Monday, May 07, 2007

Is it still OK to be happy?

Rose posted a reminder of this long-ago post I made on the potential happiness or misery of mothering small children. It had to do with a particular short story on a mother's disillusionment with her life and recovery through finding friends to complain with. Rose, who now has two, finds things are still going quite well, and she is happy but a little worried about what may be lurking around the corner.

I felt like I had to answer not just Rose, but also my new-mother self. I remembered the old post, of course, and was immediately quite sure that I would find the date stamp on it to be before D2 was conceived. Rereading the old story, I could only say to myself: "Oh, no. Life hasn't been that bad. It's been much, much worse."

At least the protagonist of the story has the energy to clean her house once a week and is still able to talk in complete sentences. At least she has the energy to put food on the table and watch the kids throw it, instead of listening to the children cry because she's just too tired to feed them.

But for all that, and for all the black, black days when just speaking the next word required all the strength I could summon, I can also say: "Life has been so much better than that."

I still think I have the most wonderful husband in the world, and I'm thankful that he knows how hard it can be, that he knows when to dial 1-800-Grandma, when to apply information from the CCLI, and when to provide a shoulder to cry on, even when I want to insist on soldiering on if it kills me. (Happy birthday to him! He's now the perfect age!)

I still have the most adorable, brilliant, hilarious kids in the world and I wouldn't miss being with them during this part of their life no matter how hard it is.

I don't think everybody's life at this stage will be or should be as hard as mine has been. Most young parents don't have chronic health problems to start with, and most of them don't have two children within fifteen months and then move twice in the next nine months. What's done is done and I am very thankful for now, despite the trouble it took to get here. The average day is getting better, and in the meantime I have learned a lot about being content with my own limits.

And on the other hand there are mothers parenting more or less alone and children with life-threatening diseases and lots of other situations that leave me realizing I have no cause to complain.

So I can now honestly say to Rose: Hurray for you! I'm glad you're having a good time! If everyone were this messed-up, whom would we call for help? And who would organize the playdates?

It also helps that I never really looked forward to this stage of life or expected it to be particularly pleasant. Truthfully, even if I had all the energy in the world, my brain is not well-adapted to making it through the day with small children. My brain type could best be labeled "absent-minded professor." I'm not good at foreseeing problems and heading them off, or rembering what it was I was doing before the last six interruptions, or even hearing someone calling my name. Some people are good at those things, and that's great.

But I believe that parenting is not something that should be left to the people who are naturally good at it. My kids need me, not the most excellent preschool teacher. If that means I have to learn to do things I don't like to do and am not good at, so be it. (On the other hand, there are reasonable limits to doing things one doesn't like. You will not find me providing in-home daycare.)

That's something important, I think. If only mothers who were really wonderful, natural, energetic mothers were at home, that wouldn't say anything about how important this job is. But if I can say: "This is really, really hard. It's the hardest thing I've ever done,"--and still say that it is worth it--well, that means something.

And this is not forever, even though some days feel like forever. Someday D1 will be old enough to really run the house, as she so eagerly tries to do now. Someday D2 and I will be able to have conversations that involve more than three words. This is not the end goal and never was.


Devona said...

There was a mother on a message board I read who was saying that she really disliked the baby stage. That she was totally out of tune with any of her kids under 10. Then one day she had teenagers and it was like her house was full of old friends all the time.

I am thrilled with this stage of my kids' lives. I used to be a really great preschool teacher. What I'm afraid of is that I'll be a terrible mother to teenagers.

I'm glad you said that your kids need you. It reminds me that my kids need me and my future teenaged kids will also need me. This was a timely and encouraging post.

Queen of Carrots said...

Since you know it is an issue, you'll probably do fine. It's the mothers who keep thinking preschool methods will work on high schoolers that run into problems.

That is very comforting to hear. I do sometimes worry that my hope is vain that we'll all get along better once I'm no longer tripping over them, so it's good to know it works that way for some people. Mostly I hear moms of older kids talking about how much easier it was when the kids were small and they could control things. (I don't even WANT to control things. Occasional consultation is plenty for me.) But perhaps they are just preschool people.

Ben, Kyri & Rachelle said...

Ah you make me feel better. My two biggest challenges are: sleep deprivation and relentless opposition to my authority. But they don't happen all of the time and there are more good days than bad ones. And I'm raising at least one child with a lot of leadership potential.

I highly recommend reading The Glass Castle on the days you think you are a bad parent. It helped me be a little less hard on myself. -rlr