The dark side of parenting no one wants to talk about
"Isn’t it about time we also discussed the dark, along with the light, so that mums are better prepared for the reality of motherhood and parenting?"
“The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed, and yes, in pain…” -- Debra Ginsberg.
Parenthood, when you are pregnant for the first time, is often viewed as a light-filled land of laughter, love and lullabies. Of soft skin, kisses and cuddles and a whole lifetime of 'firsts'.
Parenthood is life-changing, exhilarating and an experience like no other.
And of course, all this is perfectly true, which is why we talk about the experience of becoming and being a parent so much. It’s why being pregnant, especially for the first time, is just so exciting.
But hardly anyone talks much about the flip side of all this joy. Yet we know that where there is happiness, there is also sadness and pain.
Parenting – as beautiful and wonderful as it really is – also has a deep, dark side to it that many of us refuse to acknowledge, except in our own hearts and souls when these moments occur.
This ‘dark side’ can sometimes hit you like an out-of-control freight train once you have your baby, resulting in conditions like postnatal depression that leave a mother feeling helpless and dealing with a side to her that she never knew existed.
Isn’t it about time we also discussed the dark, along with the light, so that mums are better prepared for the reality of motherhood and parenting?
Here are 5 of what are probably the deepest, darkest moments of parenthood.
1. The pain
Parenthood may bring with it both physical and psychological pain.
The discomfort of pregnancy pales into insignificance in comparison to what labour and birth may bring. This could be immediate as your baby is birthed making you feel like your insides are being ripped out by a giant; and subsequent as you deal with ripped stomach muscles, cuts, stitches and sore, bleeding nipples.
The pain of losing a child, at whatever age, is unbearable and is a cut to the heart that will never heal. Your child’s physical pain when he is sick is yours to bear, too.
And all those mums around the world with no help who soldier on, working outside home and in their home, around the clock, day after day – your hard work often results in sore backs, shoulders and knees, in worry lines, stretchmarks and wrinkles.
But it also results in an undeniable sense of satisfaction and pride as you see your children thrive and grow.
2. The sadness
Sometimes, I look at my children sleeping, see how fast they have grown, (they are now four and six years old) and I feel a terrible sadness.
This sadness is partly related to a nostalgia that their baby years have gone and I will never get them back.
It’s also related to the idea that one day, they’ll be all grown up, just like that, and this, inexplicably, makes me feel empty even though there are many, many more years to go for this to happen.
Parenthood is full of ‘sad’ moments like this.
Call them bittersweet if you like, but you might experience many instances where the tears flow freely – from the day your baby bravely heads off to school for the first time, to the day he leaves your home forever – leaving you and your tender heart breaking with love.
No one can make me as angry as my own flesh and blood can, sometimes. I hate myself for it when it happens but I know I’m not the only one.
Sometimes, in some mums, this anger can morph into something that is blinding, white-hot rage... a terrible thing sometimes known as postnatal depression/psychosis that must be stopped with appropriate care and intervention.
Motherhood has been described by Audre Lorde as the “suffering of ambivalence, the murderous alternation between bitter resentment and raw edged nerves, and blissful gratification and tenderness.”
Need I say more?
The sheer tiredness that becoming a parent brings with it… how is it even possible to describe this through mere words?
It hits you during pregnancy, when hormones and your growing baby start robbing you of sleep, ill-preparing you still for the wave of exhaustion that goes on, year after year, as your children grow.
Your days and nights become blurred as they become demarcated by feeding times, bath time, play time and so on.
Parenting involves a sleep debt that can never be re-paid.
When your child is sick and you are up all night with him, monitoring his temperature, sponging him, comforting him, your tiredness turns into a bone-crushing exhaustion.
Through your child’s life, at least until he is bigger, there will be plenty more exhaustion-inducing moments like this, as you juggle raising your little one, your work, your family and your life, like the most skillful juggler in the world.
Let me count the number of times my kids have made me frustrated. Oh wait – there’s no number big enough for it!
From the endless vomiting when my firstborn started solids for the first time to coping with my second son’s terrible-two tantrums. From dealing with both kids’ selective hearing, to what I feel when looking at my slow, slow eater of a first-born still eating his meal after an hour…
It’s true. Parenting is full of dark moments like this and many more as you may have experienced.
But let’s not forget that where there is dark, there is always light.
And the light that balances out the deep, dark moments of parenting is pure and true, and most often, its brilliance has the ability of shining through and defeating the darkness.
Have you experienced the dark side of parenting too? How did you overcome it?