Before you become a parent, everyone tells you about the crying and tantrums. The sleep you will lose as your newborn cries for hours, and the fits your two-year-old will throw. You have observed this for yourself. Bawling infants on a plane ride, tantruming toddlers splayed on the floor of a grocery store, whining, sniffling voices of children raised in protest at public events. It’s a fact. Kids cry. A lot.
What they don’t tell you is how much you will cry as a parent, as a mother. I had no idea how much it would be me who was crying, instead of or in concert with my baby.
Some moments didn’t surprise me. Tears of simultaneous joy and shock when seeing two pink lines instead of one. Similar tears shed when the ultrasound tech said, “It’s a boy!” I was even prepared for the tears of pain during labor and the overwhelming awe as I held the tiny human I made in my arms for the first time. I even knew I would likely cry a lot out of exhaustion and frustration along with my newborn as we both lacked sleep for the first several months.
It’s all the other times that caught me unaware, the incredible emotional lability this tiny scrap of humanity brings out in me that I was not prepared for. Watching tears fall on my screaming infant’s face as I struggled to make breastfeeding a successful way to feed my baby. Who the hell said this was “natural and easy”??! They are goddamn liars. The first fever, and the first doctor’s appointment with immunizations (yes, and every one after that if we are being truthful) found me wiping my eyes over and over.
The pain you can feel from someone else’s physical discomfort is mind boggling. In addition to the logical causes of sadness, I had no warning of the hormonally-based mood swings that would send me bursting into tears at TV shows, slightly too-toasty toast, and the idea that one day my four day old son would go off to college and leave me. Ridiculous, maybe, but no less upsetting.
As my son got older and I relaxed a bit when I realized he might not perish from every sniffle, my tears changed. They fell from the continuous exhaustion and desperate need to not be touched from time to time. I always thought I would always want to hold my baby, so I sobbed as I tried to stay awake while my child insisted on sleeping on my chest and only my chest. I love you my child, more than my life, but dear god please let someone else hold you. I didn’t even know being “touched out” was a thing, so I just figured I was damaged in some way as a mother. Sleep deprivation does a serious number on your critical thinking skills and sense of reality.
You’d think it gets better when they become toddlers, but my reasons for crying just change again. Sleep is still just a memory, but now he isn’t napping every two hours, and getting him to sleep often ends with both of us crying. I have sat next to a crib or pack and play, my forehead resting against the top rail, with my child and me both having tears running down our cheeks. He desperately wants out, and I desperately and silently plead for him to lay the fuck down and close his eyes because I can’t do the same until he does it first. Even if he does fall asleep, I will lay down nearby and sob because he is asleep and I don’t have the energy or motivation to do any of the dozens of chores I should be trying to do while both my hands are free.
They don’t mention all the tears you will shed out of pure frustration and embarrassment as you try to get through the day. To make it through the simple routines of life. Getting them to sleep, even when you know they are exhausted. Eating, when they refuse the food they demanded at every meal for the last six days. Getting through the grocery store without a tantrum when you say they can’t have the meat tenderizer for a toy. Convincing my kid to keep his damn shoes on. To get into the bath. To get out of the bath. Not to hit. Not to scream. To not pull all the flowers off his grandmother’s orchids.
Please don’t throw all the instruments at music class, all the other kids are playing them nicely. Honey, I know the macaroni and cheese looks wrong at this restaurant but please, please, please, don’t scream and throw it so all the other diners give us looks and judge my ability to contain my tiny terrorist.
I’ll get the same looks if I give in and hand him an electronic device to distract him. You can’t have it both ways, you judgmental asshats. So I cry because I don’t know the right thing to do.
It’s not even the current parenting struggles that lead to trying to drive home or cook dinner while tears silently stream down my cheeks. It’s worries for the future. Am I raising a good kid? Is he happy? Could I be doing more? Did getting divorced from his father cause irreparable trauma? Is he eating enough? What if kids aren’t nice to him at school? What if he doesn’t tell me kids aren’t nice to him at school?! Maybe I wasn’t meant to do this. Should I have not had children and no one bothered to tell me!?
I wish someone had told me how many tears I would cry for my child. It wouldn’t change the number, or the reasons. But it would have been nice to know that it’s normal. That it doesn’t mean I am failing at motherhood. It’s just the liquid proof of the endless well of love I have for my child, my baby. My body cannot contain all this love and worry and joy and empathetic pain that this little boy forms in me, and so it needs a way to escape, to lessen the pressure. And so it leaks out, tear by tear, shaking sobs and deep, quiet sighs. No one told me it would be this awesome AND this hard. It really is awesome. It’s just a bit more teary that I thought it would be.