A few weeks before my first child was born, a group of my friends gathered for a “mother blessing”. The group was all women, mostly parents, some with small children present. We ate chocolate fondue and my best friend presented me with a beautiful handmade birth shawl collaboratively made by friends and family.
Then we went around the circle and each person shared a blessing or piece of wisdom to help me prepare for the enormous transition to motherhood ahead. It was lovely and I remember almost nothing of what was shared. Frankly, the nine years that have passed since that day have been mostly a blur.
That said, there was a pearl of wisdom shared that day (by two separate friends) that I remember vividly and has stuck with me ever since – something I have gone back to again and again, taken comfort in on the regular, and have frequently shared with others.
And it might not be what you expect. Here it is:
Parenting is the best and the worst, all at once. It’s wonderful and terrible – both a miraculous gift and a devastating trial simultaneously.
The moms who shared this wisdom were both in the throes of parenting three children. I know both of them to be thoughtful, intelligent, gentle, conscious parents. They love their kids deeply. And they love many aspects of parenting.
And, in sharing this insight they were also completely honest and vulnerable about how parenting is. They didn’t understate the glory, nor did they undermine the misery. And they validated (before I knew I would need validation) that it’s OK to feel both at the same time.
It’s possible to be a wonderful parent and feel ambivalent about parenting.
It’s possible to love your children fiercely, and at the same time mourn the parts of you you’ve lost sight of.
It’s possible to want to be holding your children close and be as far away from them as possible in the same exact moment.
As a culture we don’t often hear this perspective, and I really wish we did. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of feeling like to be a great parent you have to love parenting, and that not feeling that way all the time makes you less of a parent and less of a person.
In fact, I believe the opposite to be true. The more deeply we experience all the joys and sorrows of parenting, the more present and authentic we can be – with ourselves, with our kids, and in the world.
Lots of people have advised me over the course of my parenting journey to “enjoy every minute because it all goes by so fast.” Though always well-intentioned, that’s never really resonated with me.
I know my children will be grown and gone and that it will feel like it happened in a flash. And I already miss their beautiful babyhoods that have passed. But I don’t expect myself – or any of you – to enjoy every minute. Much of parenting isn’t enjoyable. It can be overwhelming, oppressive, painful, scary, tedious, depleting.
And in the next moment it can be joyous, hilarious, tender, fulfilling, inspiring.
Parenting is all the extremes. It’s awful and amazing, and embracing that dichotomy is (in my opinion) one of the ingredients of being a conscious parent with enough compassion to care for yourself, your kids, and your community in the ways that this world needs.
So when you’re struggling remember this, and think of the incredible things that can happen when we embrace that parenting can be both awful and amazing:
It’s easier to feel compassion for yourself, and know that your parenting is enough just the way it is and that you are not alone.
It’s easier to feel compassion for other parents who are out there struggling just as hard and doing the very best they can.
It can help you model compassion for your kiddos, who are in the process of learning how tough life can be and need to believe that they are enough, exactly as they are, even when they’re struggling.
We start to disrupt the unrealistic expectations placed on parents (and especially moms) by a society that expects us to lead the way doing one of the world’s hardest and most important jobs (raising humans to be good people and survive the crazy world we’ve made for them) and loving every second of it. We start to create a different narrative.
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