The Deep Water

A close friend from college is due in a couple of weeks and I’ve been chatting with her a lot about the crazy transformation she’s about to experience.

Well, chatting around it, because I get the feeling she doesn’t want me to talk directly about it, at least not yet.

It’s been almost six years since I became a mother and I’m still reeling from the insanity of that life changing transition. Being a mom was something I wanted, and thought about becoming, for my entire life. All my other dreams and plans took a backseat to having children. So when motherhood didn’t end up being the life affirming panacea I was expecting, I was a little traumatized.

I also ended up with a kid who requires a little more of, well, everything. Parenting a kid like that can be isolating. I’ve found it difficult to make friends with other moms because we aren’t generally coming from a place of shared experience. We feel differently about parenting because we experience it in vastly different ways, not just because of who we are individually, but because of who our kids are.

I’ve learned to participate in conversations about parenthood without sharing my whole truth. What I portray is not a lie exactly, but a carefully considered set of omissions. I tell people what they expect to hear, and if they respond a certain way to strategically dropped hints, I might divulge more. But most of the time I stick to the fellow-parent-approved script, and we wade into the shallow water of culturally appropriate topics, staying on message as we walk carefully to avoid the messy splashing of actual truth.

I feel the need to do this even with my closer friends, most of whom are just now becoming parents. Sometimes I’ll venture out into the deeper waters of authentic experience, but I almost always find myself alone there, my friend staring blankly at my from the safety of the shore.

It’s hard for me to know what is the right thing to say, especially with my friend who is about to give birth. I know I can’t prepare her for the intensity of what is about to happen, and the last thing I want to do is add to her anxiety in any way, but I also want her to know that I’m here for her if it’s hard. That I’m prepared to dive head first into the deep water with her, if she ever needs someone to really talk to. I guess I can say that to her at least, and hope she believes me, and comes to me if she ever feels like she’s drowning among the strong currents of new motherhood.

My two friends do have each other, and they seem much more comfortable talking to one another about these things than they are talking to me about them. For that I am thankful, because I know how important it is to have someone you feel comfortable talking to. I would hate for them to have to go through it alone.

It’s been almost six years and I’m only now feeling comfortable in the deep water of motherhood. The currents are still sometimes strong, but I know how to navigate them. I have learned to float in the calm waters, instead of trying to swim to shore. And I know that if I do get pulled down in a vicious riptide, that letting it pull me is safer than flailing desperately in an attempt to get free. It may feel like I’m under forever, but eventually the current will drag me up again, and just when I think I can’t endure it any longer, I’ll reach the surface, and be able to breathe.

 

28 Comments

  1. You know, one of the things thats hard about the situation you’re describing is that having an almost-6-year-old is so different from having a newborn baby. On some ways, the newborn phase seems like another lifetime for me, and it’s hard to relate to someone dealing with night wake ups when I’m dealing with swim lessons and soccer signup. You want to be a support, of course, but the connection might just not be there.

    As far as the challenging behavior, though, I don’t know that someone needs to be experiencing exactly the same thing as you in order to sympathize. I often feel like J is more challenging than other kids, but in many ways we’re all dealing with the same things. It’s a question of scale. Or maybe you have one challenge and someone else has another.

    1. The age difference is definitely an issue, as is having two kids and not just one. But my one friend has a ten month old and my son is not even 2.5 years old, so that difference isn’t as gaping as newborn and almost six.

      And I totally agree that people don’t need to experience the same things to sympathize, but it has been my experience that when I speak more honestly about how parenting a harder kid makes me feel, I get crickets. People just don’t respond, and I feel like a there is something wrong with me, like my feelings are an aberration. But maybe that is less about our divergent experiences than the way I FEEL about my experiences.

      Also, when I talk to you about these things I feel like you DO get it. But when I talk to most other people, they just look down at their feet and change the subject.

      1. At least they’re not telling you it’s your fault! “I wouldn’t let my child do that!” “Tell her that’s not allowed.” “You shouldn’t put up with that.” 🙁

  2. I wonder if the discomfort you experience from your friends when you bring up this topic has to do with the fact that you seem to operate overall on a deeper plane. Some (most?) people really prefer to skim the surface, even with friends. I’m trying to imagine a situation in which I would look at my feet when a friend brought up something hard she was going through, even if I had absolutely no frame of reference for it, I’d like to think I could be sympathetic and listen, offer some “wow that’s really hard”. But I, too, like to delve in deep with conversations, I honestly have no interest in the shallow waters. That’s why I love blogging! skip over all the BS and get straight to the heart of it!

    1. That definitely could be it. And it doesn’t bother me that much when the parents of my daughter’s friends don’t want to wade around in the deeper stuff, because I don’t know them as well, but I hadn’t considered that maybe my better friends don’t really want to talk about that stuff either, just because they don’t. That is good to think about.

