Ambivalence in Parenting

Two of my good friends are pregnant.

I’m having a hard time with it, but not in the way I expected. Mostly I’m not sure how I feel about it. I guess I’m having a hard time determining how I feel and why I feel that way. I can’t quite make sense of what is going on in my head and heart.

First and foremost I am thrilled for them. Truly. They want to have children and they are having children. That is awesome and I am so happy for them.

But there are other feelings swirling underneath that celebration, and I’m not quite sure what those feelings are.

I think there is jealousy, but I’m confused because when I probe that feeling I conjure aspects of their family building experience that I don’t usually covet. It’s not that they didn’t struggle to get pregnant (in one case she actually kind of did), but that they took their time deciding if they even wanted children, they waited until the time felt right, they weren’t rushed into it by fears of infertility (that ended up being founded) or a crazed (and completely unexplored) desperation to become a mother. They both took their time arriving at the doorstep to parenthood, and in their mid-thirties, it didn’t take too much knocking before they were let in.

I didn’t even realize this was something I envied in other people. The slow, uncertain shuffle toward something that eventually became a deliberate march in the direction of a desired future. The certainty of attaining that future. That certainty not being unfounded.

Below even that is an ambivalence toward parenthood that I’m loath to explore. I’m not loving being a mother these days. It’s brutal. Grueling. Relentless. There are moments of brightness, but they are frequently overshadowed: pinpricks of light swallowed by the yawning darkness.

Parenthood was my ultimate prize. It was supposed to complete me. It was supposed to infuse my life with happiness and delight.

I was so overcome by my blind desire. I had no idea what I was getting into. I had no idea what the reality would look like.

And I suppose that is why I’m jealous, of the time they took to decide. I know neither of them were sure they wanted kids. They thought long and hard, watched as others went before them, got an idea of what it entailed. And then they made as well-educated a decision as one can when the uncertainties are as boundless as in having kids.

I’ve done a lot of work on myself in the past couple of years, as I’ve tried to sort through the debris that feelings of apathy toward parenting littered throughout my life. I have some theories as to why I so desperately wanted to become a mother (the guarantee of being loved and having someone to love in return) and identifying those motives have helped me re-evaluate my expectations of parenthood and allowed me heal.

I don’t regret rushing into TTC, because who knows if we could have achieve our family any later in life, but I wish I’d gone into this life-changing endeavor with my eyes wide open instead of stubbornly sealed shut. I wish I could have quieted my fears long enough to recognize that the path I choose would present its own challenges, unavoidable and significant. I wish I’d acknowledged how good I had it back then, even amidst the uncertainty.

Parenthood is amazing, but it’s also really fucking hard. I thought it would complete me, but a lot of the time it feels like it gets in the way of who I am and who I want to be. It feels like sacrilege to say that, and I’m sure much of what I’m feeling now is born of the frustration of our current challenges, but it’s how in this stage of my parenting journey. And it’s hard to come from that place and talk honestly with my friends about this massive transition they are about to undertake. Most of the time I don’t know what to say.

Have you ever struggled with your feelings about parenthood? What do you say to close friends who are soon join its ranks?

17 Comments

  1. My main struggle with parenthood is the impact staying home has had on my life. I wouldn’t change a thing and would choose to stay home again, but I did not think about how lonely it would really be. I said, “we’ll stay busy, have play dates, get out of the house” and we did when it was just Matthew and me, but a second child and a preschool schedule changed everything. My friends with kids Matthews age all send their kids to different schools so none of us have the same schedule for play days. Gym classes for Bryson started too close to preschool drop-off, so what was a huge social event for me three years ago doesn’t work this time around. We stay super busy and get out every day without fail, but it’s a solitary busy. I had no idea it would be like this. None.

    I’ve become defensive with friends who think staying home is easier than working, because it’s not, it’s just a different kind of hard. I lost my shit on a friend on fb of all places when she posted that her kid had a blowout while she was getting ready for work. She ended her rant with how it screwed up her day because she’s a working mom. I lost it! I said things like, “that would screw up my day too and you get to leave your sick kid with a nanny. I’d be stuck cleaning up shit all day with my job.”. Not my proudest moment. Her post caught me on a very bad day but I get so sick of “working mommy” rants. They leave me feeling even more isolated and many of these posts imply that they’re doing so much more as parts because they work outside the home. Um… No. It’s just different.

    So yeah, a little disillusioned over here right now. A little bored. A lot lonely. I do share this with people who are considering staying home with their kids. Yes, definitely!

