It would be redundant to say parenting is exhausting. I know I am in good company when I wish I had more patience and a desire to yell less. I feel bad that I sigh and huff my way through tasks when my kids need or want my help. My oldest is 8 and my twins are 6; someone needs or wants something all of the damn time. It may not be the same kid needing something every minute, but when someone says my name every minute, it doesn’t matter who the culprit is: they will likely get suppressed irritation so my head doesn’t explode. But the constant low key headache and tightness in my neck and shoulders tell me I am holding in a lot more than I am letting out. Not all exhaustion comes from the doing. My exhaustion also comes from the restraint it takes to be a parent.
I know the parent I want to be and ultimately I know I am a good one, but at the end of some days I feel awful and like a failure. I have to sit and sift through the reality of my feelings and sort out the guilt of actions never taken and words never said because my head is full of all of the things I kept from my kids.
Meal time produces the most anxiety for me, followed closely by the bedtime routine. Can we talk about how awful it is that there is very little time to decompress between dinner and bedtime? I know it will get easier, but wow. Nothing tests your ability to keep your shit together like watching your kid throw away food they refused to eat, ask for a snack five minutes later, then refuse to brush their teeth because the underwear they have put over their head makes it hard to absorb the toothpaste. I digress.
Call it misophonia or my kids’ inability to eat with their mouths closed and in a way that doesn’t sound like spite, but I hate eating with my kids. I often remind them to eat over their plates. Close your mouth. Stop slurping. EAT WITH YOUR MOUTH CLOSED. My tone ranges from calm to bitchy, but internally I look like Anger from Inside Out.
Inside I am screaming phrases like, OMG you sound so disgusting. Jesus Christ, how can one person make so much noise? SHUT THE FUCK UP! I have told my kids they sound gross, and while I want them to have manners, I don’t want to shame them, especially when it comes to food. Instead I internalize all of the things one should never say to a child. I should probably not say these things to an adult either, but that’s beside the point.
I keep comments to myself too when my kids say they don’t need help when clearly they do. Seat belts, shoe laces, snack getting, milk pouring, art and science kits are all really great ways for me to bite my tongue off in an effort to not crush their independent spirits. I go deep inside myself and pretend I am an Avox from The Hunger Games. You’re right, kids. Time is simply a construct created to keep us down. I eventually pull the plug on their attempts to do it themselves if they don’t first scream at me to help, as if I hadn’t offered 10 minutes earlier. But there is a lot of white knuckling and controlled breathing instead of bashing my head off of a wall or the car steering wheel.
When big emotions, exhaustion, and/or hunger cause my kids to lose all control of themselves, I feel out of control too, internally at least. Because I recognize this, I make a very deliberate effort to not force my kids to do what I need them to do through physicality or spanking. And don’t tell me it’s easy to not hit a child. I did not say it’s right nor did I say it’s something I want to do. But there are times when my own frustration and desperate exhaustion have boiled to the edges of my skin and it’s all I can do to not shake or hit my child into submission.
I broke the cycle of abuse from my own childhood, but I suspect the layers of generational abuse will always be with me at a cellular level. The willpower it takes to not discipline my children with spanking is more of testament of my self-awareness than my ability to stay cool. I am human, though. My body tightens, my jaw clenches, my words are sharp, and I yell. Parenting is really fucking hard, and I understand the ease of using violence to get results. But those are temporary, and the negative impacts of spanking are long lasting. I don’t condone spanking and I don’t want to hit my kids. I want to stay in control. I want to be the parent who moves my kids forward through their day and guides them forward through life by providing lessons in self-sufficiency, accountability, and emotional intelligence.
I recently listened to a podcast that featured Glennon Doyle. She talked about the need to stay in our pain and our hot loneliness in order to learn, grow, and gain the courage needed to get through life. This is uncomfortable and exhausting but necessary.
Loving my kids is easy when it’s easy. Loving them when it’s hard is easy too. The difference is in how that love looks. Sometimes it is loud joy, sometimes it is silent restraint. Parenting is knowing that love lies in the necessity of staying in the hot loneliness.