Parenting

5 Brutal Truths Of Motherhood That I've Learned The Hard Way

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Before I became a parent, I used to ask my friends with kids what it was like to be a mom. They never really gave me a straight answer.

“Oh, you know,” they would say airily. “It’s hard.”

And then they would add quickly: “But SO worth it.”

I couldn’t help but feel like there was something they weren’t telling me. Like they knew something I didn’t.

It turns out I was right. They sure did know something. And now that I am a mother, I find myself saying much the same thing. I have considered whether this might be an evolutionary tactic: I mean, how many of us would have run for the hills if we knew how hard parenting actually was? Mostly though, I understand now that becoming a parent changes you in so many ways, it is almost impossible to put into words.

Nowadays, if anyone asks me what it’s like to have children, I use this analogy: parenting is like having the best job in the world that you can never leave. You sleep there, you eat there, and you don’t get a vacation or sick days. If you are having a bad day, your “employees” don’t really care. They expect you to carry on. This is the intensity of parenting. It really never stops.

I’m not talking about being tired all the time or having to sacrifice your social life, or constantly cleaning up poop, Cheerios, and LEGO (not necessarily in that order). Those things I was prepared for.

What I was not prepared for, because you can’t really know until you become a parent, is all the ways that your child will crack you wide open: breaking or melting your heart in ways you never thought possible.

Here are five things I really wish I had known before I became a parent.

You will not be the parent you imagined.

My children have tested me in ways I could never have anticipated. My parenting vision coincided with how I envisioned my children’s personalities, but no one can predict or control who their child will be. You might think you know how you will react when you first hear your child tell you he hates you, but you don’t. You might think that you will never be the parent that plops their child in front of the TV for two hours to get a break, but believe me, you will.

When I pictured what type of parent I wanted to be, it was always about how I would parent on my good days, when I felt rested and at peace with the world. It’s hard to imagine how you will deal with parenting challenges when you are sick, exhausted, struggling with a major work or personal issue, or fighting with your spouse.

You will discover hidden sides of yourself.

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Before I became a mother, I never knew that I had the capacity for anger. I always considered myself a relatively calm, even-keeled person. But after the birth of my first son, I experienced overwhelming feelings of postpartum rage. Not just depression. Red hot anger. It scared me. I never knew where it was coming from. But it was there, for several months.

At the same time, before I had kids, I didn’t know it was possible to love and protect another person with such intensity. Everyone has hidden facets of their personality, and your child can likely bring them out.

The guilt will be overwhelming.

Oh, the guilt.

I am writing this from a mother’s perspective, but I expect there are fathers out there who experience the same running commentary:

Am I doing this right? Did I say the right thing? I raised my voice. Have I damaged his self-esteem?

I didn’t have time for homemade baking. Does he think I don’t love him? Do all the other parents do homemade baking?

Why isn’t he reading like the other kids yet? Was it that glass of wine I had while breastfeeding?

Am I doing enough? Am I enough?

Questioning your abilities as a parent and then beating yourself up for the mistakes is, I’m told, quite normal. But it will keep you up at night.

You will realize your capacity to hurt another human being.

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My good friend and I had our first kids a few weeks apart. During one of our visits, I asked her if she felt all “mama bear” like I was. My normally mild-mannered friend looked down at the sweet bundle in her arms and matter of factly stated: “If anyone ever tried to hurt this little guy, I would tear them from limb to limb.”

A couple of years later, I was at the beach with my then 3-year-old son. He was playing in the sand, about 20 feet from me, close to a group of pre-teen boys. A couple of times, he accidentally threw sand in the hole they were digging. One of them got up, yelled at my son, and then started to physically drag him away. I have no idea what the expression on my face looked like, but as I sprang off my towel to intervene, people around me parted like the Red Sea.

Even if you are the quietest, shyest, most conflict-averse person you know, you can become a terrifying force when it comes to protecting your children.

There will be times when you really do not like your kids.

This is a tough one to come to terms with. But kids are people too, right? Nobody likes their partner or best friend all of the time, and children are no different. They have bad days too. They can be mean, spiteful, and just downright unlikeable. It took me a long while to understand that this was normal. Not liking my kids sometimes doesn’t make me a bad mother. It makes me human.

For me, parenting sometimes feels like being on a boat in the middle of the ocean. I have no anchor and no wheel, so I can’t stop, and I rarely know what direction I am going. I’m the captain of the boat, but I’ve never taken sailing lessons. Sometimes I hit major storms, and there is nothing I can do but hunker down and wait for it to pass as the boat gets tossed about.

And then, every once in a while, the seas calm. Something unexpectedly wonderful happens. It might be in the form of a hug, an unsolicited “I love you,” watching your child finally accomplish a new skill, or hearing them laugh for the first time. It feels worth it. Even if just for a moment.