In my worst moments — the moments when the kids have screamed and whined and hit each other all day, then my husband comes home sick/tired/miserable and I have to keep on keepin’ on, then I impale my foot on a plastic toy and suddenly the whole house spreads around me in a sea of kid-created mess and chaos — I fantasize.
It goes like this: I grab my purse and a few credit cards. I put my dog on a leash. And I hop in my husband’s car, which is not a rolling minivan of child-created trash, and my dog and I floor it west. We drive and drive and drive under the flicker of interstate light, until the land turns clean, stripped of its green coating, pared down to bare rock. We hit the desert and then, somehow, in this vast echo of nothing, we are saved.
Then I realize my husband would track me by credit card within a day or so.
In my worst moments, I sometimes tell my husband, bitingly, that I want to run away to Vegas and never come back. It baffles him, this response to crisis. But other women — they get it. That’s because motherhood is freaking hard. It’s hard to give your whole self to someone else, usually multiple someones. It’s hard to always put yourself last while maintaining the standards society expects of you: staying young, staying hot, staying fun and playful and Pinteresting the shit out of all the bake sales.
Make-up at drop-off. Bento boxes at lunch. Martha Stewart at home and Chasey Lane in the sack.
This. Is. Fucking. Hard.
And I am not alone.
“Actually thinking that divorce with 50/50 custody would be a welcoming sight right now. I NEED a break. I can’t do this much longer spring break is killing me,” says one parent in the Scary Mommy Confessional. Obviously, they not willing to divorce over it (or maybe they are?), but being home with children all day, every day, caring for every need 24/7, playing chef and arbitrator, maid and valet, plus on-board entertainment is damn exhausting.
Sure, there are rewards. Yes, there are sticky kisses and hugs and cuddles, lisped “I love you”s. Yes, there are those golden moments where they see you’re overwhelmed and they help. But it’s so easy to get burnt out. A cold, a bad night of sleep, a dog rooting through the trash, an especially whiny toddler — any of these can make a normal day, a normal life, feel downright Sisyphean. With your kids in the starring role as a giant fucking rock.
“I can’t life for shit lately. The weight of it all is too much,” says another parent. I can’t life. I want to find that person, run down the wires of the Internet, and tackle them in a giant been-there-done-that-got-the-commemorative-shotglass hug. Because this is how it feels some days. Like everything is going wrong, nothing is going right, and the sheer weight of what’s riding on you as parent is too much. These are the days that you want to escape. These are the days that, as another parent says, “I often fall asleep wishing that when I wake, I’ll be 5 again in my parents’ house. My current shitshow life would’ve been only a strange dream.”
The difficulty of it is enough to make some parents bitter. The day-in-day-out mundaneness of it all, the small concerns that loom so large, the constant stress: these are not to be underestimated. And without a community to help us, without a tribe, without a tight-knit group of multi-aged people to share the burdens and stresses of childrearing, it becomes too much. One parent notes clinically that, “If I had a do-over, I wouldn’t bother getting married or having kids. I don’t hate it but it’s beyond overrated.” That confession has over 1,200 people in total agreement.
So if so many of us are ready to run away to Vegas, throw in the towel, or do something darker — there are plenty of confessions that hint at suicide — what do we do? What can we do?
We can recognize, first, that raising a human is hard as fuck, be it one perfectly behaved human or a hoard of ill-tempered ones, alone or with a partner, with a parent that lives close by or with in-laws who don’t meddle. We can realize that every single one of us has our struggles. Every single one of us has our own parenting demons, our own breaking points. No one knows what they’re doing. All of us are muddling along the best we can and praying it all turns out okay.
We can realize that parents need grace. We need grace from other parents: the grace that refrains from judgment, the grace that offers a hand instead of sniffing down the nose. The grace that says, “Let me help,” and realizes the parenting truth we should all tattoo in some prominent place: There But For The Grace of God Go I.
And non-parents have a role to play, too. They need to realize that kids act like kids, in restaurants and airplanes and sundry other public places. Realize that sometimes mom doesn’t have time to put on makeup for the benefit of fucking strangers in Target, and it doesn’t mean she’s let herself go; it means she was short on time. People can offer to help us out: God bless the Target cashiers who see a struggling mom and offer her kids a sticker; they’re some true heroes in this world.
People can offer to babysit. And no, I don’t mean that the world owes us because we popped out a rugrat. I mean that we all owe the world for the privilege of living on it, and sometimes that means we help an elderly woman with her groceries, or hold the door for a woman in a wheelchair, and sometimes people refrain from judgment when we drag a screaming toddler out of Red Robin.
There will always be days when parents want to run off to the desert, dream of alternate lives, or metaphorically tear their hair out. But if we talk openly about this stuff, if we admit we wanted to walk out the door yesterday, things get better. We forms bonds — real ones, ones that tell us we aren’t alone beyond the glow of a computer screen. We tell our truths. And we’ll find that when we do, others will have the courage to stand and tell theirs as well. The beginnings of a community will form. The beginnings of help is on the way.