Luca turned three a couple months ago, and Adriano’s second birthday is around the corner. It’s got me thinking about how dramatically our lives have changed over the past few years and how much Marcello and I have learned since.
There were countless things I didn’t know before giving birth — like that I’d look 6 months pregnant when I came home from the hospital, or that poop would become an everyday topic of conversation. But how would I? I’d never done it before. But some of the bigger struggles I would think I would have heard about prior to pregnancy. I think my imagination must have overridden what I saw and heard, and kept me in blissful ignorance of the reality of parenthood.
These are the recurring issues I struggle with as a mom with two small boys. Maybe you can relate.
Sleep is the major focus during your child’s first years.
I had no clue how much time and effort and thought would be put into getting my babies to bed. When there is a sleep problem — weaning from night feedings or bed wetting or way-too-early wake up calls — it is a BIG deal and affects everyone in the house. And it’s exhausting — weeks and months on end exhausting. I still don’t understand why they fight sleep so much. Naps are lovely. I keep telling them this. And getting them to share a room? Or take naps at the same time? Oy.
Everyone has an opinion on your parenting.
The world will judge you no matter how darn hard you try to be the best mom you can be. If you had an epidural, someone will tell you you should have done it naturally. If you give your baby a pacifier, someone will tell you to let her suck her thumb. If your infant has a scratch on his face, you might be told you should cut his nails. I am still surprised by all the parenting “advice” I’ve accrued from complete strangers in Target and the grocery store. You quickly learn that you can’t please everyone, and part of doing your best includes letting criticism fly in one ear and out the other.
The first couple years do not go fast.
I wish I had a quarter for every time I heard “Enjoy it. It goes so fast” or “this is the best time of your life.” My opinion: This is not going fast. At all. I’ve only been a mother for three years. That’s it. It seems like much, much longer. This is the longest three years of my life. I say that with no negative spin or tinge of resentment. I simply mean it has not gone by quickly. That’s probably because I was awake for much more of it than I would have been without kids! (See point number one.) Maybe when kids are older and going to school it goes fast. But baby and toddlerhood, not so much.
Parenthood is painful. Literally.
Being a mom is a challenge, physically. You bend over to pick them off the floor after they’ve got a boo-boo, and when it’s time to get them out of the crib or high chair or carseat or potty. After you build your biceps carrying them all day when they’re babies, you can add horsey, jungle gym, and human swing to your physical prowess during the toddler years. There’s also the everyday getting hit in the head with flying toys and being tackled with giant, forceful hugs (sweet, but painful all the same). When I’m sitting on the floor playing blocks and see my son come running toward me at full force, I can’t help but wince and say ”Don’t hurt me!” A mom’s body takes a beating.
Toddlers play favorites.
My son’s love for his daddy is beautifully obnoxious — a bond has cemented between them that makes me happy and primally jealous at the same time. I’ve had my moments in the sun with him, but usually my husband is the apple of his eye. And I have chosen not to be upset by it because he doesn’t know any better. He just loves his Dad.
You will yell. And you won’t always be the fun/cool parent you thought you’d be.
As parents, sometimes it feels like we say “no” or “you need a time out” or “don’t sit on the cat” all day long. We might not feel like the fun parent we wanted to be. What happened to the dancing and coloring and exploring the world together that I imagined? We do those things sometimes, but two year olds turn into tiny tyrants and then we have to be the disciplinary parent instead.
Early parenthood might not strengthen your marriage.
When I imagined parenthood with my husband, I pictured our son in the center, holding each of our hands as we swing him up into the air. I pictured laughing and sharing a special bond of bringing a person into the world, half him and half me. I do feel that special bond with him, but most of the time everyday circumstances mask it — a sleepless night with a babe, a scheduling mess up and he can’t watch the kids during my dentist appointment, dishes are creating their own army around our sink … You find yourself switching into survival mode and taking from your spouse instead of giving. And when you are both taking instead of giving, it’s going to be a bumpy road.
Your life is no longer your own.
I didn’t know what selflessness was before I had children. You hear people say that your life changes completely, but that is only a whisper of the truth. Having a child means putting another person ahead of yourself in every circumstance. Every circumstance. And there are a lot of circumstances. It means thinking and predicting his needs at all times. And there are a lot of needs. You can’t call in sick or take a day off, your responsibility is ever-present.
Me: I would like to sleep in on Saturday.
Kids: Great, how’s 6:30?
Me: It would be nice if we could all go have dinner at my girlfriend’s, just across town, tonight.
Kids: Well, she lives a half hour away and bedtime is at 7:30, so we’ll probably end up throwing a fit and breaking ceramics that she placed on low shelves. (True story.)
Me: Ok. Well, how about I run into this store and check out the sales really quick.
Kids: See that’s not going to work out either. We have a fundamental problem with shopping — grocery, clothing, or otherwise.
Your heart will never be the same.
Obviously you plan on loving your child, but you don’t know that you will love them with such extraordinary intensity. It will bring out emotions and fears and devotion you didn’t know lived within you. Author Elizabeth Stone put it beautifully in this famous quote: Making the decision to have a child — it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.
The lives of my husband and I are 100 percent different from before we met these guys. The thing is that there’s no room for resentment because there’s no one else we’d rather spend our time with than those crazy kids.
I’m not writing this to be a Debbie Downer on parenthood. I’m writing this, first of all, for myself — it helps me to define my stresses and unmet expectations in this lofty new role as a mother. And, secondly, to tell you that you are not alone in your struggles. Being a parent must truly be the hardest job on this earth.