5 Big Fat Lies About Parenthood

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cute-little-baby

Looking back over my 13 years of parenting so far, I see many common “truths” about parenthood that have proven to be more fiction than fact. And dishonesty sucks. As someone who prizes truth, especially regarding parenting, I thought I’d shed my own personal light on some of these beliefs. Here are the five  biggest lies about parenthood I was told…

1. Breastfeeding Shouldn’t Hurt. Maybe breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt, but it does, at first. Sometimes like a mofo. My mom is a professional lactation consultant, and I nursed three babies into toddlerhood, so I speak from experience. With each baby, breastfeeding hurt for the first couple of weeks. The first time, I was surprised by the pain. The second time, I was like, “WTH, breasts! Don’t you remember we’ve done this before?!” And the third time, I knew to expect a couple of weeks of fairly major discomfort. The latch was fine, but my nipples were on fire. Maybe my newborns had tiny mouths or I have oddly shaped nips or something, but there was a distinct “adjustment period” where nursing hurt like the dickens with each baby.

After a couple of weeks, everything toughened up and evened out and it was smooth sailing from there. But telling parents that breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt is a bit dishonest. Yes, a bad latch can make it worse. Yes, an infection is a whole other ballgame. But the vast majority of moms I’ve talked to say breastfeeding hurts at first.

And it makes sense, really. If marathon runners get chafed nipples from their shirt rubbing against them, moms can certainly get tender nipples from a surprisingly strong little suction cup pumping at their breasts several hours a day.

The problem with saying it shouldn’t hurt, is that when it does, new moms think there’s something wrong with them, like they have some defect that means they shouldn’t breastfeed. It hurts for a while, then it doesn’t. There are ways to mitigate the tenderness until then (Lansinoh was a life saver for me). But let’s stop telling moms it shouldn’t hurt when that’s just not the reality for many.

2. Sleeping Through the Night. I think the entirety of “sleeping through the night” – as if it’s a milestone like crawling or walking that, once achieved, is permanently established – is a big fat lie.

Just last night, our 9-year-old came into our room at 2 a.m. with a bad dream. Last week, it was our 4-year-old. Now that we’re fully past the baby/toddler stage, we have long stretches of time where we get to sleep without interruption, but it’s never a given.

And when they were babies? Around three months, they slept through the night just long enough for us to start telling people they were sleeping through the night. Then they started teething. Then they started crawling and walking and talking, and for some cosmic joke of a reason, felt the need to practice those things at ungodly hours of the morning.

Then the occasional bad dreams kicked in. Then our eldest went through a weird insomnia phase. As I said, we usually get a full night’s sleep these days. But again, it’s never a given.

And you know what the “experts” consider sleeping through the night? Five hours. Five hours is not “through the night.” Five hours is a long nap.

I only watched one episode of “Desperate Housewives,” but one scene still sticks in my mind. A harried mom gets pulled over by a cop, and in explaining herself to the officer, she says, “I haven’t slept through the night in six years, ma’am.”

Best excuse ever.

3. If You Ignore the Whining, It Will Stop. [a.k.a. "If you don't give in to whining, they won't do it." Or, my personal favorite, "Kids only whine because it works."] Bull phooey.

Kids whine for about 147 reasons, only one of which is to get something you’re not giving them. They whine because they’re cold, because they’re hungry, because they’re tired, because they’re frustrated, because they’re four, because life is unfair, because they can’t find something, because they want attention, because their cereal is soggy, and, perhaps – just perhaps – because they like the sound of their own whiny little voices.

I swear whining is an instinctual response for kids, like gasping or giggling or screaming. Our kids know that whining is not going to get them anything, yet they still whine. Over the years, we’ve tried ignoring, mirroring, laughing, reasoning, punishing, sympathizing, and every other -ing you can think of to override the whine reflex, yet our offspring continue to do it.

Our 13-year-old doesn’t whine anymore. THANK GOD. They do eventually outgrow it. But it happens at much older ages than I ever thought probable before I had kids. And there’s no foolproof way to get them to stop.

None that wouldn’t result in therapy, anyway.

