Have you ever had such a great time in your life that you were sad to see that period end? Do you find yourself remembering it with longing? This is always my experience around St Patrick’s Day. It is one of my favourite holidays tinged with a sting of longing. I used to live in Dublin in The Sweet Years. The economy was booming. I was in my mid-twenties. My partner and I both had fantastic jobs with amazing colleagues. We had all of Ireland to explore with our mandatory 21 days annual leave (how civilized, thank you European Union). We had the freedom, time, and money to travel (lots), hang out with friends (weekly), sleep in on weekends (ahhhh), and generally do what we wanted when we wanted. My longing for Ireland is tangled up with loving that stage of my life for its flexibility and freedom.
I know I’m not alone in this. Some of my clients also fondly remember their pre-child years: no battles over discipline and diaper pails, no bargaining for sleep or whose turn it is to take care of bath and bed.
Having kids does not mean that your entire life needs to change, but life as you knew it will be altered. To a large extent our days and our weekends are no longer our own. That’s part of becoming a parent. Mess and meals, running kids around and running interference, childcare costs and juggling schedules, nearly constantly thinking about someone else’s needs before our own. One of my clients said it best, “sometimes being an adult sucks”. And that’s the truth. Some days it does suck. It can be hard and thankless.
But here’s the kicker: if we don’t shift and settle in to our new realities we risk growing bitter and resentful. We can choose to carry this around for years and nurse it like a precious gem. Growing more and more bitter, more and more resentful, missing the delights and humour along the way.
Children are nutty little creatures, irrational, and deluded at the best of times. They have no reasoning ability and flip between being delightfully adorable and terrifyingly unhinged. When my eldest, Ella, was 2 we were getting a puppy (in the midst of a home renovation and with me pregnant – who’s the nutty one?!). We were debating the name for the pup and settled on Bernard. Ella was not pleased and carried out a full-blown Oscar worthy tantruming assault screeching, “YOU CAN’T NAME HIM BERNARD!!!!! YOU CAN’T GIVE HIM THAT NAME! I CAN’T EVEN SAY BERNARD. I HATE THE NAME BERNARD”. Now it’s funny, at the time I wished for earplugs and duct tape.
This past Christmas I was scrolling through pictures selecting ones to create a photo book. It filled me with absolute joy, remembering moments and events I had completely forgotten. The land of sticky little fingers and chubby thighs, missing teeth and sleeping babies. I came across of picture of our living room in the usual state from when the kids were toddlers. Stuff strewn hither and yon, floor barely visible (I’m not one of those parents who sticks to “put that away before you play with something else”). But I was puzzled as to why my partner would take a picture of this – was it just to remind us how chaotic life was? Then I remembered it was a photo for the police. Our house had been broken into and the thief had tossed our stuff all over, ransacked it. Honestly, it didn’t appear much different than a typical day until the kids were soundly tucked in and we would gather up the toys and collapse on the sofa.
How do we fix this? How do we catch ourselves? Tune in to how you’re feeling: grumpy, irritable, overwhelmed, resentful, blaming your partner for this, that, or the other? We all have those moments. But when those moments become our daily way of moving through the world it’s time to take stock. Think about how you want your kids to remember you. Do you want to convey the idea that they’re an irritating burden? Kids pick this up, especially teens, and it’s heartbreaking. How do you want them to observe you talking to the other parent – snippy, rude, and brusque? How do you remember your own parents behaving towards you and each other? Are there parts you want to replicate? Parts you never want to repeat? On those days when you’re feeling as though parenting is all drudgery and drag, remember, your kids are watching.
Settle in to the craziness and the chaos, learn to embrace it. The hill only gets steeper from here on in. Hone your patience and gratitude now, before the teen years present new, tougher challenges. Settle down and settle in to parenting, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.