Friday, October 12, 2012

Why I Will Lie to Young Parents

It happened again today. This time it was at Starbucks. I was with the kids and we were having a rather lovely few minutes, which was a gift considering the many un-lovely minutes that had come prior.


Two women in their forties were sitting nearby. My incredibly social daughter made sure to stop and say hi on the way out, and the two women smiled and complimented how adorable my children were and how they had been admiring them. I have the species of children that are on their best behavior while in public. In fact, I can curb most tantrums by taking us out and about. (Yeah, I don't get it either.) As we briefly talked with these kind strangers, one of the women said, "Enjoy it now. This is the best time."

Ah yes, this conversation. Like most young parents, I'm very familiar with it.

I smiled and was as gracious as possible with my dirty hair and replied, "Thank you. They can be pretty sweet."

"Yeah," she continued, looking wistful, "It just gets harder and harder."

Ugh. What is this new layer of doomsday prophecy I keep getting? That not only should I enjoy every minute, but that it all just keeps getting harder and harder and culminates in...? What exactly? It's unclear, but whatever it is, the message that it's all downhill from here is what I keep hearing these days.

I lightly replied, still smiling, "Oh, but at least you get to sleep all night now, right? I was up at 4:30 AM with this guy," gesturing to Oliver, who had by now scampered up into a chair by them, a little social butterfly in training.

The mom then informed me, "Nope, you get more tired! This is the easy time."

Really? I mean, I suppose it must be true, if I keep hearing it again and again, but...really? You know what? If it gets worse, harder, more tiring as the years go on, then I just don't want to hear it. Let my ignorance be bliss. Leave me in my bubble of foolish young-parent confusion. Let me think that these are the particularly challenging days and it gets easier as the kids rely on me a bit less. I need that right now. I really do.

And that is why I plan to become a flaming liar in my old(er) age.

Parents of teenage & adult children: YOU NEED TO LIE TO YOUNG PARENTS.

Go back and look at that picture of us in Starbucks. See how I look happy, but a little crazy? It's because I'm happy BUT A LITTLE CRAZY.

When these well-meaning older parents issue these warnings of what is to come to younger parents, they are forgetting that they are not playing on a level playing field. Those older parents have something pretty big going for them and that is sleep. Young parents are walking around without their full mental capacity. Truly, we are not operating anywhere close to optimal right now. We are over-extended on so many levels and to try to process big, scary, foreboding warnings of the future through our addled brains...well, it does not come across the way you might be meaning it. It's a dismal message and we are struggling enough with our exhausting day-to-day lives without hearing that this is the pinnacle of joy and happiness.

Yes, of course we have some wonderful, irreplaceable golden moments with our young beauties everyday, but life is still darn hard right now. Do these well-meaning moms not remember this? How completely exasperating it can be to do something as simple as get out the door and go grocery shopping? How everything is tricky? How pooping is a spectator sport?

And the other factor that keeps these comments from being fair to us younger parents is that the older parents have seen the future and can look back at the whole big picture. A mixed blessing, to be sure, but we young parents do not have that ability to see it all with perspective. We don't know at all what is in front of us and we can't even bring ourselves to even consider it, and thank god for that. We are fumbling and faltering and unsure of this relatively new life, still googling things like "when does a baby drop their second nap?" and consulting parenting books on how to reduce tantrums in a preschooler. This is not the time for us to consider what hell it is to have your daughter dumped by her boyfriend and deal with an empty nest when the youngest goes to college. I mean, we are still in the phase of occasionally questioning what the hell we have done with our lives by having children and are still baffled at the amount of sacrifice this parenting gig requires. We are newbies! No, we didn't realize the scope of what we were undertaking we decided to throw caution (and condoms) to the wind, but here we are anyway. And we are doing the best we can. We are functioning in the here and now because that's about all we can do. You don't tell your 7th grader that the next few years are going to be sheer hell on the first day of school, so why do it to us? Hearing how terrible it's going to be for the next decade and a half does not make a 3-year-old's tantrum any more pleasant. In fact, it makes it worse.

I have come to terms with the fact that this parenting business is a long and often scary road, that your investment is great but the return is not guaranteed. There is mystery in why we do this in the first place and then the greater mystery of why we decide to do it again (and possibly again and again) as we expand our families.

Oh, but there is magic in parenting, a kind of magic greater than I could have imagined. And at the end of the day, there is a lot of happiness in this life. That I do see. I definitely enjoy the highlights and treasure those with a passion I never experienced before becoming a mother. I love being a mom, even knowing there are dark days ahead.

So yes, teenage children might be a thousand times worse than a three-year old when it comes to being tiring and difficult but I can't hear about that right now. That is scary and doesn't serve me. Like Glennon said in her brilliant post about Don't Carpe Diem, we young parents are at the foot of the mountain. Don't discourage us now. Encourage us! Cheer us on. Sympathize.

