Parenting: An articulation

Parenting or ‘mummy’ posts are frequent in my social media scrolling. More often than not they are cringeworthy for one of two reasons. They either paint parenting as something everyone must do because life simply cannot be happy and full without being a parent, or the opposite, that parenting is horrific and full of poo explosions, toddler tantrums, sleep deprivation and a non-existent romantic relationship with your partner. The latter are often presented in a very ‘raw’ or sometimes overly crass, manner. I want to throw my perspective in and maybe someone will find it relatable and hopefully no one finds it cringeworthy. At a minimum it will provide an insight into me.

One post I read earlier this year was about a daughter telling her mother that she was considering starting a family and asked her mother ‘do you think I should have a baby?’ The post went on to describe an exhaustive list of all the things this mother wants her daughter to know about motherhood. It included ‘you will be professionally derailed’ and ‘your life will be of less value to you’ and ‘you’ll drop everything for a cry’. Then it concluded with the mother telling her daughter ‘you’ll never regret it’. I thought this was an irresponsible post and was shocked with the comments from people saying they were a ball of tears, or relating with a ‘so true’ comment. These comments shocked me because I don’t think anyone should ask another if they should have a baby, and even more so I don’t think anyone should suggest to someone else that they won’t regret having a child. In reality, you might regret it. I believe that many people do. So many more than would ever say so. Some may say so without using the word regret. It is difficult to use the word regret in relation to something you love so much. So, perhaps there is a more apt word or phrase. I don’t regret having my children. I don’t wish that I didn’t have them or that I had fewer of them. I can’t feel those things after experiencing my children and the bond I have with them. However I do wonder, if pre-children I could have fully comprehended the experience of parenthood, would I still have chosen it, or chosen to have four children.

Another post spoke of all the horrible things about having children, the list went on forever, and finished with a reference to it all melting away in the moment of a spontaneous hug or a smile.

Just the other day I read a much more relatable post that referred to the identity transformation that a woman experiences when they become a mother. This post had me nodding my head in acknowledgement with the mention of things such as the constant sense of interruption, the necessity to make decisions uninfluenced by the judgement of others, the incomparable weight of responsibility. But it missed the mark when it mentioned the realisation that you can’t have it all, when it stated that a parent’s identity is first and foremost being a parent, and the insinuation that parents push themselves and their relationship aside and hope to revisit these things when the youngest child is 18, and hope that enough of themselves is retained. I appreciated the ‘tell it how it is’ nature of this post and that it wasn’t concluded with a warm and fuzzy, but it didn’t fully capture what parenthood is for me.

I’m sure these posts are the reality for some, if not many. But they don’t capture my reality. I am going to attempt to articulate that here. No matter what motherhood is for me, it does not mean that’s what parenthood is or will be for you, nor should it be.

Yes, becoming a parent will change your life. You now have a child and you didn’t before. And you chose this. The other changes that will occur, for the most part, you choose them too. You choose if a parent stays home with your child/ren, which parent, and for how long. You choose your feeding method. You choose if, when, and who you ask for or accept help from. You choose how you nurture your relationships. You choose to what degree you take your child/ren on your life’s journey and to what degree you step off your path and join them on theirs. You choose your parenting philosophy.

The worst aspect of parenting for me is the incomprehensible sense of responsibility to raise ‘good’ people who contribute positively to society, and who are content in themselves. This is a phenomenal opportunity as well, but for me, the responsibility is often overwhelming. It is the reason I question if I could comprehend such responsibility before having my four children, would I have had four? Or any? I believe it is this sense of responsibility however that makes me a good parent. The thought that goes into my parenting decisions and my drive to choose how to appropriately respond to my children rather than be reactive is the part of parenting I find the most exhausting. It is also the part I think is most important. The times where this responsibility leaves my mind are almost unidentifiable. It’s not just the weight of the responsibility though. There is fear too. Fear that I won’t succeed. Fear that I will have brought people into the world who aren’t content and who don’t contribute positively. Or worse, who don’t love themselves or who contribute negatively to society. It is both fear and responsibility that drive me to do my best. More so than opportunity.