  3. another thought. the situation where I WOULD shuffle my feet would be if I didn’t feel that close to the person who was divulging their deepest feelings & thoughts. it would make me uncomfortable, because I wasn’t at a place where I trusted the person well enough to be honest myself, so how do I handle her brutal honesty? that doesn’t seem to be the case with your friends, though, you’ve known them forever.

    1. I just want to make clear that I never bring this stuff up with people I don’t know very well. I don’t even drop hints with those people. Well, sometimes I do, but I’m quickly reminded to stop, and never do it again. 😉

  4. The age difference is the root of the problem. Well that and I find, when I’m sharing odd things with my friends, who have babies, are thinking…”that’ll never happen to me”…BS. I frankly tell them, I love my kids, whole heatedly, but sometimes, my kids are Aholes. I get blank stares…but you know, give it time and perhaps they’ll come ask you more in depth questions when their kiddos reach 6.

    1. The age difference probably is the root of the problem with my better friends who are just having kids, but I get the same blank-faced stares when I broach the harder stuff with the parents of my daughter’s friends that I have gotten to know better. I don’t come out and say something really deep and personal, but if I were to say what you just said, that I love my kids but sometimes I just don’t want to be around them, I would totally get a, Hehe. How bout this rain? If I ever even hint (and that is what I always do, hint, I never come out and say it) that there is any aspect of parenting that I genuinely don’t enjoy, people totally shut down. I get the feeling I’m the only whose love of the good parts of parenting makes up for the hard parts. And I assume that either means I don’t handle the hard parts as well, or my hard parts are a little more wearing than the hard parts other people deal with.

      1. It’s funny. I feel kind of the opposite (but maybe, in a weird way, similar): other people talk about how hard parenting is, but they have husbands who are around to help, or they hire a cleaning person, or their kids go to bed at 7 pm, or their MIL babysits every week… and I’m left wondering a) what exactly is so hard, and b) if their situation is hard, what does that make mine?

        I don’t know who these people are who never have hard parts with parenting, though!

        1. I sometimes wonder if I am one of those people! If mine situation is not that hard, but I just don’t handle it well. Like I’m a wimp about it or something. I wonder about that EVERY DAY, because I know a lot of people who have it harder than I do, and they don’t seem as bothered by it. I am probably one of those people you are talking about, because I do have in-laws who take my daughter most weekends (in fact, this weekend they are not and I’m trying to brace myself for having my daughter around all weekend because she is SO EXHAUSTING, and not getting a break from her feels really hard, but of course most people don’t get a break from their kids! I’m so lucky to have that! And yet I still complain!)

          And I’m not saying that other people don’t have hard parts with parenting, they just don’t seem willing to talk to me about it. I don’t know, maybe it’s too taboo a subject, to complain about parenting, because it’s too close to complaining about your actual kids (which I will totally do, but most people aren’t comfortable doing).

          Also, a lot of my parent friends only have one kid, and I think that makes a big difference in how manageable things feel.

        2. And that would be me, right? I have cleaning help occasionally, my husband does at least or more than 50% of the stuff, and yet, yeah. its really fucking hard for me. Maybe its because my kids are really difficult & so close in age. Maybe I’m just not cut out for it. Most likely a combination of both of those.

          1. I think it’s a combination of both for me as well. My kids are difficult (at least for me) and I’m not cut out for it. Not a great combination. 😉

  5. so my closest friends tell me all the time how hard motherhood is, how much they need a break to survive, sometimes how underwater they feel. I am always happy to lend an ear, a shoulder or pick up their kids – I am not on the same level. It is not hard for me. Marriage is hard for me, my career is currently hard for me but motherhood and parenting that is easy. while I definitely do not give me closest friends a blank stare or stare at my feet – it is hard for my to sympathize something I do not feel. We are completely honest with each other and her situation and mine are opposite (she has a child with severe ADHD as well as some other behavioral issues) I have two (almost three young children with no diagnosed behavioral issues) however we do talk about everything and she and I can agree to disagree and still go out and have a great time together! She can tell me her kids are a**holes sometimes and I can laugh with her over it or let her cry on my shoulder while I order us a shot but it doesn’t mean I feel that way about mine – perhaps you need that one person who truly “gets” you and you have not yet found them ??

    1. I really appreciate hearing you say this. It actually makes me feel better to know I’m not crazy in thinking that some people really don’t think that parenting is hard, because it sure seems that way to me!

      I could totally look past all this and just have fun with people, if I had people to go out and have fun with. Interestingly, I like hanging out with non-parents the most, because I like that we don’t that in common, so I know it’s not a subject to bring up. I feel like, with the parent-friends I have (who are largely the parents of my daughter’s friends) all we talk about is parenting because it’s the only thing we have (or realize we have) in common because we only ever see each other at kid-centric events.

