All of us parents have those little remembrances of how our children came into our world. We remember having a wet baby placed into our arms or maybe we remember opening an envelope and seeing a cherubic little face that we would soon meet after a long flight to a strange, new country. Either way, certain parts of a child’s introduction into a parent’s life remain locked away forever.
We remember trying to figure out “Is this the front or the back?” during the first diaper change. When we arrive home with the new baby and lay her down in the house for the first time, we remember the look on our spouse’s face that begged the question,“Now what?”
I had only been a mother for about 48 hours when a paralyzing wave of reality swept over me. My daughter was content, sleeping catatonically in my lap like only a newborn can, and my mom, who was visiting, was just over my shoulder. My daughter was peaceful. She was adorable. She looked like she was sleeping in complete contentment, so fragile and delicate.
“I can’t stand the thought of her experiencing pain or fear. It kills me,” I said. “Things are going to hurt her, people are going to be mean to her. I look at her, and I realize I will never be free of worry about her. Ever. My mind will never be unburdened again.”
“It’s so overwhelming. All of it.”
I started to cry, and since I’m not a crier by nature this only upset me more. “It almost makes me wish…I mean, I kinda wish…” I stumbled over my words until my mom took them from me.
“You almost wish you’d never had her?”
There they were. The words you’re never supposed to say.
My mom had ripped them right out of my mouth. I looked at her searching for a sign of disapproval that I had made such a heartless confession, but found none. Instead she just dismissed my words with a wave of her hand, “every new mother feels like that,” and walked away.
What! Every new mother feels like this? No one had mentioned one word about this parenting scam. The “no going back now” panicky feeling that the hospital handed you– along with that new diaper bag and first inky footprint– was just a big well-kept secret I guess.
I felt wronged. Tricked. Why had no one, none of my friends who had babies before me, or my own mother, told me of this crooked deal I’d delivered along with this perfect baby? Where did I need to expose this huge ugly secret so that every perspective new parent could rethink this whole decision?
Before I go any further, let me clarify the full statement here so I don’t come off sounding ungrateful for my three children. I’m incredibly grateful and feel blessed beyond belief to have my kids.
My feelings of “I almost wish I hadn’t had her” were only because I loved her so much it scared me.
I had the terrifying realization that my happiness was now vulnerable to being pierced by anything or any person that would ever cause her grief or pain. In an instant, my happiness was forever inseparable from hers–this person who weighed six pounds and who I had only known for two days–and that wasn’t an emotion I was prepared for.
And the catch? By the time you figure this out, it’s too late. You’ve been given this baby and instantly you’re condemned to a life sentence of constant worry. Your utterly confusing and baffling parenting journey of questions and second guessing yourself immediately begins, and you are constantly introduced to new things to obsess about at every turn:
Is she sleeping enough?
Is she sleeping too much? If you have that baby, just to be clear– all mothers hate you.
What if they drop her on her head at daycare?
Will she make friends at school?
Will she survive her transition to Middle School?
Will I survive her transition to Middle School?
Does she need braces?
Will she make cheerleader? What if she doesn’t?
What if no one asks her to prom?
Is that her boyfriend?
Those are all pretty typical questions parents ask.
But hold on, because you will also ask questions such as:
Who did this? Spoiler alert, this question is always answered with “Did what?”
Why is the dog sticky?
Where is your father?
Why is there a boiled egg in your backpack?
Why in the world would you type f- -k on the Media Center computer?
So do you understand now why you can’t just wipe your runny nose on someone’s baby?
Where is your father?
Well when was the last time you saw your hamster?
Why do you have a shoe box full of water?
So do we agree, no more talk with your bus driver about Mommy drinking martinis?
Where are your pants? This one seems funny, but it’s not really funny if they’re in high school.
Why would you tell your Brownie Troop that Mommy and Daddy sleep naked?
Who shut the cat in the shower?
Why are you limping?
Where did you get that?… Just make a rule, nothing dead or alive comes in the house.
Can you please tell Mommy why you have a jar of olives under your bed?
You need a poster board?…always after 10pm and you will always be in your pajamas.
Oh My God, where is your father?
How can you possibly need another poster board? See above.
Why is this wet?
What in the hell…?
Is it still breathing?… I know this one sounds odd, but you’d be surprised.
So while you spend a lot of time worrying about them, their safety and their welfare, you also end up feeling you could at times be the very thing they need protection from. I am certain that parents who have been summoned to a police station, a hospital, a Principal’s office, a concert venue or anywhere else to pick up a child who made a bad decision know what I’m talking about. They have felt that rage.
And even though we don’t mean it, that “I almost wish I’d never had them,” thought shamefully comes creeping back in from that dark, manic corner of your mind, just for a split second. Probably the same place where that urge to just yell out really loudly in church to see what would happen also sits, but we won’t talk about that.
Certainly they will do little things that annoy you, for instance you will now have to hunt for items that you usually take for granted everyday: your hair brush, your car keys, your self-control not to choke someone.
Along with those, there are three things that you will never ever see again in your home: Scissors, Sharpie markers and Tape.
The fact that one of these items renders permanent ink on anything it touches will certainly be no source of comfort. You can hide it from them like a loaded pistol, but they’ll find it faster than a drug dog. Sometimes the “Sharpie marker at large,” like a phantom, will even leave evidence that it still exists somewhere in your home (the loop-edy-loo’s on the new coffee table incident of 1993) but you’ll never actually see the marker itself again. Just resign yourself to the fact that you can own these three items again in about 20 years.
It’s such a miracle that these little people who are so demanding can possibly evoke such emotion and undeniable devotion from us, but Mother Nature knew what she was doing there. And quite frankly if someone did try to tell us this before we had a child, as I wished they had done for me, we wouldn’t understand it or worse, we’d all just stop having kids.
When my husband and I were contemplating having a third child someone said to me “If you want another baby, just have another baby. You’ll never regret having one, but you might possibly regret not having one years down the road.” Ironically, it was best advice I ever received, and now I can’t imagine our family without her spunky third dimension.
This mental and emotional yoke our children have around our necks is such a mix of the greatest joy and at times the worst heartache imaginable, and they are separated by the smallest most delicate spider’s thread. Just ask any parent who has ever buried a child. It’s such a horrendous experience that there’s not even a word for it in the English language. A man who has lost his wife is a widower, a woman a widow, but there is no word for a parent who has lost a child, simply because no one term could ever describe the indescribable.
To acknowledge the moment that you recognized and accepted that joyous burden and fear of being a parent, of which there is no going back, is much more a testimony and commitment to our astounding love for our children, than any ingratitude
You suddenly realize their safety, success and well-being are the currency for any future peace of mind you will ever hope to experience. So here’s the thing, even though you’re not really supposed to say, “I almost wish I’d never had them,” you’re not the only one to ever feel it, because for all the incredible, rewarding, joyous moments it provides, parenting is hard. It’s exhausting. Sometimes it hurts like hell, and it just about scares you to death –but only if you’re doing it right.