The other tough stuff with parenting pales in comparison to this. Probably because I recognise that for the most part, I chose it. I’m tired. All of the time. Usually because I choose to be busy and I choose to strive to have it all. I choose to stay up for hours after all the kids are in bed rather than get an early night. I choose to deliberately give my relationship time so that we don’t lose each other on the parenting journey. I chose to deliberately give my interests time so that I don’t lose myself on this parenting journey. I choose to constantly strive to have my cake and eat it too; and that is exhausting. Because I chose these things, I am therefore choosing to parent all day while tired, which makes choosing to thoughtfully respond rather than react difficult. But so totally worth it.

Being a parent is my most valued responsibility. It is not what defines me above all else. None of my responsibilities define me. My identity is defined by my character, my values. Not my duties. I would like to think my identity, who I am, is what makes me a good parent. Not the reverse.

I love my children. Without question I love them more than anything else. And they are the only people I love unconditionally. I also like them. I enjoy their company. They are interesting, hilarious, sassy, compassionate, inspiring, they amaze me daily, and all four of them different from the others. My love for everyone else most definitely comes with conditions. I am not confident that I will love my children unconditionally forever. I’m almost certain there will be conditions when they are grown adults. If I am successful in raising mentally healthy, content and respectful people then those conditions will no doubt be met. And I hope, so badly I hope, that I both love and like my children as adults.

Parenting is an incredible experience. Comparable to extreme sport I suppose. Or a university degree. Or anything that is both hard work and rewarding. There are moments when you wonder when this phase will end. When will I be done with broken sleep, done with nappies and wiping someone else’s bum, done with homework and assignments and parent teacher interviews, done with backchat and monitoring social media, done with the worry that comes with drivers’ licences and clubbing, and so on and so on. There are also these moments when you remember to stop and enjoy the view, or appreciate your end of semester transcript, or your new PB. Checkpoints where you feel proud and it’s clear that all the hard work is paying off. You realise that you are successfully achieving the goal of nurturing these young people into content positive contributers to society and you are motivated to work harder again and again.

I love being a parent. I enjoy the challenge and the reward. But like any journey, there are times when I wonder how far away the next checkpoint is. There are times when I question how best to handle a phase to ensure it is just a phase. There are times when I reflect and am not proud of my reactions and my inability to choose a thoughtful response. And there are times when I reflect and think, I’m an absolute gun at this parenting thing!

I found articulating what parenthood is for me very difficult. And I’m not sure I’ve done it well. I enjoyed the process though. It has clarified some things for me and reminded me of some things too. I’m going to finish this post with some responses to common threads in other parenting posts that didn’t really fit in my articulation of parenting, but I still wanted to address them. So, I have this to say…

Expect your body to be different post pregnancy. From what I’ve witnessed, how your body deals with pregnancy is a whole lot of luck, but is impacted by how healthy you were during pregnancy and how much weight you gained. No, your body won’t ever be the same again. But that’s true for all people; we age. Pregnancy really puts some women through the ringer, others emerge barely changed. Limit your expectations.

The more children you have, the more you’ll appreciate assistance and the more difficult it is to get. It’s important to consider this. I didn’t. I can’t imagine having my four children without my Mum and Dad around. I have a limited number of friends and family who I would even consider asking to have all four of our children so my husband and I could have some time out. If I only had one or two children, that list would probably quadruple. Maintaining my identity outside of my children and maintaining a romantic relationship with my husband are high priorities for me, so occasional time away from my children is important. Having four makes it quite difficult. Just like you cannot comprehend being a parent until you have a child, you cannot comprehend having two just because you have one, and so on for three, four, five etc. Know that before you make a decision about subsequent children.

Being a parent has not professionally derailed me. Because I did not allow it to. I chose not take on board the judgement that came thick and fast from others about this. I’ve been told ‘No more. Three is enough. Stop now… Only five months? You have to stay home for at least a year… Go for a fifth, you need a girl… What? They’re not in daycare? They need to be socialised…’ Expect judgement. No matter what your choices. Even if your choice is not to have children. Never let this judgement influence your decisions.

Be prepared to be considerate; all of the time. You cannot make decisions without considering your child/ren. This in itself can be tiring.

Watching my children accomplish their dreams is not more important than me accomplishing mine. Maybe I’m just super selfish. How will my kids learn to work for their dreams if they don’t see me doing it? The way I see it, if I model belief in myself and hard work and my children see me succeed, they will know they can achieve anything. And I will enjoy watching them do it.

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