      And, to be fair, marriage is also hard for me. And my job is not a place I can go to to escape (though I’m not miserable). Maybe that is also part of my problem, that there isn’t a part of my life right now that feels easy. Maybe that makes parenting feel hard. That, and my daughter is just a really energy-intensive kid. She just requires an incredible amount of time and patience. It’s hard to manage her emotions and have anything left for myself.

    2. Parenting is sometimes challenging to me, but no more so than any other intense life endeavor (marriage, work, friendships), so count me as another person who doesn’t find motherhood uniquely hard. I do complain about parenting, but I think I do it in the same way as I do with other complaints about life stressors, to let off steam or vent after a hard day.

      I wonder how much of this has to do with expectations. Being a parent wasn’t something I gave much thought to until I found myself unintentionally pregnant and decided, sure, why not, might as well have a kid. I didn’t go into it with many preconceived notions of what it would be like and it wasn’t a huge shift in my personal identity. Before kids I was just me. After kids I was still just me…but with children. That transition felt very natural.

      The women I know who’ve struggled the most with the challenges of motherhood had very strong, and perhaps romanticized, views of what their adults lives would be like. The would go to college. Graduate and work for a few years. Meet someone and date for a few years. He would propose and they’d be engaged for a year. Marriage and then a few years as couple. Kid one, and a few years later, kid two. And mostly, things went like that until the kids came along and threw their best laid plans into chaos and they’ve not adapted well to ceding control or just sort of going with it. It’s when women like this say things like “you can’t have it all!” or “parenting is the hardest job ever!” that I find I can’t really relate. In my mind, I’ve never expected to have it all or that parenting would be easy so those kind of statements aren’t particularly relevatory to me. I realize that for many women it is a way for them to come to terms with how parenting in practice is so drastically different than parenting in the ideal.

      1. I definitely had romanticized views about having children and being a mother. I didn’t think much about getting married or having a fulfilling career, in fact I didn’t think about my career much at all because I wanted to focus on my kids. So that probably has a lot to do with my feeling like parenting is really hard.

        I definitely never thought I should be able to have it all, or that parenting would be easy, but I didn’t think it would suck this much. I just never heard that message. Maybe it really does get better, and people forget how hard the early part is. Or maybe most other people enjoy it more that I do. Or are better prepared for how challenging it will be.

  6. I dunno. I don’t know anyone who thinks it’s easy–including parents in our parent/baby class and a parenting class we recently took. We heard all these struggles, yet we sometimes bump into people around town and you would never know it. No out if control kids etc. I take comfort in knowing thst most people find it hard. I think sometimes we think others don’t struggle bc on the surface it looks like it’s easy for them or they aren’t honest about the struggles/don’t bring them up.

    If I know or suspect someone has it harder or is dealing with special needs etc. I don’t think “what’s wrong with them?” I’m more like “thank the universe we don’t have that issue, I feel like I can barely manage two healthy “normal” kids”

  7. I don’t talk about parenting with people in depth. If I did, I’d start crying, and I hate crying in front of people.

    I also think there’s an extrovert/verbal processor thing going on here. I’m an introvert and the idea of an in-person discussion of parenting difficulties makes me want to run and hide. It’s exhausting enough living this way, without having to talk about it also.

  8. You are going to be seeing two friends; one expecting and one with a singleton under age 1. I would suggest trying to take yourself back to that stage in your life, then trying to think how you would hear a parent talking about the hard parts of having a child. It is not just that each parent is different as is each child so the points of conflict are different . It is also that the new or to-be parent has no frame of reference to understand the words of the experienced parent. So try to frame your remarks to that much earlier you rather than you of today.
    It is fair to say every parent and child has different patterns and stresses and you will always be willing to listen, support and care even if it is an issue you personally have not encountered. That parenting both is, and is not, what you expected; and that it is different for every parent. That leaves the door open but does not let the hunger crocodile into the house.
    Cheers.

  9. I really, really want to own my crazy. And therefore, by proxy, really, really want my kid to own hers. I am very forthcoming about Princess Who Hates Food and Wears Her Socks Inside Out because that’s how I find adults, with normal jobs, wearing normal clothes, who had those issues too. And I say G! Did you know so and so had the same troubles you do?! And look how AMAZING she is!! So are YOU!
    I bought G new socks, they’re Hanes and almost terry cloth like. She tried them on and said; Mom. These socks are like towels. I was like; Uuummm. Ok.
    Later on she says; I really hope my kid isn’t a weirdo like me that has to wear their socks inside out. Before I could respond she says; But really. I can’t believe you people like towel socks, SO strange.
    I LOVE her. Whether she wears jeans or not. (Stretchy pants are WAY better it turns out. She was right.) And I don’t want to apologize for her, or my, quirks. But I don’t want to deny them either. We all have our differences. But how do we find our tribe if we don’t just put them out there?