That is what I want right now. I want some grace and mentoring and a positive message from the older generation, whether it's true or not.

That is why I will lie to young parents. I will admire their children, tell them how adorable and well-behaved they are and then whisper to the parents as I walk away, "These are happy but tough days. It gets better. It did for me." I will try to give them a nice moment of hope in the middle of their surely exhausting day. I will give the message that now is good, but the future is great.

And you better believe I'll do whatever I can to make that the truth, even if it means lying to myself every now and then.

25 comments:

  1. "Hearing how terrible it's going to be for the next decade and a half does not make a 3-year-old's tantrum any more pleasant. In fact, it makes it worse."

    Worded perfectly.

    I can't believe it. I'm getting by on pregnant-with-a-toddler-who-doesnt-stop BECAUSE the future will be easier. Because someday they'll get up and turn on the TV and pour their own cereal while I slumber - RIGHT? Because, while a car and teenage years will bring worries, it will also mean I'm not shlepping them around with me everywhere - RIGHT?

    I do love that right now my son doesn't have to worry about bullies or grades or anything and can just PLAY. But, like you said, hopefully those new challenges bring with it more sleep to help deal? Will we really be MORE tired, like she said?

    You make a great point that they can see the whole picture looking back, and innocent babies like yours probably make them think of, and lament, their youth, too. But still. Think first. Talk second. Offer support. "Oh, I'm sorry you were up at 4:30. It's hard."

    I'm with you. I believe it will get easier, if only because our kids can then do some things without us.

    Great post. :)

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  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your lies. I can't explain the terror I feel at contemplating adding a second child to our family. (What?!? 16 months later and I've only just got this one figured out! How am I supposed to do twice the work I don't have time to do now??) The lie that the happiness I feel with one will be double but the misery with one will stay the same is very welcome.

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  3. Ughh, this drives me insane. I know several people with older kids and not a single one of them has ever said it gets WORSE. My coworker with teenagers and I have laughed about how eerily similar toddlers and teenagers are, but always, always, it comes down to - do you get to sleep all night, most nights? (fine, sometimes you're worrying and waiting for them to get home - I get that - but if that's every night then maybe you're doing it wrong) And - do you have to get them food, water, wipe their butts, dress them, carry them and their crap, and I could go on and on? No. You do not. So shut up about how you have it harder. Different challenges, sure. Also, the people I know with kids aged 5-10 said it's downright EASY most of the time. SO THERE, annoying Starbucks woman!!

    It's just another one of those stupid games that mostly women play about needing to be the martyr and feeling that whatever stage they are in is the hardest. I'm pretty glad I don't really see too many people like that, or they don't talk to me at least. Some of my cousins try to engage in that game with me (just you wait!) so I typically just ignore them at family gatherings, and definitely don't complain about anything so that I don't get their pitying voice telling me it gets worse. Because always, I just want to ask, well why DID you have kids then? If it's good for 2 years and then just sucks you into oblivion until you're dead? Please.

    Can you tell that I was up from 11-1:30, and then 4-5, and then 6:30 last night?? :)

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  4. If their kids behave worse at 13 than at 3, they did something wrong. Oh, snap!

    Pick a better coffee shop with nicer ladies, says me.

    Sonja

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  5. I liken this to the people who corner pregnant women to tell them how horrible labor is. I am now the parent of three teenagers (poor planning, evidently, on my part), but I can say without a doubt that this stage of parenting has been more enjoyable and far less tiring than the days when they were 1, 3, and 5. MUCH less tiring. Sure there are issues from time to time, and, yes, some things are harder, like figuring out how to get everyone to multiple after school activities which seem to occur all at the same time, but I love the higher level of reasoning ability my kids have, the fact that they are just so damn interesting as people, and their ability to bathe, clothe, and feed themselves. That last part really rocks. :)

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  6. P. S. That comment was not a lie. I promise

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  7. I don't have kids (yet) but even I disagree with the Starbucks ladies! I think you have to take what strangers say with a grain of salt. They probably did have terrible, bratty, spoiled and mean kids, so for them it was awful. Bella and Oliver won't be any of those things!

