Let me preface this post by saying I am far from a parenting expert. I only have one child & she is all of 4.5 months old. Clearly I am not the most experienced mom on the block, & while it’s very true that parenting is one of those things you can’t REALLY learn until you actually do it, I do think the fact that I pondered motherhood long & hard for several years before making the choice to actually become a mom has served me very well. What I’m saying is I spent a lot of time observing parents I know as well as parents I see out in public & really trying to learn everything I could about the experience before jumping into it myself. And I truly think that has benefited me greatly as a new mom.
With all that being said, I think I’ve hit upon at least one reason why American parents are by & large so unhappy. Or maybe unhappy is the wrong word . . . Perhaps I should say dissatisfied & overly stressed. In any case, it’s pretty obvious to me that a large percentage of American parents these days are frankly not enjoying parenthood the way they probably hoped they would. While there is no question that being a mom is the hardest “job” I’ve ever had, I can honestly say I’m enjoying it a lot MORE than I thought I would. Maybe that’s just because I was so hesitant about being a mom for so many years that it’s still somewhat shocking to find myself truly embracing this role. But maybe it’s also because I’ve chosen to shirk a lot of the modern parenting trends.
**Disclaimer: this post was written with two-parent households in mind. I cannot even begin to speak to the single parent experience.
What it boils down to is this: American parents are trying to do way too much. We are killing ourselves trying to “have it all.” We are stretched so thin that we have nothing left to give. Furthermore we are allowing our children to rule the home which is obviously ludicrous! What all this leads to is zero time/energy for ourselves which inevitably leads to exhaustion & burnout.
This is just my opinion of course, but here’s what I think is the secret to enjoying parenthood & not being overwhelmed by stress: stop trying to be superwoman (or superman, for the guys reading this)! Your kids do not need to be involved in every extracurricular activity known to mankind. They do not need to have every fancy new toy that comes on the market. (And god forbid you should work overtime to try to purchase such gadgets!) Our children will not die if they don’t have the latest pair of Jordans or whatever other name brand clothing is all the rage at the moment. They also won’t be doomed for failure if you don’t bring them their homework every time they leave it at home.
Furthermore, our children should learn to entertain themselves for at least a few minutes a day once they reach the age that this is physically & psychologically possible. Additionally we must find ways to nourish our own souls. My daughter is absolutely the best thing that has ever happened to me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t cherish my alone time when she is napping or when my husband is watching her while I shower or go to the gym, etc. And I do not feel guilty for that at all because I know that I am a better mom when I am mentally & emotionally healthy, & that requires a certain amount of “me time.”
I think most parents today are trying way too hard to give their children a “perfect” life. I’ve got news for you: that perfect life doesn’t exist. It’s natural to want better for our children than we had ourselves- but it shouldn’t come at the cost of our own mental health. Life isn’t fair or easy & while I certainly don’t think we should just throw our children to the wolves, they do need to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them. It’s pretty obvious that children who learn this from an early age are actually much happier anyway!
Furthermore, as unpopular as it is to say this, I truly believe your spouse/partner needs to be at least as much of a priority as your kids, if not more so. I’m not by any means suggesting you should ignore your children for the sake of your spouse, but I do believe a lot of families are falling apart because the parents put their children first ALL the time to the point that they have zero energy left for each other. Considering how much research has shown that a stable family provides so many wonderful benefits to children (duh!), it’s obvious to me that as difficult as it sometimes is I need to ensure my relationship with my husband stays as strong as it was before our daughter entered our lives.
That being said, we have not had a “date” or any true alone time since she was born, but I honestly don’t think that’s what matters. What really matters is that we talk to each other about our day to day feelings & experiences, & we make a consistent effort to help each other out with parenting & around the house chores. Equally important, we thank each other frequently for doing so. The point is that we know that Rachel will benefit so much from growing up in a stable home with two loving parents so we know our relationship needs to be a high priority in our lives. Not to mention, someday she will grow up & move out & we don’t want to be left feeling like strangers in our own home! It’s so easy to get wrapped up in our roles as parents that we forget our roles as partners, but I truly think it’s crucial that we as parents do not allow our relationships to falter. Yes, there are all kinds of new challenges that parenthood brings to a relationship, no doubt, but that doesn’t have to mean disaster if we can learn to navigate these challenges as a team.
Ok, end rant. I sincerely hope I haven’t sounded self-righteous or like I think I’m some kind of omniscient supermom. In reality I’m just a normal mom trying to ride the waves of parenthood as they come at me. There are plenty of days when I question whether I’m doing the right thing & find myself feeling overwhelmed or inadequate. I know Rachel is never going to have a perfectly themed birthday party or a gorgeous baby book. She is never going to have a perfectly decorated nursery or bedroom. I’m just not that kind of mom. But at the end of the day I remind myself that she is fed, clothed, warm, & most importantly loved, & that is really all she needs. Furthermore, my husband & I are finding ways to maintain our relationship despite living several hours away from both of our families & not having any real alone time, & I know this will serve us & our daugher well for years to come.
In conclusion, the most important thing we can give our children is our time. As parents, if we cut ourselves out of the rat race & just focus on spending time with our children, I think we will find that we (& are children) are much happier.