There are parenting lies. There are the things we said we’d never do…and then do. There are the myths of motherhood.
And then there are The Secrets.
Pretty early on after my first son was born, I learned there are certain things that, as parents (especially as mothers, I think), we aren’t supposed to say. At my first mommy-and-me class, the cheerful instructor asked us all to share our impressions of motherhood. One mom said she was surprised by the “overwhelming love” she felt for her daughter. Another woman said she was amazed that “her heart could hold so much love.” Another mom said she was couldn’t believe that she could fall in “love at first sight.” (Recognize a theme here?)
Well, I must not have given the “right” answer because when I said that it was “all just so much more than I ever expected” with a scared and sad quiver in my voice, the response was deafening silence and blank stares.
That day – and over the course of the past decade – I have come to learn that there are certain things that parents feel, but just can’t say. There are secrets we are supposed to keep. There are things that we just can’t admit.
Well, I call bullshit on all this nonsense. I’m tired of the pretending. I’m tired of the loneliness. I’m tired of ignoring the elephant in the room. I’m tired of the secrets.
And if no one else will say it, I will – because this might be the biggest secret of them all – I have no freaking idea what I am doing.
There. I said it.
Before I had kids I figured that parenting – though it is hard at times – would come pretty naturally. I’m an educated woman and I have a strong support system in place. I assumed that I would instinctively know what to do and, in those sticky situations when I didn’t, I would just ask for advice. Or read a book. Lord knows there are plenty of parenting books and advice columns on every parenting issue under the sun. Armed with information and intuition, I thought that my husband and I would be able to tackle parenting with gusto and confidence.
Little did I know there would be nights when I would stay up for hours worrying about this problem or that question. That there would be times when, after reading countless parenting columns and self-help books, after consulting with friends and family, after several exhausting discussions with my husband, after looking for my absentee intuition, I still wouldn’t know what to do. That nearly everything – from nursing and sleep habits, to tantrums and discipline – would come with a million different possibilities all with their own pros and cons.
Little did I know just how often I would scream inside, I HAVE NO FREAKING IDEA WHAT I’M DOING.
Breast or bottle? Cry it out or co-sleep? More activities or less? Structure or freedom? Time-outs or time-ins? Piano lessons or soccer? An allowance or not? Rewards for good grades or let the accomplishment be its own reward? Work or stay home? How much screen time? How much to help with homework?
And my oldest is only eleven years old. Things are quickly getting more complicated, and I shudder to think of the doubts and questions that will come up in the teen years that are just on the horizon. More than once (in the past week alone), I have thought or said: They just don’t tell you about this, do they?
Kids don’t come with a handbook and, even if they did, no one has ever parented this child in this family under these circumstances before so, really, what good would a handbook be anyway? This is all uncharted territory. For every one of us. We’re learning as we go. And sometimes we just have no freaking idea.
But instead of just admitting that we just don’t know, we hold it in. We keep ourselves awake at night second-guessing. Or maybe we give unsolicited advice in the hopes of getting some validation for our own choices. Or we get defensive, judge, or criticize because – heaven forbid! – there might actually be more than one “right” way to do something.
One of the biggest shocks of parenting, for me, has been the absolutely brutal and crushing loneliness that I’ve felt at times. When my first son was born, I was shocked at how lonely I could feel despite the fact that I was never really alone. I didn’t even pee alone. Yet I had never felt so lonely in my whole life. Like the kind of lonely I’d feel if I were trapped on a deserted island or in the trenches. Like there was no one (except for maybe my husband) who could understand just how hard it was or how I was feeling or what I was going through. Like I was the only one.
But parenting doesn’t have to be so lonely. We don’t have to feel like we’re the only one. We don’t have to feel so alone. Let’s stop all the pretending. Let’s share our war stories. Let’s offer each other a hand, up and out of the trenches. Let’s confront the elephant in the room. Let’s tell the ugly, honest truth. Let’s stop being so afraid to say what we’ve all felt at one time or another.
Let’s admit the truth, and share our secrets.
Because you know what? Even though we might feel like we have absolutely no clue what we’re doing sometimes, our kids are alright. Our kids are freaking AMAZING actually.
And that is the best secret of them all.