    1. I wore my socks inside out as a kid. Turned out OK (and eventually was able to wear them the right way, but I’m still picky about certain clothes). I don’t even think my mom knew that I did that (or cared, if she did).

      1. Oh I don’t care how she wears her socks, now that she’s figured out HOW to wear them! The epic meltdowns do to buttons, zippers, seams, appliqués, tags, WHATEVER are what effect my day to day. If you don’t like the item don’t pick it out! Hello?! If she could just go to school nude all would be well!

  10. Having multiple kids far apart in age teaches you things, such as that picky eating is no big deal, they do snap out of it sometime in elementary school. My now 16-year-old and soon-to-be 9-year-old eat everything now, and they were both ridiculously picky as little kids. The 9-year-old eats like a lumberjack. The youngest (will be 5 in June) has more food allergies (milk, wheat) but he’s growing well and is as smart as a whip, so I just feed him what he wants and try not to worry. Unless your daughter is sub-5-percentile in height or weight, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Make her have gummy vitamins and otherwise let her eat whatever. She’ll grow out of it.

    What you say for parenting I have found for work. Work is my source of identity (I am a university prof in a physical science field) and I have found no one in real life wants to talk about my struggles. I think many feel like I do and occasionally someone will say that they do, but mostly sharing is considered a sign of weakness and they just don’t want to go there with me (it doesn’t help that most of my colleagues are men, not the most introspective bunch as a whole). Even though they too may struggle, they will not admit it (sign of weakness) and the fact that I share it, I know they judge, so I don’t share any more. The only people who have been sympathetic are a couple of really senior collaborators who look at me as a daughter or sorts and advise from that standpoint. But with peers, there is too much judging to get real empathy. Plus, you know, mostly dudes.

    I think you hit the nail on the head with your idea that your struggle has to do with how much of personal identity you have invested in parenting. Work is like that for me; failure at work is the one thing that really gets me. Parenting is hard and tiring and boring, occasionally rewarding and exhilarating, but on a daily basis much of it is just a grind; still, I don’t consider it a disaster and I don’t think I am a failure at it; the kids are happy, healthy, and well adjusted, even if not all of them are easy-going, so I think whatever I am doing is okay. But I never considered parenting as a key part of my identity so I don’t feel as a failure or a rock star; I judge my success through where the kids are in terms of health, happiness, and achievement, and they are doing well so I must be doing okay as a parent.

    To talk about less loaded topics, there is the example of cooking. I like cooking fine and am good at it and people tell me I am good at it, but if I were bad at it I still wouldn’t feel particularly bad about it (unless somebody were constantly rubbing it in my face, for instance), because I never considered being good at cooking to be a defining quality; just something to do because people need to eat.

    1. Honestly, I would not be stressing out about my daughter’s eating–I was a VERY picky child myself–except that increasingly she refuses to eat even the five approved foods, even if I’ve given her a choice and presented to her what she ASKED FOR. And if I just let her not eat, she becomes a raging monster. That is why the food stuff stresses me out, because three times a day I have to fight her to eat, and if I just let her not eat, I have to fight with her later about a snack, or deal with her hangry meltdown.

      Honestly, the idea that personal identity could not be wrapped up in motherhood is kind of insane to me. So clearly, I am investing A LOT of my personal identity in being a parent. The thing is, if it’s not wrapped up in that, what do I wrap it up in? I don’t get much gratification from my job. My marriage is kind of a mess right now. I don’t have any good friends that live near enough to spend actual face-to-face time with. Without parenting, I don’t really have anything. And I suppose therein lies the problem, and that is why I’m so disillusioned by how dissatisfying parenting is 95% of the time. That makes a lot of sense.

      I can’t even imagine working in a male dominated field. As a teacher, the majority of my colleagues are women. I bet it’s hard to squeeze empathy out of a male colleague. Very, very hard. And I’m not at all surprised they find sharing a sign of weakness. That is how most of the men I know operate.

  11. I definitely think it has to do with expectations. I had very little expectations going into motherhood, which was probably for the best since I ended up with special needs kids. A whole other story… I would never say parenting is easy but some people are more easy-going about it and that makes a huge difference. Also, in my case, I have a fairly breezy commute and I don’t clock in at work so being a little late is not an issue.

    1. I guess it does have to do with expectations. I am also probably not the most easy going person, especially about parenting. So it looks like I have to find a way to retool my expectations. Maybe it’s as easy as accepting that parenting is not something that is supposed to be fun, but just another part of life with ups and downs and long periods of “meh” to endure.

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