I don’t know any parent who hasn’t found parenting to be harder than they thought it would be. Sometimes we blame ourselves, or our partners. Sometimes we blame our children. But there are factors at play which are much larger than our families!
Here are three factors which I think make parenting harder than it needs to be.
1. No prep.
Most of us arrive at parenthood with little idea of what to expect, and we begin the most important job of our lives without much accurate information about how to do it well. If we are lucky, we will have some intuition that guides us, but it’s hard to trust ourselves in a haze of exhaustion and worry, and surrounded by a storm of conflicting advice. Very, very few of us had any idea of the relentless emotional responsibility we were taking on. Even if we’ve watched others go through it, we don’t really know what it feels like until it happens.
2. Society is hard on parents.
The time pressures of work and the economic hardship faced by many parents added to by the lack of paid parental leave, cost and availability of reliable, and quality childcare make day-to-day life for too many parents an exhausting race for survival, which drains time and energy left for enjoying parenting.
And there is the constant judgement. How many times have you read or heard someone talk about all of the ways they judged parents before they themselves became parents? Although individuals may change their tune once they experience the realities of parenting, there’s plenty more judgment wherever parents turn. We parents can be hard on each other as well.
Living in our society and trying to imagine a society that supports parenting is a bit like trying to imagine another dimension. But looking at other cultures can give us a glimpse: paid leave for mothers and their partners, insurance that covers birth and postpartum doula care, quality subsidized child care, and more. Ready to imagine more? Think of policies that treat parenting as important, valuable work — not as a hobby or an interest akin to raising a pet.
3. We were children once, too.
We learned how to parent as we were being parented. In fact, humans, along with dolphins and some apes, seem to be the only animals who biologically are able to parent differently than how we were parented. We all stand on our parent’s shoulders — and we do the best we can, just as they did. But it’s amazing how we will hear our parents’ words coming out of our own mouths, saying things we thought we’d never say to our children.
Plus, something else happens when we become parents . . . whether or not we are aware of it, we enter an emotional echo chamber of our own childhoods. We may not have explicit memories of our early years, but the implicit memories are there. As parents, we can be triggered in ways we don’t expect or understand as parenthood takes us — or perhaps drags us — back through our own childhoods.
We love our children so much, and it is frustrating and confusing when old emotional triggers or present-day challenges get in the way of our close, loving relationship with them. In fact, our understanding and awareness of our emotional landscape is key to our connection with our children. Understanding the ways in which the parenting challenges we face are not our children’s fault or the result of our personal failings is a great place to start.
This article first appeared as a guest blog post in Crazy Wisdom Journal, August 2014.
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