When I see parents juggling the demands of three of more children, I never wish to be in their shoes. Don’t get me wrong, I love my girls beyond words. They bring immeasurable joy and purpose to my life. They also make my blood boil more in a day than it did in years without children. I’m afraid I’ll have a heart attack one morning mid-yell, and my last words will be “Put on your light-up sneakers, NOW.”
My husband seems just as fun-drained as I am. He’s joked about hiring a nanny and moving out (with me). “We must be doing this wrong,” I’ll say to him as we watch a large family skip by on their way to the park. “Look at them, they’re practically a commercial for having kids.”
Then another family will appear with a howling, hair-pulling, snot-dripping mass of offspring and I’ll add, “I’m glad we only have two.”
“Two is too much sometimes,” he’ll say.
And sometimes it is.
I adore each of my girls and the bond they share as sisters is amazing, but since becoming a mother of two, my life has spiraled into a vortex of sleepless nights and harried days. It doesn’t help that both my children have sensory processing issues, with a likely case of ADHD thrown in for extra excitement. It really doesn’t help that I have sensory processing issues and can’t handle all the inevitable noise and clutter.
“I’m overwhelmed,” I tell my friends, my coworkers, and the stranger at the checkout line.
“Oh, but they’re so fun!” they all say.
If the person who says this doesn’t have children, I repress the urge to punch them in the throat. If they have one kid, I let it slide. I skipped along through the two-adults-to-one-kid phase of parenting just fine. I don’t want to ruin it for them. But when I hear someone with two or more gushing about "How fun it is,” I have two reactions: I'm either jealous because they genuinely seem euphoric or I call bullshit.
If I just saw you chasing your three-year old with a baby latched onto your sore nipple and a preschooler bonking you in the head with a Nerf ball: bullshit. That’s not fun. Your kids may be having fun. But you’re not fooling anyone with your “Oh, but they’re so fun!” propaganda. So please, just stop.
I get it. You don’t want parental karma to smack you in the face harder than that Nerf ball, so you smile and keep a positive attitude. Because kids are a blessing, even if they aren’t fun and all you want to do is lay your un-showered head on the pillow for 10 years and sleep until it gets easier (which apparently, it never does.) It seems ungrateful—unwise even—to complain about something as wonderful as children... especially your own.
Then there are those rare parents who I actually believe when they say “Oh, but they’re so fun!” These are the men and women who appear enraptured with having multiple children. They thrive in the chaos. They’re flipping beatific.
There is always joy, but there is rarely fun.
I just stare at these rare souls, filled with an emotion I usually try to avoid. It’s like seeing an adorable young couple snuggling in a booth across the restaurant while you’re bickering with your significant other over who unloaded the dishwasher last.
“Remember when we were like that,” I’ll say, nodding my head toward the PDA-happy pair.
“We were never like THAT in public,” he says. But he smiles as the memories of our pre-kid years play through his mind, and we pause the never-ending dishwasher debate for a while.
When I see the pure joy on another parent’s face, I think back to my first year of motherhood. I had that joy. I did. I have it still in moments so swift they flit past before I can truly savor it.
“I love you, Mommy,” my youngest will say, wrapping her thin arms around me and squeezing with an intensity that surprises me every time.
“I want to write stories with you,” my oldest will say, settling on my office floor with a stack of printer paper and crayons. We sit together for long stretches of time, pausing now and then to smile at each other while we each try our best to coax words onto the page.
There is always joy, but there is rarely fun.
So, when I see other parents having the time of their lives on a regular basis, I’m envious. I want that way more than I want my partner of 17 years to go for a public cuddle. Because I know if that cute couple makes it as long as we have, they likely won’t be canoodling in a restaurant booth (or even on their own couch) every night. Instead, they’ll love each other in ways they couldn’t possibly understand so early in their relationship—dish fight and all.
Parent envy is different. Childhood flashes by and if I’m not having fun now, when will I? My oldest is already a first grader and my youngest has left toddlerhood behind. I have no more babies. All the work and all the fun of that portion of childhood is gone, and I’ll never get it back.
Perhaps all those parents who are clearly lying through their teeth when they say “Oh, but they’re so fun” are just trying to fake it until it is.
I know I’m guilty of this. We have impromptu dance parties. They start out awesome and end with someone needing an icepack because we’re all pretty clumsy. We do arts and crafts that should guarantee a good time. They’re OK, until glitter coats every surface of my house, including my three-year old’s tongue.
Maybe the fun times, those moments of joy, just stretch a little longer for some parents. The next time I see someone having the time of their life with their kids, I’m going to ask them how. Because I’d really like to know.