Parenthood: Where is the Fun?
We had a rare fun weekend. We didn’t do anything special, per se, but we got out of the house, cooked, saw some friends and managed to catch up on some sleep. It felt like a huge accomplishment.
My children are still very young (3.5 years old and 9 months old), so we have to structure all our activities around naps. And the fact that the baby’s naps don’t really overlap with my toddler’s naps makes life a bit more difficult. Some weekends we don’t make it out of the house at all, except to walk dogs.
And in some ways this has been one of my biggest gripes with parenting small children: our life stopped being fun. When our eldest son was a baby, things were a bit easier. He was a great sleeper and loved his stroller. It was easy to take him to a restaurant or to a friend’s house to get some adult time. As he grew, he became more clingy and demanding of my attention. When we went anywhere, I was the one constantly holding him or walking with him. He exhibited little interest in doing any of those things with my husband, and so my husband just handed him to me. I found it easier to entertain him at home, since our home contained all his entertainment. And going anywhere stopped being fun or enjoyable.
When our second baby came along, schedules became even more complicated. We now had to contend with a baby and a toddler’s schedule, and they didn’t jive too well. Our second son is also a much more difficult baby. He is loud, opinionated, and not a very good sleeper. He gets up well before the sun rises (5 am is his favorite) and demands full attention on him. When he was a newborn, he often slept 5 hour stretches at night but once he woke up, there was no putting him back down for at least the next 2 hours. He only naps well in his crib, and does not enjoy his stroller very much. Between the 2 kids, nap time starts at 12 and ends around 5. So, we’re stuck inside even more now than ever before.
When my first was born, it took me nearly 2 years to get into the groove of things, and start enjoying life again. Having a kid that only naps once a day, makes it much easier to schedule activities, and to get out of the house. But once you add another kid into the mix, that schedule is shattered. Now, you have to pick up the pieces and create a new one. It seems like a good place is yet again, roughly 2 years away. And it kind of sucks.
What’s worse is that when we complain about this, we are told that we need to enjoy this. That the baby and toddler years are fleeting. But this is some crappy advice, if you ask me. Some parts of parenthood are simply not enjoyable or fun. But it doesn’t mean we don’t experience joy out of our little ones.
Just yesterday, I spent time playing with my sons, and was so overcome by love towards them, that I couldn’t contain myself. I was kissing the baby every few seconds because he lets me, and managed to steal a few kisses away from my toddler. My heart felt like it was going to burst. But just a couple of hours later the shitstorm of a toddler who skipped a nap and a baby whose nap was cut short hit, and the fun and joy evaporated. The joy came when everyone fell asleep in their beds, far too late for anyone’s liking.
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Sometimes Parenthood isn’t Fun and it’s OK
I think the reason I wanted to share all of this is in some way to work through this idea that parenthood often isn’t very “fun” and sometimes not even “joyful”. It’s pretty tough. And the toughness changes with age and your child’s personality. It also depends on what part of parenthood plays on your strengths. Some people do well with babies and don’t mind the little sleep, some do well with the head strong toddlers, while others are pros at maneuvering the teenage years. But regardless of it all, parenthood is filled with highs and lows, just like everything else in life.
I hate hearing about how we should soak up and love every moment in parenting. For some reason, other parents believe that unless they put parenthood on a pedestal and only talk about the good aspects of it, others won’t want to be parents.
I often wonder why that is the case. Why does society try to make us believe that parenthood is the ultimate thing that will complete us? Why are we not allowed to acknowledge the difficulty that comes with becoming parents? After all, becoming a parent is essentially becoming a new and different person. For some people, it’s the better version of themselves. It allows them to tap into resources they didn’t know they had. It gives them purpose they didn’t have before.
But for others it’s not like that. And those are the people that struggle with the messaging that parenthood is the best thing in the world. You weren’t living before becoming a parent.
But what if I was? What if I was very much living a fulfilling life and then my biology screamed loudly over it and convinced me that I needed a child? What if my biology tricked me? Then what?
In truth, I don’t know. I’m still having a very tough time reconciling becoming a parent. It rationally makes no sense to me. It never made sense to me, until my biological clock went off like a bomb, and made me desperate for a baby. And then just as quickly as I got pregnant, that desperation went away.
Right now, I’m just struggling to find my place in the world. I wasn’t raised to believe that a woman’s place is in the home caring for children. I was pushed to achieve in school and to secure a successful career. But at the time I became a mother, my career wasn’t in a great place, and giving it up altogether to stay at home to raise my son seemed like the better option. I did not want to pay more for childcare than I was bringing in from a job that had no prospects.
And I know there are other women in the same boat. Having to make these types of trade offs makes parenting harder. The “fun” and “joy” of it disappears when the core of who you are is shattered and rebuilt in a completely different image. That image may not be what you imagined or ever wanted. And it’s ok.
It’s hard to come to terms with it all, but it’s possible. I’m slowly working on it. I trying to redefine myself as a parent, a mother. I’m trying to have fun and enjoy myself. But it’s not an easy process and hearing the “toxicly positive” messages about how fun and amazing parenting is, doesn’t help me in the process. And I know it doesn’t help others.
So please, next time you feel the urge to talk about how “fun” and “joyful” parenthood is, please refrain. It’s not necessary to hear. What you can do instead, is talk about what fun things you do with your kids. Talk about what you, personally, find so great about parenthood. Don’t tell someone to enjoy the hard times, help them get through those. Talk about how you navigated the sleepless night or the thunderous tantrums. Help your fellow parents with real life solutions, not cliché advice.
And for all the parents out there, read “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood” by Jennifer Senior. It’s helping me cope and realize that other parents are in the same boat and that boat is sinking half the time.