Two newly expectant parents recently asked my husband
and me for advice about becoming parents. At first, we spoke to some of the
lighter, more common truths about having babies—the sleepless hours, the
blowout diapers, the potential relinquishing of one's hours to rocking,
holding, changing, cleaning, worrying, wearing pajamas, eating takeout and
watching binge-worthy TV. (This last part isn't so bad, so long as the
baby isn't wailing.)
For some reason—maybe because I love these two soon-to-be-parents,
maybe because I was feeling especially reflective at that moment—I went deep,
and fast, to some of the darker truths about raising children. I dove straight
toward parenting's ugly underbelly. To my surprise, instead of expressing fear
and disgust, these two people thanked me for being so honest about these lesser-known realities of parenting.
And so I thought, perhaps my own dark parenting truths
are ones that everyone should know.
might regret becoming a parent
Few parents have the audacity or cruelty to
admit this regret to their children, let alone speak these feelings out loud.
But I'd bet that many of us have felt fleeting
tinges of regret. Those times when we've locked ourselves in the bathroom to
cry. Those canceled plans and forgotten dreams. Those moments when we've
wondered why the hell we wanted to commit to this whole child-rearing business
in the first place.
might like children less after you have children of your own
Once, in a college class discussion, I toyed with the
idea of letting children run the world. They could make all our rules and solve
all our problems, I thought, because they had a far better capacity for innocence
and perfection and infinite love than adults did.
My professor then asked me, "Haven't you ever read 'Lord of the Flies'?"
She had a point.
It's easy to cling to the myth of the innocence and
perfection of childhood before you are a constant caretaker of children. My
years of babysitting as a teenager and young adult did not prepare me for what
I would discover as a parent. These days, I know that children are neither
innocent nor perfect. They are, perhaps, less flawed than adults. But they are
still fundamentally flawed.
For the most part, I only want to be around the
flaws—the snot, the whining, the capriciousness, the meltdowns, the jealousy—of
my own children, and maybe a few select others. All the rest can just stay
home. Or at least stay only for a very, very short playdate.
might lose friends
Parenthood disassembles and reconfigures your life in
a way that few other events or experiences can.
Like puzzle pieces, some friends still fit after that
initial reconfiguration. Some don't fit until much later, far beyond those
early chaotic years. Others never quite find their way back into your life.
Becoming a parent has fashioned both a mirror and a magnifying glass in front of me.
might give up pieces of yourself that you once loved
No one has it all. No mother. No father. No person. All
of life involves sacrifice, and parenting always demands its share of it.
It's like those friends who stay, or return, or never
come back at all. Some dreams and passions and loves stay even after the babies
are born. Some return. Others don't.
might find parenting unfulfilling
In fact, I would argue that parenting is not
completely fulfilling for anyone—nor should it be. Our children's lives cannot
and should not consume our own (much as they might devour our time and attention).
Our children are not and should not be viewed as extensions of ourselves.
Parenting can fill one with love and wonder and joy.
But it cannot take the place of all the other possible loves and wonders and
joys in the world.
might one day feel as if your child is a stranger
It might be that first time they utter, "I hate you."
The moments when they disappoint you. The realization that they have gone off
and developed friends of their own, interests of their own, ideas of their own.
Sometimes the strangeness is quite beautiful. Other times, it's frightening.
might face hard, impossible truths about your own parents
Becoming a parent has fashioned both a mirror and a
magnifying glass in front of me. I can see in sharper focus all the mistakes
that my own parents made when I was a child. But I can also see myself making
some of those same mistakes, and new mistakes of my own, now that I am a
My heart breaks when my children walk out the door without me.
might understand, for the first time, horrific things
A new mother once confided in me that she never
understood how people could shake babies until she had a crying, inconsolable
baby of her own.
I never understood what she meant until, years later,
when I had a baby of my own. Red-stippled eyes, leaking breasts, my own tears
like tributaries feeding into a river of my newborn's snot and
saliva. I felt the urge to throw things, to scream, and, yes, to shake.
As I set my baby down in his crib and cried my way out
into the hallway, I thought of parents who had less support, less security.
Less of an ability to stop, set the baby down and walk away.
"There but for the grace of God go I," I thought.
might feel true, blinding rage toward your flesh and blood
Audre Lorde once described motherhood as the "suffering
of ambivalence: the murderous alternation between bitter resentment and raw
edged nerves, and blissful gratification and tenderness."
I feel this ambivalence nearly every day of my life.