4. Good Parents Never Have Terrible Thoughts. This one is more a lie of omission, as it’s something people just don’t talk about. But from heartfelt conversations with other parents, it’s not an uncommon phenomenon.

It’s understandable that parents who suffered abuse as kids would have to overcome impulses to harm their children. But I never expected to have those thoughts myself.

I didn’t grow up in an abusive household. My parents didn’t even spank. And I’m not a hot-tempered person. Yet I’ve had a few brief moments when it was all I could do not to slap, or shake, or otherwise hurt my child. That’s awful to put into writing. But it’s true.

When our first baby was a newborn, she wasn’t sleeping well, she cried much of the night, and I was utterly exhausted. I’d never been so tired in my life (and still haven’t). I instantly understood how shaken baby syndrome happens.

And in that desperate instant, my mother told me something so shocking and honest and beautiful, I thank her every day for it. She said, “When your brother was a baby and wouldn’t stop crying one night, my instinct was to toss him out the window.”

Holy crap. It wasn’t just me. My even-keeled, emotional rock of a mother had had a terrible mothering thought. Not only that, she used the word “instinct” to describe it. I thought mothering instincts were all fuzzy and warm and protective. But I think we also have a deep, dark, alter-instinct, which, in rock-bottom moments of exhaustion and desperation, briefly surfaces to duke it out with our protective parenting instincts.

It doesn’t show up often, thankfully, for those of us who were blessed with loving upbringings. But it’s there. I know I would never hurt my children, but it’s a terrifying feeling to understand how child abuse can happen. I’m generally quite a patient and loving mother, but I know I’ve set a child down too hard in frustration. I’ve squeezed an arm too tightly in anger. I’ve spoken with a fierceness in my voice that didn’t fit the severity of the situation.

Parenting combined with life in general can push us to ugly places. And the veil of civilization that keeps us in check can sometimes feel very thin. Obviously, my mother would never have thrown my brother out the window, and I know I would never strike one of my children.

But those used to be unfathomable thoughts. Now it’s just the actions that are unfathomable. The thoughts I can understand.

5. Childhood Goes By So Quickly. I’m guilty of perpetuating this lie, even right here on this very blog. It’s a lie that’s true, actually – but only in hindsight.

Have you ever noticed that the people who say childhood goes by quickly are people who are past whatever parenting phase you’re in? Of course it goes by fast when you’re looking backwards. When you climb a mountain and look back down, your perspective from the top makes the distance from the bottom look surprisingly short.

But ask the climber halfway up the slope how short it feels.

When you’re in the daily throes of parenting, childhood goes by very, very slowly. Telling parents it goes by quickly may seem like motivation to enjoy every blessed moment, but it’s a bit like constantly telling a mountain climber to enjoy the scenery. It’s not always helpful.

Sometimes a thick fog rolls in and completely obscures your view. All you can do is look down, put one foot in front of the other, and hope you’re moving in the right direction. Sometimes you’ve just crossed a raging river, narrowly avoided an animal attack, tripped and twisted your ankle, and are hanging by your fingernails from a cliff. In that moment, the last thing you need is someone telling you to “enjoy every moment” because it “goes by so fast.”

Climbing a mountain is awesome, and the views from the plateaus are incomparable, but much of the hike is spent navigating and tackling the terrain. That’s not a bad thing. The climb is where you build muscle, stamina, and character. But it is slow, hard work and should be honored as such.

So yes, it’s easy to say childhood goes by quickly when you’re at the top looking down. But perhaps it would be more motivating for parents who are still scaling that mountain to call down, “I know it’s hard and sometimes you think you might die, but keep climbing! You can do it!” rather than “Enjoy every moment! Doesn’t it go by so fast?”

Perhaps those of us still climbing can agree to stop and smell the flowers in between diaper changes and bedtime battles, and those of you at the summit can save those sweet “doesn’t it go by so fast” sentiments for when we’re able share those gorgeous views with you, k?.

And if you could toss down a rope every once in a while, that’d be great, too.