    1. This comment has inspired me to write a post (it looks like it’s going to be multiple posts) that I’ve wanted to write for a long time. Stay tuned next week…

  2. You’ve voiced what is one of my biggest fears right now (at ~15 weeks pregnant) – what if getting the one thing I’ve always wanted doesn’t make me as happy/fullfilled as I’ve always imagined it would. How awful will I feel if I FINALLY have a baby only to realize I enjoyed life more pre-baby? I don’t expect that will be the case, but it is a fear…

    1. I doubt you will look back on your pre-baby life and think you were happier then, but I do think it can be hard for those of us who struggle to have babies to reconcile the reality of it with what we imagined it would be for so long. At the same time, some people are so intensely grateful for finally achieving parenthood, that the hard parts kind of melt away. I hope that is your experience. 😉

  3. I have struggled a good bit with parenthood being harder than I could have imagined. I have chosen to select the parts of me before becoming a mom that feel most important to me, the things I felt made me me, and I try very hard to nurture them. I think the hardest part is how much change parenting forces and I fear I won’t recognize any part of myself otherwise.
    As for friends becoming parents, I’ve found honesty in stories to be the most comfortable route. I always appreciated knowing my struggles weren’t mine alone, that my children aren’t the only ones who, as an example, used their poo to draw on any available surface. I’ve been told many times that my friends with children younger than mine appreciate the honesty because it’s not all sunshine and roses. Pregnant friends get gift cards for massages and pedicures, brand new parents get hot meals delivered and maybe a load of laundry done and time for a shower/nap. Everyone else gets to be sat with in the mud that is parenting young children.
    I’m not sure that helps you but I do feel your pain in my own way.

    1. “I have chosen to select the parts of me before becoming a mom that feel most important to me, the things I felt made me me, and I try very hard to nurture them.”

      I think you really hit on something there that I didn’t realize until reading this. I think part of what I envy in the women who took their time making the decision to parent is that they also took the time to figure out who they were, or wanted to be, before they made that choice. I did not take the time to do that, and it wasn’t until I started parenting that I realized who I was, and that who I was and who I wanted to be didn’t really mesh well with parenting. I think that was my biggest mistake, not knowing myself well enough before hand. I was so busy worrying I might not become a mother, I never stopped to think who I was without wearing that title. That, I believe, was a grave, grave mistake.

      Thank you so much for sharing your perspective on this. It really helped me understand more of my ambivalence toward all of this.

  4. I vividly remember a rosy, glowing pre-parenting picture in my head: sitting on the floor with my toddler on a Saturday morning and building block towers. In my perfect picture, I didn’t see that the activity lasted only five minutes and I had the rest of the day to contend with. Parenting is what I wanted – no doubt – but I agree that it feels unrelenting in a way that I never could have imagined when consumed with the desire to parent.

    1. I think my image of parenting is what we see on social media. Like that picture I put up of us three smiling before the Mo Willems show started. That picture makes parenting seem so awesome, but what isn’t in that picture is the reality of that Saturday being one of the hardest and most demoralizing of my parenting career. I knew stuff would be hard, but I had no idea how hard, and I had no idea that the hard would far outweigh the fun when it came down to actual minutes of experience.

  5. “I was so overcome by my blind desire. I had no idea what I was getting into. I had no idea what the reality would look like.”

    I just want to say that I don’t really think anybody knows the reality of parenting before they get into it. Even if you are familiar with other people’s experiences, everybody’s reality is so incredibly different and it’s a fast-moving target. I can empathize with you, though. Right now, parenting is incredibly difficult for me, as well.

    I think I understand what you mean about the different ways that people experience the journey towards deciding to be a parent but I suspect that it’s almost never as simple as it might look from the outside. The vast majority of us feel the strong biological push to have children at some point. Despite the fact that actually having live children turned out to be anything but given for me, I suffered tremendously while making the decision to try. I admit that I wished that I could have approached it with something resembling your level of certainly. Only later did I understand why it was so difficult for me: I simply couldn’t manage a high-intensity career with the kind of parenting that comes naturally to me. I have nothing but admiration for those who can but I’m so relieved that I’ve been able to live in a way that is truer to my own abilities. Still, that doesn’t make it easy.

    I’m sorry that it’s so difficult right now.

    1. I think you’re right that nobody knows what it will be like to become parents, and I actually did a lot of well-rounded researching into the realities of it (I read When Partners Become Parents, which presented a really grim reality of what happens to most marriages during parenthood), but I feel like I did all my research from a place of “this is the end all, be all of my life, this is what I NEED,” and I think that attitude made the realities of it much harder to accept.

