I knew parenting would be hard. Okay, so I didn’t know just how hard, but I knew it would be hard. What I didn’t know, however, was that parenting would also be confusing as hell. The dichotomy of emotions is enough to make my head spin sometimes.
I hear a lot of mothers talk about how they didn’t know their heart could hold so much love until they had children, but I’ve never understood this. Because when I first became a mother, it wasn’t the endless scope of love that amazed me (contrary to popular belief, motherhood isn’t always love at first sight), it was my heart’s ability to feel an emotion that can best be described as love-fear-regret-frustration-compassion-vulnerability-hope-anger-sympathy-grief-courage-tenderness-protection-strength-weakness-confidence-insecurity—all of these things, at the same time.
And this hasn’t changed in the 10 years I have been a parent. A while back, I caught one of my kids in an epic lie. Needless to say, I was hopping mad, like I-can’t-stand-to-even-look-at-you mad. And yet, when he finally confessed, falling into a heap of tears, all I wanted to do was pull him into my arms, tell him it would be OK, and take away his pain. Sitting right alongside the rage was sympathy. How is it possible to feel so angry and so compassionate toward him at the same time? How is it possible to want to banish him and hug him at the same time?
This dichotomy of parenting is one of the biggest—and most confusing—surprises of parenting.
It isn’t just the large swings from one emotion to the next that shocks the hell out of me; it is the fact that I can feel all of the contradictory emotions at the same time. When my oldest son was born, I remember holding him and wishing I could, for just a moment, go back in time to my pre-kids life or hurry time along until he wasn’t a newborn anymore. I longed for physical space, a full night’s sleep, and a minute or two of silence. Of course, a second later, I was immediately wracked with guilt for even thinking these thoughts. I knew I should be grateful for my beautiful, healthy baby—even if he wasn’t sleeping at all and cried for hours on end.
How is it possible to feel regret and appreciation at the same time? How is it possible to simultaneously feel anger and adoration? How is it possible to not be able to be stand being in the same room as my children, yet physically ache when I am away from them?
How is possible to love someone so much your heart might burst, while at the same time being so annoyed, so frustrated, so pushed to the brink of madness that you can’t even stand to be in the same room as them? How is it possible to be so proud and so frustrated? How is it possible to feel so full and stretched so thin at the same time?
How is this possible?
Well, I’m no psychologist, but over the years I have learned that human emotions are more of a stew than a five-course meal. The good and the bad—and everything in between—gets muddled up together. There aren’t clear boundaries. It all blends together until you can’t even really describe your feelings as a single emotion.
But what I’m also learning is that it’s OK to sometimes hate being a mother, but love your child at the same time. It’s OK to miss the carefree, childless days of independence while appreciating that we are lucky as hell to have children who need us. It’s OK to be grateful for what we have and still long for something more.
Because maybe all those people who said their heart expanded with love when they became a mother got it wrong. Maybe the heart doesn’t expand with just love when a person becomes a parent, but all the other feelings as well. And maybe the heart is capable of so much more than we give it credit for in the first place.
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