These aren’t the only lies about parenthood we tend to pass along. And most of the time, we perpetuate these falsehoods with the best of intentions. But if we aren’t honest about parenting in all it’s gory glory, folks start to believe they’re alone in their struggles. And no parent should feel alone.

Our views may look different from our particular vantage point, we may hit different rough spots at different times, but we’re all traipsing our way up this crazy, treacherous, beautiful mountain together. So keep climbing, Mamas and Papas, and share your true experiences with others, please.

We can do this thing. Together. Honestly.

Related: Motherhood Comes Naturally (And Other Vicious Lies)

Comments

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  1. 1

    Lizzy says

    “Five hours is a long nap.”
    So true! I don’t even know why people ask if a baby is sleeping through the night. It should just be an understanding between parents that we will never sleep as soundly as we did before our children. Never. Lol

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  2. 2

    Thea says

    I don’t know about the whining thing. I spent a week of vacation bible school telling one little girl (4) to “stop whining , you’re annoying” and you know what? She stopped. At least for that week. And I still call her on it as long as her parents aren’t around. They don’t stop it at all. Why are you whining about needing to pee, you are 6, go to the bathroom.

    And please stop telling me that childhood goes by fast. I’m well aware. I don’t know how I have a 6.5 month old. I really don’t. I swear I just had that c-section.

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    • 3

      Mary says

      Oh honey… *patpat*
      LOL

      Ok, sorry… I won’t be *that* mom… But seriously… I’ve so been there- did daycare for seven years before I had my own. I knew how to deal with everything… And then my two darlings came along and completely dismantled every idea I had about what “worked”.

      Yes, ignoring whining, and calling them out on it DOES work- when it’s not your child. I don’t know why, but kids are never as well-behaved for their parents as they are for other people. You also have the distinct advantage of having her for just a few hours a day, and your relationship has very different established boundaries than what she has with her parents- with them she is completely secure in their love, and able to act out and express herself. (Which is both good and bad- good because that allows the parents to correct behaviors and train her, and bad because it drives parents freaking crazy). lol

      6.5… that’s such a great age… All ages are great, but there’s something special about baby giggles. :)
      And I won’t be the one to say “enjoy it… it goes by so fast…” lol Because I cried when my baby girl was a week old, feeling that the time was already slipping by too fast, and knowing that those precious moments were fleeting.

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      • 4

        Jenuwefa says

        You should feel honored that your kids are so well-behaved for everyone else except you – it’s a sign that they are comfortable showing their true emotions to you! If you demand perfect behavior from your kids when at home, they’ll get the feeling that they can never open up to you because you’ll chide them for “improper” behavior or feelings. There are exceptions of course, but if you look at it from this point of view, it really helps :) But it really has to be that they behave outside the home.

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      • 5

        Melissa says

        Lol thank you Mary! I can nip my whole class of first graders whining in the bud by October but my 3 year old whines constantly! Children always behave better for teachers than parents!

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    • 6

      Lady Stork says

      As a teacher (special education with lots of experience in behavior modification) and a parent, it is much easier to change a behavior in a group setting for a child that is not your own. Being consistent is important but your own children will push their parents harder and have more opportunity catch a moment of weakness when a parent has nothing left and gives in. There is also something very powerful about using the group to enforce good behavior. Calling them out saying it’s annoying plays into that whether you say it privately or not. I would also be careful about telling a six year old they are bring annoying though calling them out is an important part of teaching the right behavior. I do agree you can change whinning and parents can make it worse but it’s much harder in your own children even if you are doing everything right. And God knows as a parent we all have moments we don’t do everything right. Public places tend to be where parents give in because they are afraid they are being judged by kids whinning or other acting out behavior. Good for you in teaching the child not to whine in that setting though. Social skills lesson helps to raise children into better adults!

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    • 10

      Kylynara says

      I totally agree. I much prefer “The hours are long, but the years are short.” Same concept, but doesn’t make you feel like a failure when the baby will not stop screaming at 3 am and you’ve gotten a half hour sleep so far and you can’t find any shred of enjoyment from the baby you longed to hold just a month earlier.