      I’m sure that the ultimate decision to become parents was a hard one for my friends to reach and I hope that I have the opportunity to hear how they came to that decision. I haven’t been able to talk to them about it much, but I hope we have that conversation some day.

  6. “I thought it would complete me, but a lot of the time it feels like it gets in the way of who I am and who I want to be.” <– Yes, this. I know some people don't feel this way, but I do… probably 3/4 of the time? Every time I have a big project at work that I'd love to go in and work extra on, or a trip I'd love to take last minute, or… all the little things I "took for granted" that were so much easier to do pre-kids. Of course I'm fantastically happy to be a parent, but like you, I wish I'd have been able to savor & enjoy those pre-kids years more like your friends did instead of being stressed about TTC/IF issues.

  7. Yes, I have a lot of ambivalence toward parenting! That is basically all I talk about in therapy. what has been hardest for me is the all consuming nature of it that I was completely unable to anticipate. I mean, yeah, I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t fully grasp how much space in my brain he would occupy and that every decision I made would revolve around him. I get bummed on holidays with my extended family because it is so hard to enjoy them with him. Having him with me in synagogue over the high holidays was a mixed bag — he was so cute bobbing his head to the singing, but I got nothing spiritually or intellectually from the service because I was dealing with him. This is how I feel about most things in my life. I think a lot of this is fueled by being a stay at home mom to a toddler who barely naps and just started sleeping through the night at 14 month — it’s like I’ve been invaded by him. I am now actively looking into going back to work parttime which I think may help. I think people are not open about how hard parenting it is and how traumatic it is to give up who you were before. I think people are also not necessarily honest with themselves. I am completely in love with my son and feel that he has been a blessing, but it’s a MUCH bigger change than I ever anticipated.

  8. i felt ready to be a parent and face the loss of freedom. What I wasn’t ready for was the addition of another personality. I wasn’t quite ready for discipline and consistency and all the other parts that add up to the feeling of being a hamster on a wheel. Every. Single. Day.

  9. I find myself really wanting to tell my pregnant friends or relatives, in all seriousness, please, PLEASE JUST FREAKING ENJOY THESE LAST FEW WEEKS/DAYS of pregnancy! You have NO IDEA the magnitude of what is going to happen to you. It will be wonderful. It will be amazing. It will be hard. Nothing will be the same. Those words have been said a million times, they have probably been said to that person a million times. You just don’t know until it happens to you. I want to be INSIST that they realize that they’ll never be able to do what they are doing right now, in the same way, again.

    I’m really sorry that things are so rough for you right now.

  10. I’ve had a tough few weeks when it comes to parenting. My patience is unbelievably thin and I just feel like a bad mom. I hate feeling this way. The days can be so, so long. And where I live, it’s freezing cold, so we are stuck inside all the time. I feel bad for my kids. I feel bad for myself. And then I get annoyed with myself for feeling that way. Argh. It’s hard. I hear you.

  11. Every time a friend is pregnant for the first time and there’s this rosy anticipation, I cannot help but feel – under the excitement and happiness for her – this undercurrent of grim satisfaction that she too will “join the club” and realize parenting isn’t what social media conveys it to be. And you see, we waited five years just to enjoy life and marriage. I researched every angle of every parenting issue and knew firmly where I stood. I knew what my kids “would” and “wouldn’t” do. I read with my husband about marriage and parenting and if anyone felt prepared when they saw those two lines, I did. I had a perfect natural birth and felt like I was “doing it”… everything I had set out to do was going to be a reality! And then, those first couple intense months… and now followed by another baby and toddlerhood and the day to day mundane and difficult and realizing that the social media pics and posts are the precious few moments gleaned from some really hard days, and I’ve determine that no one – NO ONE- can possibly, possibly be truly prepared for what being a mom will be like.

  12. What Courney said at the beginning of the comments. I too didn’t realize how lonely I would get staying at home. Among the chaos of my days (home daycare with 7-9 kids), sometimes I just wish I had a friend or three that would just call and chat with me and be on the same page as me.
    Yes, I have other mommy friends, but none I’ve really formed a huge connection to if that makes sense. We talk about life, etc, but it never gets deeper than superficial stuff.
    I feel like my life began when I had kids. It’s been SO SO SO damn fulfilling to me, even when I’m exhausted or it’s hard. I just wish I didn’t live in stupid Wyoming where there is literally NOTHING fun to do that’s not 2 hours away.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *