A lot of the articles I read about parenting insist on two imperative objectives: (1) parents taking care of themselves, so they will have the internal resources needed to take care of their kids and (2) nurturing a deep connection with your child via affection and quality time.
I’ve always felt these two objectives were in direct contrast with each other for me, but I was never quite sure why. Now that I’m realizing that my daughter and I actually have different temperaments, I’m starting to worry that the two are mutually exclusive.
My daughter needs time, at home, alone (with just her family) to energize. I am away at work for a massive portion of each day, which means that being home with my daughter for that one-on-one bonding time is incredibly important. She needs that time both to foster a deep connection with me AND to refill her cup after a LONG day of being with other people at school.
I need to be out, with other people (adults) to refill my cup. By the time I come home from work I have depleted my own energy supplies and feel starved for adult contact. If I want to get together with someone it’s going to happen right when my daughter needs me to be home, meeting her needs.
Our needs are in direct contrast with each other. At least during the work week, our happiness is mutually exclusive.
In the past two months I’ve done a lot of work to meet new women and foster new friendships. I’ve also reached out to women I haven’t seen in a while and rekindled relationships I felt were worthwhile. This has required a lot of time away from the house, either on weekday evenings or weekend days. I have seen how hard it is for my daughter to deal with my absences during these times. As I’ve become happier and felt more fulfilled, my daughter has struggled.
I have pulled back, saying yes to fewer social activities so I can be home with my sweet girl. I think that has helped, and maybe, eventually, we can find a balance. But right now it’s hard not to feel frustrated. Why does it have to be this hard? Why does the one thing I need have to be in direct conflict with the one thing she needs?
I’ve often wondered why some women (ahem, me) seem to struggle so much more with the transition to parenthood than other women do. Some women fit the role of “mother” so naturally, it doesn’t seem to conflict with any preconceived notions of who they are and what they need. They feel, for the most part, fulfilled by their role and the way it plays out in their daily existence. But some women (ahem, me) are shocked by how difficult the transition. Who I am and what I need seems to clash endlessly with what is required of me by motherhood. I find it mentally and emotionally exhausting.
I thought being a mother would meet all my needs. I thought experiencing motherhood was my ultimate need, something I could not live without. And now that I am a mother, I realize that being the parent my child needs and meeting my own needs, are (at least, currently) mutually exclusive.
I guess it helps to have a better understanding of why I struggle so mightily parenting my daughter. Hopefully now that I understand that the things I used to consider mere preferences are actually legitimate needs, I can better accommodate both of us. Still, I know this will be a continual struggle. In the end, her needs will inevitably trump my own, because she is the child and I am the parent. Parents provide for their children, not the other way around.
This wouldn’t be so hard if my daughter and I weren’t so similar in one frustrating way–we are both high needs individuals. I always knew this about her, and I guess I knew it about myself, but I’m really beginning to KNOW it, in that “solidified truth I must learn to accept” kind of way. My needs are high, and clearly they are not easily met. I am an intense person, I expend a lot of energy, which is probably why I always feel so starved for more. I’ve written many times that my daughter’s cup is like a sieve, the faster I fill it, the emptier it seems. We both require a lot of what we need to fire on all four cylinders. Again, I think this is ultimately a good thing to recognize about myself, but right now it just feels like a burden.
Maybe this will get better with time. Maybe there will come a day when being with her doesn’t deplete me, but fills me up. Maybe one day I’ll arrive at the experience of parenthood I always imagined for myself. In the meantime, I suppose it helps to have identified our particular challenges, and treat us both gently as we learn to accommodate our contrasting needs.
I just wish it didn’t have to be so hard.
How do your needs contrast with the needs place on you by your life? How do you manage?