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  3. 11

    says

    when my 2nd boy was potty training (at 33 mo now) and went through all 12 pair of training pants (the ones you have to wash) before lunch one day i wanted to toss him out the bay window. i settled for a diaper and prayed for better days LOL!

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  4. 12

    says

    I still get crap from other moms who breastfeed, when I tell them I stopped because I was in so much pain and discouragement… they tell me it doesn’t hurt and that I should have tried harder! Ha! I’d like to see them go through what I did not even being able to produce correctly and I had ZERO help! It shouldn’t hurt… my ass!

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    • 13

      says

      Man, we all gotta get through the day. Every single blessed day. Do what is good for you and your family. And your sanity. Most of our parents were formula fed as was I. Turned out pretty good for us. Just keep swimming!

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    • 15

      says

      I was blessed to find out I was pregnant during undergrad. Years ahead of what we had planned, but it was amazing nonetheless. I couldn’t breast feed because we were both painfully busy and my body was too exhausted to produce. So I bottle fed, and never felt any guilt. In fact the only person who tried to guilt me was the nurse who did my intake exam for my pp check up. Bottle or breast, the kid is still eating and you’re still bonding. All that matters is what works for you and your family. You gave the kid formula, not crack. Lol

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    • 16

      says

      Yes! The nurses are almost as bad as the moms online who try and trap you in a guilt trip over not breast feeding – that was actually a part of the reason why I felt greatly discouraged – when I was handed my daughter on the very first day she was born, a lactation consultant rushed in and tried to get me to breastfeed, and when I said I wanted to try it on my own (I felt uncomfortable with her putting her hands all over my chest… it was just awkward as a first time mom and I didn’t want to stress my daughter out either as she was just hours old) and she told me I was going to do it all wrong, and on the second day when she saw a bottle in my daughter’s hands, she said I wasn’t trying hard enough and my daughter was going to get “nipple confusion” and she wouldn’t be able to eat! It was hurtful and I asked a nurse to escort this woman out of my room so I wouldn’t feel like punching her in the face lmao

      But yeah, you’re totally right – breast or bottle it doesn’t matter – as long as baby is being fed and nurtured the way they are suppose to be there should not be an issue.

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    • 18

      says

      I wasn’t able to bf my oldest bc nothing really came in properly and he was starving. I remember going for a follow up back then (he’s 14 yrs) and the nurse made me feel like crap saying I should try harder and go to a lactation specialist to do my job as a mother. I was barely 19 at the time, I hope she learned over the years it’s not nice to be mean about it!!

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      • 19

        Sarah H says

        That’s so rude! I’m so sorry that you had to go through that. “your job as a mother” smh. Your job as a mother is to love that baby as much as you can! I’m an RN and I would NEVER say something that mean to someone.

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    • 20

      says

      It hurt. I breastfed two kids both for a year and a half and in the beginning it hurt a lot! I had sore cracked and bleeding nipples that I had to persevere through. So now as a doula, I try to paint a more realistic view for my clients because I was told the same thing, that if it hurt then you’re doing something wrong and that is not the case!

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    • 21

      says

      My sons were aggressive chewers. I finally chose to stop nursing with my oldest when I started bleeding. The worst in my experience are the moms who nursed until weaning who think you are incapable of contributing anything to any conversation because you used a bottle. In a fit of exasperation, I finally told one mom, “You can still bond and cuddle over bottle feeding. What did you think I did, duct tape the bottle to his face?”

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    • 22

      KG says

      breastfeeding does hurt for the first 2-3 weeks on and off…whoever said otherwise forgot that or had nipples of steal…….feed how you want but if you want to nurse…just know that yes…there is days where you will feel like your nipples are going to peel off……..
      I hate when people say “omg Bottle or breast it’s the same thing blablabla”…it’s not……women who want to breastfeed should get support in doing so, not brushed off like “oh just bottle feed”….and women who don’t want to , that’s fine too….there’s lots of easy ways(most times) to fix whatever issue arises in the beginning of the nursing relationship……low supply belief, soreness, latch etc…..but I can guarantee you that if moms push through 3 weeks….it, most times, gets way easier and better…..

