It’s funny how, as new parents, we learn as we go, despite reading the books and listening to the podcasts. Just like what our little ones experience, once we think we have something figured out, it changes. Once a routine or a phase seems like it’s working, our children grow, learn a new way to explore or express, and we all have to learn how to navigate the next stage together.
Even though I nannied and babysat for 20 years before I had my son, there was so much I wasn’t prepared for. I wasn’t prepared for the unrelenting moments of frustration. I wasn’t prepared for my lack of freedom. I wasn’t prepared for the tears—mine, not his. Everyone told me that being a parent was the hardest job in the world. Now, I realize it’s just one of those things you need to experience for yourself to really understand.
As my preschooler recently turned three and reached a few major milestones, he also learned a few new things about his independence and ability to express himself. The routines and consistency that I had worked so hard to create for us in the last two or so years suddenly were no longer of interest to him. My brief, predictable hours of freedom during nap and after bedtime had become a battle…along with everything else, it felt like: meals, baths, cleaning up, getting in the car, getting out of the car, getting dressed and getting undressed.
Being someone who actively promotes self-care to my friends, family and clients, I know how important it is to prioritize my own needs, from meals and showers to alone time and quiet time. It took me a while to figure all of that out. If I can’t have these things, how can I be the best me? I couldn’t—and my son’s new demeanor was throwing all of this off track. I didn’t like it.
I found myself struggling with his behavior and my own reactions to it. This wasn’t what I expected. This wasn’t our routine. This wasn’t fair.
I started feeling something I remember vividly from his infancy. I felt disappointed for feeling disappointed and worse, guilty for my immature selfishness—and those feelings made me want to crawl out of my own skin. I was obsessed with and in love with my son. I had always wanted to be a mom. I read all the books. I ate all the organic foods. I breastfed. I gave up all of my time and my work and my body and my social life for him.
At that time, I thought, “Why doesn’t he see that? Why was he still crying? Why am I not happier?” I couldn’t believe more women weren’t shouting this from their Twitter feeds and at our park play dates. Most of them seemed elated every time I saw them; I know know they weren’t, really.
Two-and-a-half years later, I found myself on his bedroom floor, leaned against his crib, crying almost as loudly as he was while he refused his nap and my hugs, unable to express how confused and frustrated he was with his tiredness, lack of pacifier and a new schedule. I’m sure he desperately wanted to convey his wants and needs. He was probably thinking something like, “Why are you doing this to me?” (Ditto, kiddo.)
Well, I am sure most of this is all too familiar to some of you. But weirdly, I found solace in one of the unlikeliest of places: one of my son’s children’s books. You probably know the book, or at least the little chant of “Going on a Bear Hunt.”
Can’t go over it. Can’t go under it. We’ve got to go through it.
And it’s so true when it comes to parenting.
We’ve been reading this book nightly as of late and it started making me giggle when I considered its symbolism. My child, who, five minutes prior was screaming while refusing his evening bath (like, “I feel I should email my neighbors asking them not to call CPS” type of screaming), was now snuggling with me in the rocking chair, our cheeks touching, singing along to the book and making eye contact as though I was the only human in the world.
It’s a phase. But it’s also a process: it’ll pass, it’ll get easier…and it’ll get harder, too. We’ve got to go through it—and learn from it.
What I’ve been learning is that we can’t have expectations. I’ve learned to be grateful for my flexible work and lifestyle, my ability to mindfully change my thoughts and reactions, and for resources like friends and Janet Lansbury’s podcast and books to shift my understanding around my child’s totally normal brain. The frustration and hurt will return from time to time but I just have to remember: can’t go over it. Can’t go under it.
We’ve got to go through it—and we will, too.