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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Throwing in the towel on parenthood

Like this blogger, sometimes I suspect that my inner reserves of patience, which were supposed to last me an entire lifetime, have already been all but completely exhausted after only 6 years of parenting.

I used to be known as a nice, kind person--generous in spirit, sunny and optimistic.

Lately, some days I can still pull off “kind but firm”. Other days, I really understand why some species of animals eat their young.

Picture it: 8:30 am on a Sunday morning. Children sitting companionably together on sofa. Mother smiling as she clears breakfast table, suffused with dreamy images of familial harmony, enjoying moment of quiet joy. Father outside, good-naturedly shovelling snow in uber-macho manner.

Seconds later, older child starts teasing younger child mercilessly, taking a favourite toy and holding it just out of reach. Screaming ensues. Frustrated younger child belts living daylights out of older child and tries to sit on her head. Screaming ensues. Younger child given harsh scolding and sent to naughty corner. Screaming ensues. Older child loudly chastised for teasing little sister. Sulking ensues. Older child grumps off to bedroom only to discover that younger child has, at some point, sneakily unearthed box of Secret Treasures from its hiding place and Touched Everything. Screaming ensues. Mother screams at everyone to stop screaming. Younger child, liberated from naughty corner, stomp-runs away at high speed and catches side of forehead with full force on corner of bookshelf. High-decibel shrieking ensues. Mother makes multiple, futile attempts at holding squirming and distraught child still enough to administer bag of frozen peas to massive purple egg-shaped contusion. Phone rings loudly and insistently. Smaller child is still shrieking uncontrollably; panicked mother pictures a hospital visit, head injuries, concussion. Older child finishes sulking and coolly re-enters room, inexplicably having removed all clothes except underpants. She observes the situation; judging from her neutral reaction, apparently everything is perfectly normal. She suddenly demands to know (in tones loud enough to be heard over little sister’s shrieking) what vitamins are in milk, how do tv shows get to our tv, and when are you going to wrap the present I am taking to Best Friend’s birthday party today? Older child commanded to wait 5 minutes until crisis at hand is under control. Older child bitterly accuses parent of dividing attention unevenly between siblings. Younger child stops crying and imperiously tells big sister to shush. Big sister has spectacular meltdown. Little sister starts crying again.

Less than TEN MINUTES of concentrated life with children, and already I am wondering how I’m going to make it through the day.

I love my girls so much. I wanted them desperately, and I still do.

Some days, though, I am completely overcome by the frenetic, frustrating minutiae of daily life with children. I know difficult moments are fleeting and will pass, I know I just need to remain calm and deal with it and allow the ebb and flow of life to take its course, but sometimes, secretly, I just want to give up. I just want it all to go away. In those black moments, I don’t want to be anyone’s mother any more. I don’t want to be responsible for anyone but myself and my own selfish needs. I find myself wishing to go back in time to when I was a carefree twenty-something who washed and blow-dried my hair and carefully applied makeup every morning, had long, chatty brunches with girlfriends on Sunday mornings, and prided myself on being able to handle multiple responsibilities with consummate ease and a smile on my face. I mean, my twenty-something self would even buy special lingerie to wear for her husband on his birthday.

I love my girls so much, but dammit, parenting is hard work. It’s hard to get right, and it’s even harder to know whether or not you’ve actually managed to get it right. It saps my energy and my patience and my confidence like nothing else. It challenges my inner resources beyond what I thought were reasonable boundaries. At the worst times, forging ahead with the day is quite literally a minute-to-minute challenge.

* * * * *

I wrote all this in a surge of emotion this morning (after my husband returned to the scene, took a look around, and - God bless him - told me to hide in our bedroom for an hour and have some time to myself). Of course, right now, as I read back over the rush of truth that poured out of me just hours ago, already my girls are making a liar out of me. One has set up her doll house furniture all over the coffee table and is endearingly letting Sylvanian Families rabbits take turns on the toilet (“Here you go, little one! Pisssssss!”) The other has just fired up some Maroon 5, and is shouting “I got the moves like dragon!”

No way could I ever do without them, and no way do I really want to go back to the days when I only dreamed about having them. They are hard work, but the very best things in life are those that are worked for the hardest. I am also pretty sure that, for all my whining, if I had to I would do my DARNDEST to find further, even endless resources within myself to help and protect and fight for my children through the most serious or challenging circumstances. We all know that we could and would, and my heart goes out to parents have already done just that - parents who really know what it is to give their absolute all to save their child from illness, hunger, danger, or evil.

My secret, dark thoughts of throwing in the towel are, after all, only thoughts. They are fleeting. They too will pass.

21 comments:

  1. Aw thats lovely, but the scene you painted us with the children beating each other up, and running round making everyone scream is WAY too familiar. I'm sure many parents will identify. Thanks for linking up. :)

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    1. What amazes me is how effectively the 3 year old manages to beat up the 6 year old. If it wasn't so shocking I would almost be proud of her swift and powerful technique.

      Looking forward to reading this week's other fails on your blog!

