sink into a pit of despair and perturbulance (made up word, I know, I just thought of it).
But that’s just on the subject of patience. How about empathy, tender-heartedness, and understanding for the vagaries of life and weakness of the human condition? Or selfless-ness, self control, perseverance, and resilience. Parenthood grants you a veritable Bachelor of Honours degree in all those subjects. All qualities that are surely as, if not, more important than the ones I learnt for my real degree.
But what about those traits that I feel I simply can’t control which keep rearing their head and might be damaging to my beloved ones? Take anger, that’s a good one. Well, although that’s a bit scary, if we can face the issue and seek help, it can be for your good, and for your family, in the long term. Seeking help in the form of counselling isn’t weak; it’s a brave thing to do. I know plenty of people who’ve done so, including myself.
Diamonds aren’t made in pleasant surroundings – it’s the sheer pressure of the rock over the years that produces the precious jewel. You may not feel like a gem, or even act like it all the time, but in the long haul you are to your children and your partner,
Having children is like living with a mirror that reflects the good, as well as the not so lovely parts of us, and draws out the best as well as the worst in us. But I’d never go back to my life before children. They are the making of me.
PS. If you want to read more on Boundaries with Kids, there’s a fantastic book called just that by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend. Their general book on Boundaries is equally brilliant and a must for every person living in a relationship (so that’s everyone then really).