The Parenthood Trap — The Baby Isn't The Only Thing Growing

Love, Family

It's always been a source of pride for my husband and I that we rarely fight.

We're both pretty easy going and have tremendous respect for one another, so there's little room for argument. I remember our first big disagreement. My son was only days old.

The timeframe sticks out to me all these years later so distinctly because my son was so new that we didn’t even have a proper blanket for him yet. I was so frustrated with my husband on this occasion that I took our precious newborn for a walk in his Italian stroller in a pillow case.

I recall in that moment being aware that things would never be the same.

Recently I read the article in the Washington Post “It turns out parenthood is worse than divorce, unemployment — even the death of a partner.” As I did, I found myself reflecting on the transition so many of us make from a couple to a family.

Most individuals that come to see me for coaching or counseling come because they are at a transitional place in their life. They are looking to leave a relationship or thinking about changing their career, and with this change comes a heavy dose of stress.

Culturally we are lulled in to believing that the bliss that comes with becoming a parent outweighs the stress, the hard work and the utter exhaustion. As with the case of so many of our societal myths, this one leaves us feeling isolated when we think “what the hell have I gotten myself in to?”

That evening I took the walk the clouds were just beginning to roll in. My son slept the first few days so much that we had to wake him with a cold rag to get him to eat. Once he didn’t start sleeping so much, he started crying more and he cried so inconsolably that the dream of parenting was quickly shattered into the nightmare of incapability.

We could handle the onslaught of body fluids and the excruciating pain of breastfeeding. We could even handle the interrupted sleep. But as I looked at that little boy and realized just how human I was and just how little I knew about making him happy, I felt real fear. My husband felt it too. We argued that evening because we recognized the foolishness of our endeavor. Not only to think that in some way we were prepared for these roles and responsibilities, but to think that we could out-formulate the parenting dilemma. We were just foolish enough to think that we would be different; we would be exempt from the mistakes other people make.

My children have always been my greatest teachers. My son taught me very early on that there was no place for perfectionism in my role as his mother. I fought a valiant fight in my attempts to keep his clothes pristine and have our mommy friends over for lunches they didn’t want. His colic signaled to me that I would have to try harder in this role than I had ever tried before.

And when he had trouble latching on for the first 6 weeks and my nipples bled, the brutal lesson was that you can never give up on this being. This is not the job you didn’t like and left without notice. This is the life you wanted and that your love created and you have to stay to figure this out. In the end, I have always been rewarded and now I stop fighting the lessons he teaches me. I am much more graceful after all the lost battles and I sit and wait for what he has to show me. I am so much smarter because of him.

My husband and I survived because we are adaptable. Not only did we refuse to give up on our little guy, but we refused to give up on one another. When things get messy we come together. After my walk that evening I came home and said “what the hell?”

He didn’t have an answer, he still doesn’t, but every time over the last 14 years when one of us has wondered “what the hell?,” we consistently return to problem solving together. Sometimes that solution is laying it down until the next day. Sometimes that solution is regrouping and establishing firmer boundaries.

Whatever it is, I know that we make it together. The partnership that my son so stubbornly forged for us lasts because of and in spite of the traps of parenthood.

We know that crisis can be the curse of a relationship. Dictionary.com defines crisis as “a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined; turning point.”

The birth of a child is such a turning point: we can be certain that our lives will never be the same. We can grow in that certainty when we are flexible and willing to hear the lessons our new lives and our children are offering.

Lydia Kickliter, LMHC is a therapist specializing in helping women through transition. You can find her at Therapy for Showing Up.com.