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  2. great blog Katrina.so pleased hubby told you to hide xx

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    1. Lake House Writer, he really is worth his weight in gold sometimes. I still reserve the right to moan about him at other times, but credit where credit's due :)

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  3. A home-working day...calm until the two wee ones got back from school and proceeded to squabble, fight, insult, scream, stomp, hit, nip and etc one another within the first 20 mins of getting through the door. I have shouted myself hoarse. Separated them. Comforted one (the vastly injured party but I am certain she actually "started it"!!).
    That was 2 and a haf hours ago. They are now curled around one another watching a repeat of Top Gear on BBC iplayer...
    Who would be a parent! lol... Yes, your post is spot on (again)... x

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    1. I am quite in awe of you, la mujer libre, since you have almost three times as many children as I have, meaning that you have dealt with these kinds of situations at least three times as often as I have. *I'M NOT WORTHY!*
      But maybe you also get three times the joy and love as well? :)

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  4. I had one of those days on Saturday too......in fact it wasn't half as bad...and I still had those thoughts!

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    1. I cannot tell you how often I have those thoughts... thank goodness that children have that way of tugging at your heartstrings mere minutes after having tried your patience to its very limits!

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  5. Thanks for linking up and for the back link to my blog!

    I find it worrying, I consider myself to be a patient person, I'm a primary school teacher after all, very little gets me riled in normal life. Yet some mornings I'm completely with you in wanting to throw in the towel. It's usually the mornings, when I'm tired and the girls are grumpy and I need to get them all out the house for the school run.

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  6. Sorry sorry having problems commenting.

    Was going to say, it worries me because I wonder how people with less patience and more children cope with those times. Not everyone will be able to keep themselves calm.

    Anyway I'm glad you have a supportive hubby who sees when you need time to yourself. I think thats the key. Lots of me time, to recharge the patience meter.

    Great post by the way. I'm sure a lot of people will identify with it!

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    1. Thanks, Here come the girls! As you say, there are so many things that can help recharge the patience meter - sleep, help, down-time... I am really lucky in that these days I have lots of those, and even still, I regularly have moments like the one that prompted this post. I am truly in awe of people who have three and four and even larger numbers of children, and even more in awe of single parents (or parents whose spouse can't or won't help out) who do most of it on their own. Unsung heroes.

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  7. Great post and although I can't identify 100% having just one child (at the moment - 2nd on the way ARGH! LOL) I'm like that with just the one - I was an only child so I don't 'get' the sibling fighting thing so I'm a bit nervous about it all. I'm holding on to the fact that the good times are really good, enough to get us through it, and keeping my fingers crossed!

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    1. Thanks so much for your nice comment, and how lovely that you're expecting your second baby! Congratulations! The thing is, although my two tear each other apart sometimes, I do think parenting two is easier than parenting one. There are whole hours sometimes when they play beautifully together, they share experiences and toys and friends, and the dynamic is somehow more lively and colourful than when I only had one. I also hope (like my sister and me) in years to come their childhood memories will be a real bond between them. Having said that, sometimes the noise and chaos and the petty fights are A Real Challenge. On balance, though, I much prefer having two :)

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  8. I know soooo much how you feel... 3 is even worse, when I deal with the one the other two are at each other's throats... pfff
    Hang in there, it will get better...

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  9. Can't even do the commenting right now. Too much stuff going on around.... I read somewhere above someone saying 'Was going to say, it worries me because I wonder how people with less patience and more children cope with those times. Not everyone will be able to keep themselves calm'
    That would be me. 3 kids and no patience left. There is too much screaming in my house and I am not sure how to fix it...

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    1. Karien, I'm thinking that children growing older and moving out might be a sure way to stop the screaming... :) But seriously, I do think the noise levels in our house get lower every year. The kids are now 6 and 3. It is still often loud and chaotic around here, but I have to admit that it was much worse before!!

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  10. A close friend who has one child can attest to the same feelings every once in a while - fierce love, but sometimes fierce helplessness he he...

    She committed herself to becoming a SAHM (or one with a part-time translating job every once in a while), but even despite the fact that she had already known that she wanted to be more of a SAHM, it was conflicting at best every now and then. She used to be a GP so she's worried that her skills as a doctor will be so rusty by the time she's ready to go back to the medical world...but we shall see what happens. Nowadays she's still translating part-time while becoming a SAHM.

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    1. I think women face a big internal conflict when they have children. They are drawn to their kids, but at the same time many love their "old" jobs and don't want to turn their back on them completely. I used to work as a lawyer in a large firm, and I tried for several years to balance that with motherhood. I got a bit disillusioned (and exhausted) somewhere along the way, and currently I am taking a break from law. I haven't lost my passion for it, though...

      By the way, Sara Perring writes a great blog and her latest post talks about Glass Ceilings. You (or your friend) might be interested in taking a read: http://achieveamazingthings.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/glass-ceiling-excuse-or-reality/

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    2. THANKS for the link, Katriina. I'll go read it now. :-D

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  11. I think we can all relate to that first scene. The bit about your elder child coming into the room in the middle of what is obviously a crisis and asking you a load of random questions really made me laugh - my own elder son does just exactly that!

    But we get through the dark moments and we keep going. Because we love them and because there is no other choice.

    Great post.

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    1. So true - that there really is no other choice but to keep going. We love our kids but there is no getting around the reality that they are bloody hard work sometimes.
      I loved your own post on this issue, and it was great to know that at least one other mother was right on my wavelength! - http://www.gappytales.com/2012/03/doesnt-mean-i-dont-love-my-kids.html

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