When Parenting Is Challenging, I Practice Gratitude

by Tracy Gillett
Originally Published: 
Tracy Gillett

It’s 3:38 a.m. and the rain is falling heavily outside. My husband is away on business. I’m parenting solo this week.

My little guy woke up and demanded all the bed covers come off. He asked me to “hug” him and “sing.” So I’m pacing in the dark singing to a toddler. The tug of sleep still pulls heavily on my eyelids, but I stand here in the quiet black softly swaying and singing.

He is warm and relaxed in my arms, happy to have his needs met, blissfully unaware that mummy needs sleep too. Here alone, it feels as though I’m the only person awake in the world. Silence wraps itself around me in place of the bed covers I long to return to, the creak of floorboards beneath my feet the only sound I hear above my own voice.

These are the tough times, the moments all parents know intimately. They are the weary, trying times—trying in the way you would expect as a sleep-deprived solo parent, but also an opportunity for me to try a little harder, to dig deep and be rewarded with priceless treasures.

Because while all I want is sleep and to return to my warm bed, this is where the magic is. It’s the sweet knowledge that I’m the only person, in this moment, who can comfort this little guy. If I withdraw my love and don’t give him what he needs, he’ll feel abandoned, vulnerable, and he’ll cry. Or I can provide immediate security and comfort by holding him and singing in my terrible voice.

This is parenting, pure and simple. The constant test of how far I can push and be pushed, how soft and malleable I can allow myself to be as I bend to the evolving needs of my child. And as parents, we need to find the magic. By finding it in the most unlikely of moments, parenting feels simpler, smoother, easier.

And so I choose to see this moment for the fleeting gift that it is. My eyes adjust to the darkness, and I make out my faint outline in the mirror across the room—a powerful mama bear and cub bound by our entwined arms as we sway and wait for sleep to return.

These fleeting daily connections we can make with our children often feel like chores. Sometimes it takes a moment of darkness to shine a light on the privilege we are blessed with in being parents. In challenging parenting moments, practicing gratitude is my savior. It flips negativity on its head.

So, I am grateful to be my son’s sole parent this week. I feel the weight of responsibility. It’s all on me, no backup, no family support. If my husband were here now, maybe I wouldn’t find the magic. Maybe I’d be pacing in the dark resenting him for lying in bed while I sing to our son.

So I carry on in the wee small hours of the morning. If I can muster the positivity and selflessness to keep going and be the branch bending in the breeze rather than snapping, I feel fulfilled, happy and warm inside. The intimacy stemming from these sleepy quiet hours deepens our bond. And by mothering my son, I’m also nurturing my own soul. Love is a verb.

I can’t stop smiling.

And then I feel it. His little face melts into my shoulder. He relaxes and goes back to sleep. We quietly slip back under the covers together. He nuzzles into me, and I listen to the rain outside. I think of all the other parents out there doing the same thing right now and feel comforted. I’m not alone.

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