Making the kid is easy, parenting the kid…not so much. Welcome to ParentGRIT, where today we explore the oxymoronic concept of living in the best worst times of your life. How is that I can experience peak fulfillment in my life looking at my two little girls while simultaneously masking feelings of inadequacy and failure? How can my moments of frustration, stress, and overwhelm be constantly undermined by infant cuddles and toddler giggles? As parents, we seem to be riding a rollercoaster of irreplicable highs and agonizing lows, only the rollercoaster maintains a steady and level course where both the ups and downs occur in simultaneous fashion. In plainer terms, how the heck can I call my children the best thing that’s ever happened to me while also buckling under all of the side effects they inspired?
We all have those periods of parenthood when nothing aligns and our sanities begin to fray (I say ‘periods’, you might say ‘years’). My wife and I have persevered through several of these moments, though they all seem to run together in the end. They usually begin with a healthy dose of sleep deprivation, and we endured that recently as our youngest quickly sleep-regressed from a manageable-but-not-great 8 hour overnight spell to miniscule 3 hour sleep pockets. We’d put Everly to bed at 8, greet her once again as she stirred at 11, muster the minimal amount of energy possible to meet her needs at 2, and groan in agony as she wailed to start her day at 5:30. Yet parenting tornados never occur in isolation, so naturally we needed to throw in a daycare transition or two, long bouts with the flu for each and every family member, and a nice side of potty-training failures to add the cherry on top. Such is the life of a parent, though these are little more than occurrences. Occurrences can be managed. Vomit can be cleaned.
No, the real worst times of your life surfaces when your sleep-deprived mind starts to wander into the accompanying feelings these trying moments tend to breed. We don’t make enough money, we need to work harder and more hours to better provide for our children. But also, we aren’t prioritizing our family! We make way more than enough money and are deliberately choosing work over our girls. It’s a never ending teeter totter of the mind, where less work means you’re failing to provide and more work means you’re failing to spend time with your kids. This lack of an equilibrium extends to all topics! If you punish your child, you’re crushing his feelings and taking away from family time; if you don’t punish your child, you’re stunting his future and ruining his development. The list goes on and on with one recurring theme: whatever you’re doing, you should probably be doing the opposite.
So there my wife and I sit, perched on the precipice of God knows what kind of breakdown or fight. It’s 5:00 am on a workday that begins shortly and we’ve each slept for less than three hours. Everly moans through a mild temperature, recovering from a joyous exercise in projectile vomiting, and we sit in silence. It’s the worst of times. And then her toddler sister Eliza, presumed to be sleeping, silently slinks into the living room carrying her stuffed bear Cuddles, grinning ear-to-ear slyly and sheepishly states “Cuddles was sad and really needs a snack and diaper”. She crawls into my lap and lays her head against my chest while my wife and I make eye contact and acknowledge: it’s the best of times.
Your kids are almost like the rock you throw into the pond; it creates a seemingly unending cascade of ripples. Unfortunately, not all of these ripples are positive. The stress children can place on your marriage, on your career, or your self-worth is unquestioned; yet, like the idiots most of us are, we plunge ahead anyway because I’ll be damned if it all isn’t worth it. Nevertheless, whether we’re in them or beyond them, we are fighting through the most difficult decisions and moments of our lives while simultaneously experiencing the most surreal joys. It’s parenting in a nutshell. The trick is to remember that the best of times are tucked neatly within the worst of times and ever-present; when the parental storms come calling, try to remember all the hidden good with the bad.