Parenting kinda sucks.
And it’s also the best thing ever. Often at exactly the same time.
This morning, for example, I was tired and in no mood for usual. That’s what Noah and I call our morning ritual of playing a game or drawing a picture together on the couch after he wakes up. I was even less in the mood for Gwen to be underslept and grumpy and for Benji to be three years old and in tears if I sliced his French toast in the wrong direction. Which I did. So this morning sucked.
And it was also miraculous. Gwen was in the bathroom with Noah, brushing his hair. I was standing in the kitchen checking email on my iPhone while Benji finished his breakfast at the kitchen table. I watched as he ate. He’s at the stage of being exactly the size of a small Ewok. He even moves like one and he has an Ewok’s focus and attention. He was totally absorbed in the work of eating his breakfast. First his French toast. Then, with a don’t mind if I do glance, he moved his French toast plate out of the way, and swapped in his bowl of oatmeal.
Benji now attends a nursery program two mornings a week. Last week, his teacher taught him to lean over his oatmeal bowl during snack so that he’ll drip into the bowl and not onto his sweater. So this morning he sits up a bit straighter to get some height and bends over the bowl to avoid spilling. The way he leans forward with his tiny body, so intentional, jutting his neck out to drip into the bowl, is so cute, I am swooning. Sometimes the love is almost too much to hold. For a split second, my knees go weak; I’m a preteen girl at a Justin Bieber concert.
One minute I am stressed and miserable. The next, I sigh, my body softens, and I could not be happier. Literally. The highs are so high, they completely dissolve the lows.
And what’s the alternative, anyway? What did I do that was so great when I actually had time? Would I rather be sitting on the couch watching a movie? Going to a yoga class? Sleeping in? No. Of course not. Okay, yes. Yes, I would.
But not really. As New York magazine concluded in their famous 2010 article “All Joy and No Fun,” from day to day, parents are less happy and more stressed, but in the long run, they feel a deep sense of purpose and are more satisfied.
So having kids exposes you to transcendent moments of love, connection, and happiness, but day to day, everyone is stressed, no one is sleeping, and there hasn’t been sex in weeks or even months. This is why it is not a good time to make big life decisions.
I have a little rule for myself. Before I ram the car in front of me for driving below the speed limit, I ask myself, “Have I slept less than seven consecutive hours, eaten six brownies, or had a fight with Gwen?” If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then I give the driver a second chance before he meets the front end of my Corolla.
The same must be true for our partners.
We must advocate for our needs but also give them time and space. And we must accept a certain amount of chaos and discord. Bottom line, I don’t think couples with small children should be allowed to divorce. With no time to connect, lacking sleep, and always feeling overwhelmed, parents of very small children, it seems to me, are not of sound mind to make such a life-changing decision. (Unless they are. Sometimes divorce, I suppose, is the only option. Obviously if there is abuse. Or if partners realize that they are truly incompatible.)
But otherwise, the person you married will likely return in a few years when the kids are older, and a divorce would screw all that up.
After Gwen gave birth, she changed from Anne of Green Gables to Beowolf. (I think it’s been long enough, now, that I can joke about this. Right, honey? Honey?) And I don’t really blame her; years of not sleeping and putting your own needs third will do that to a person.
But then, like the hulk returning to David Banner, slowly, over time, she returned. One morning she woke up, blinked a few times and said, “Whoa, where have I been?” And that was it; my Gwen was back. God forbid we had divorced; I’d have missed out on a lifetime of loving her.
Related post: The Seasons of Marriage