When we’re pregnant, childbirth educators tell us to resist
tensing up against the pain of contractions. When our muscles tighten, we
create more resistance and less relaxation. When we instead face the discomfort
and understand that each period of pain will begin, intensify and then recede
like a wave, birth gets a little bit easier.
During my second labor, I got it. There were periods of rest
between each stabbing contraction—the pain wouldn’t last forever. I could do
this—I was doing this.
As it turns out, this advice can serve us far beyond the
intense but short-lived pain of labor.
I’m far from perfect. But sometimes I remember to just
relax against the harder moments, to catch a glimpse of perspective.
On any given day of parenting, it’s a guarantee that I’ll
experience tantrums, fights and general uncooperativeness. If I’m tired, or PMSing,
or just in a grouchy mood, I’m more vulnerable to these periods of discomfort.
My voice rises, my tone becomes snappy, and I argue back. Why can’t they just listen to me? I wonder. Why is everything so damned hard?
I tense up against the contractions of childrearing.
Lately, I’ve been reminding myself that each moment of
conflict, just like those painful contractions of childbirth, will pass. When
my son gets up from the dinner table from the 37th time? When my
daughter refuses to brush her teeth because “I’m a puppy and puppies don’t
brush their teeth”? These moments will pass. So I can continue to tense up
against the hard moments, and yell, make threats and generally get caught in
the drama of my own frustration.
Or I can see them for what they are: difficult but temporary
Just like contractions, these challenging moments will be
followed with some calm moments, or some hilarious moments, or some snuggly
moments, and then probably another heaping of conflict. It can be hard to
accept that this is the rhythm of parenting: the chaotic mealtimes, sibling
rivalry and rude outbursts, along with the cuddles, the fierce, wild love and
the constant surprise of having created humans who are a universe of their own opinions,
personality and quirks.
Basically, child-rearing is just like the rest of life: an
assortment of difficult, mundane, funny, outrageous moments—but compressed. With
kids, we might throttle through all the moments several times in a 15-minute
period. Like labor, it’s intense, dizzying and overwhelming.
I’m far from perfect. I often raise my voice, spew words I
regret and expel dramatic, audible sighs. But sometimes I remember to just
relax against the harder moments, to catch a glimpse of perspective, like when my
daughter takes the pace of an injured slug when it’s time to get in her
carseat, or when my son belches like a truck driver at the dinner table, or when
they’re shrieking in each others’ faces like rabid wildebeests. Sometimes I
remember to breathe through it, to relax, because it will pass—because it’s all
just part of this messy, crazy, hard, gorgeous ride.