2 Lessons I'm Learning About How To Survive Parenthood
What do Taylor Swift and a common household item have to teach us about surviving parenthood? A lot, actually. There are two big lessons I’ve been learning from this beloved songwriter…and from sandpaper, of all things. But first, some context:
On a Saturday, back when the weather was changing fast and our children were changing even faster, my husband Michael and I collapsed into the couch after finally (and miraculously) getting both kids down for a nap at the same time.
We’d just had our butts kicked all morning by our children. I mean this metaphorically and physically, as our toddler is in a super-fun hitting phase.
(Our day hadn’t started that way…we had begun in a zen state of mind, full of patience, love, and peace. But we quickly deteriorated, our internal temperatures rising steadily, until we were all bubbling over with quiet rage, frustration, and hopeless confusion. Ah, family time!)
Back to the couch. We stared blankly at the ceiling and sunk deep into the milk-stained cushions, heavy with the weight of all the mistakes we had just made. Had we just ruined our two-year old’s adventurous spirit because we yelled at her to get off the counter (and fireplace, and table, and dresser)? Did we sever secure attachments with our baby when we let him sit in a loaded diaper for far too long? Under all of that was fear—fear that the desperation inside of us made us bad parents, and maybe even bad people.
Or in the words of the great Taylor Swift, “It’s me, Hi. I’m the problem, it's me.”
A metaphor popped into my head. It’s like sandpaper. It can rub on your skin for a while and not hurt at all, only a minor annoyance. But eventually, the sandpaper wears you down and breaks the skin. Then every single little movement of that gristly paper is excruciating. Parenting is like that.
We “gentle parent” our children. We pace the well-worn floor with an inexplicably screaming baby. We make healthy dinner after healthy snack after healthy lunch—only for all of it to get thrown on the floor. We absorb like a graceful sponge every single tantrum and demand, until, on a dime, WE CAN NOT FREAKIN’ DO IT ANYMORE.
This disaster of a weekend sent me careening towards books, podcasts, websites, articles—anything that could help me figure out how to survive my children’s childhood. Let’s talk about how sad that sentence is later… but let’s not pretend we don’t feel this way, like, all the time.
Here are the two biggest things I learned (and am still learning) from my frantic studies:
1) The things I like the least about my kids are the things I like least about myself.
- Charlie’s too loud. And guess what? I scream at myself all day in my head.
- Mylo is too unpredictable. And I never know what version of myself I’m going to meet in the mirror when I wake up.
- Charlie won’t eat her vegetables. And I just ate a shareable-sized pack of Skittles that I did not, in fact, share.
- Mylo doesn’t fall asleep at the same time every night. And yes, I let myself binge whole seasons of garbage TV and don’t go to sleep until 1 AM, regularly.
Every bit of overwhelm, annoyance, and anger I feel when my kids are “being bad” is because I don’t know how to lovingly nurture my own propensity to “be bad.” The things I want to “fix” in my kids are the exact things I push down and try to bury in myself. I don’t really know what to do with this information yet, but I do know it has helped me build some empathy (toward my kids and myself.) And in the trenches of parenthood, a little bit of empathy seems like a good place to start.
2) Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.
Nowhere is this more real than in parenthood. That sandpaper can keep scraping across my skin over and over again. And over and over again, I can surrender to the chaos, stop telling stories about the future, release my ego and ask God to help me lay another layer of grace and skin on that wound. This can all be incredibly painful, but it doesn’t have to cause suffering.
Suffering happens when I grab onto the pain, start spinning stories about how it will always be this way, it will always hurt this bad, it will always overwhelm me, and I will never measure up.
That’s suffering, but it isn’t necessary. The reality is just that I am holding my toddler in the middle of this tantrum. That’s all that is happening. Not tomorrow’s tantrum, not yesterday’s tantrum. Only this one. If I can surrender and figure out exactly what this moment requires of me—not any other moment than this moment—I discover I can actually withstand almost anything. The moment doesn’t swallow me whole.
They say parenting is like holding up a mirror. Before kids, I thought this meant that slowly time would reveal that my children are just like me, and I thought that would be a good thing. L-O-literal-L. I was so precious, so naïve.
I see now that this mirror my kids are holding up is showing me all the stuff that I used to have the time and energy to push down. All the unhealthy stuff, all the unspoken pain and trauma, all the buried brokenness, all the unsustainable patterns.
And I am SO thankful for this mirror. I’m becoming a whole new person as I journey further into the cave of parenting. And you know what? I’m starting to realize that maybe this darkness I’ve been journeying into is not a cave at all.
Maybe it's a tunnel.
Maybe there is light on the other end. Maybe there’s a whole new version of me waiting on the backside of this season.
Maybe I’m on the exact right path after all, with some helpful lessons in surviving this parenting thing thanks to Taylor and to sandpaper.