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      • 23

        KG says

        breastfeeding does hurt for the first 2-3 weeks on and off…whoever said otherwise forgot that or had nipples of steel…….feed how you want but if you want to nurse…just know that yes…there is days where you will feel like your nipples are going to peel off……..
        I hate when people say “omg Bottle or breast it’s the same thing blablabla”…it’s not……women who want to breastfeed should get support in doing so, not brushed off like “oh just bottle feed”….and women who don’t want to , that’s fine too….there’s lots of easy ways(most times) to fix whatever issue arises in the beginning of the nursing relationship……low supply belief, soreness, latch etc…..but I can guarantee you that if moms push through 3 weeks….it, most times, gets way easier and better…..

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  5. 24

    Abigail's Mommy says

    Breastfeeding doesn’t hurt gor everybody. It didn’t hurt for me. Though my child is almost 7 and I don’t think she has ever slept through the night.

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  6. 27

    says

    Excellent one! We all have struggles, though not necessarily the same ones. Breastfeeding was a breeze for me, but I haven’t slept thru the night in four years. Heck, i haven’t slept more than four hours in a row more than a handful of times in four years. But the point is, when people only share the “Facebook version” of their lives where everything is sunshine and daisies, it’s easy to feel alienated and alone when you’re struggling. Posts like this help!

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  7. 32

    says

    Awesome! I often wonder how motherhood would be different if we (mothers) all spoke more openly about the challenges on this amazing journey! I remember walking out of my first (and only) mothers group thinking I was a shit mother because everyone was talking about how much they loved it, how in love they were with their baby, how amazing motherhood was-and I just sat there feeling genuine shock that I was the only person in the room who was finding it so damn hard to adapt to my new role as a mother… I now look back & wonder how the journeys of everyone in the room may have been different if honesty had prevailed!

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    • 33

      says

      22 years after my first, and 4 years after my last, this is the most honest and heartfelt response to motherhood I’ve ever read (probably because it corresponds so well with my own). Gemma Hoffman, you are a good Mum. Why? Because you kept it real. Make sure it stays that way, for you and your little people, and you’ll always find a way through. Wish I’d been as wise in the early days. :-)

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    • 35

      says

      I totally get that. Those kind of people make me want to puke. LOL Yeah when my son was first born, I wanted to run away! I was petrified! Eventually we bonded, of course, but there were a LOT of hurdles to jump being a mom. I had to walk away from that crib a LOT of times because of my exhaustive rage, as I was also a single mom.

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    • 36

      says

      Wow ladies, you’ve just made me cry! I guess there is a risk in honesty…a risk of judgement & people seeing you. But you just offered so much acceptance in your responses-so thank you for that! I wish you four had been in my mothers group that day I went with my new born twins & left feeling like I was the worst human being in the world. Sandi, Lily, Deb, Stephanie-thank you! And I’m sure your truth will be a gift to your children & others around you ❌⭕️😘😘😘😘😘😘

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  8. 39

    says

    My cousin and I had a conversation about the breastfeeding. She nursed 6 and I nursed 4 and for both of us our nipple had to adjust or toughen up with each kid. It wasn’t brutally painful like when my 1st wasn’t latching well, but it was still tender every time they pay latched for the 1st week or so. And both of us had some times where it had only been a few months since we had stopped nursing the baby before the newborn.

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  9. 40

    says

    Im on the mountain looking down (my baby is 20) but I’m here to tell you, it’s not easy, lots of times not fun, and I’m waiting for grandchildren before I make the decision whether it was worth it or not. I HIGHLY recommend Anne Lamott’s book Operating Instructions. It’s a journal of her son’s first year and is oh, so honest, but funny too. It was so helpful to me.
    One admission, shortly after my 18 year old moved out in the NOT the best circumstances category, I saw a mom carrying her infant into the grocery store and my knee-jerk reaction was, smother it now before it has a chance to obliterate your heart! I didn’t say that to her, but I remember all the time what a dark place I was in and friends to help you laugh through it are the best remedy.

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