    My two cents. Next time strangers start to offer assvice, a firm "No thank you and good day, m'lady." should end the conversation pretty quick. :)

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  8. No Kidding! But it seems that way from the second you find out you're pregnant, first it's "just wait till the last couple of months, you'll hate life then..." then when that stage comes it's "just enjoy the last minutes of freedom you have, you're never getting sleep again"... then it's the terrible two's, then it's dreading have two instead of one... it just goes on and on and on... But the thing is- I will cherish every single second of my kids while they are little and every second along the way until they are older. It's ridiculous for parents to be such downers to younger parents- if you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all :)

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  9. This reminds me of a day a few month ago, when my baby was 2 months old and I was the older mom. The barista at the Starbucks was 18-22 ish, and telling me how excited she was to get married and have a baby (upon seeing my extremely cute kid). I wanted to say, THIS IS AWFUL I AM SO CLOSE TO REGRET! But I didn't! I just smiled

    I particularly like Lindsey's take on the situation.

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  10. Laura, seriously, where do you FIND these people? I mean, yes, at Starbucks. But I've been parenting for six years now, and no one has ever said any of this bullshit to me, not once: no "enjoy every moment," no "it only gets harder." (Well, once an in-law type person suggested that the baby sleeping well meant he'd be a disastrous toddler and said something along the lines of "just wait 'til he's a teenager," but she's never helpful.) Do I just look way meaner than you? Is it the two little bitty children at once cuteness factor? If the latter, that's MEAN, since it just means you're more exhausted and in less need of being told your life is going down the shitter.

    Look. I won't say "it gets better," because I have enjoyed every stage so far with both children: it's always been pretty "good." But it absolutely has gotten easier, already, even with one of mine being an infant. Noah can pour himself a glass of water, get himself a snack, help fold laundry (really help! not 'help'!), go away and entertain himself for twenty minutes if I say I need a twenty-minute break, read a clock, read a book to himself silently, watch Simon for a few minutes, go down to the basement alone to grab stuff from the drier or drying rack, etc., etc., etc. Compared to two years ago, even? Way easier.

    He wakes us up at night maybe once every couple months, because of a nightmare or being ill. If he were a teenager, he'd deal with his own nightmare and/or cough. If he were two ... we'd be up all the freaking time, right?

    I don't know what's wrong with people.

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  11. I'll add my two cents, but keep in mind I haven't read all the comments. I think the young years are physically exhausting, which leads to mental and emotional exhaustion. But now that I'm the parent of a 10 yr old and a 2 yr old (plus a 6 yr old in the middle and all boys), I can say that parenting older children can be summed up with "bigger kids, bigger problems." Not to say this in a bad way, just that parenting older children is more mentally and emotionally exhausting. Their mistakes have far greater consequences and being consistent with a 2 yr. old is very repetitive and hard, but it isn't usually a deep character issue, like it usually is with an older child. There is beauty in the WHOLE process though, we must remember. Being in the depths of any particular issue will always cloud the good times.

    Not to mention, those women at the coffee shop were probably in the middle of menopause.

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  12. Yes to this post. Yes to Erin and LSMs comments. And by god, if it gets worse as they age then I don't want to hear it, either. If you get sleep with older kids life has to automatically be 100x better. Seriously.

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  13. Thank you, now if we can just pass this on to all of those people! Thanks for writing this!

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  14. I love this post, but I think those women are full of BS. I was at a conference last month with hubs and the brood. A very family friendly conference. At dinner, we sat at a table with a few other young families. It was absolute chaos; so much so that I started laughing hysterically, remembering seeing tables like ours pre-children and being terrified. Next to us was a table of several parents of teenagers, and they all concluded they're so glad they're past this stage. I think people just forget how hard it is until they really experience it again, and seeing two well behaved children at a coffee shop just doesn't properly bring it back. So far, at least (with only a 3 yr old and a 2 month old to make this judgement) it seems that the highs get higher and the lows get lower the older they get. So I expect it gets both harder and easier as they age. I have to believe this is true.

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  15. As I sit here unable to fall asleep because my 6 month won't stop crying and fall asleep (cry-it-out sleep training. Yay...), I can't help thinking that those women were lying to be mean. No way it gets harder or worse than this.

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  16. Those ladies are absurd. I have ten kids. The oldest is 33 and the youngest is 8. I can tell you right now that the most intensely wearing time of a kids whole life is between 9 and 18 months. And second most probably newborn stage. Third most, the year between 18 months and 2 1/2.

    Driving 8-14 year olds around who are over-scheduled in activities and sports? That's a decision parents are making. Try to keep all that to a manageable level. I would say to avoid traveling teams unless you really want to make that commitment to the driving involved.

    I can imagine that teenagers who are trouble makers could be pretty terrifying, but normal teenagers are not a big deal. They sleep like rocks. They make their own sandwiches and do their own laundry. They're funny and usually pretty civilized and polite.

    And in the end, adult children are a reward I never expected. We will spend more of our lives relating to our kids as other adults than we do raising them, and that's nothing but beautiful. Those kids have grown up to be some of my best friends. Eating meals at their houses that they cooked? Wonderful. http://well--yeah.blogspot.com/2012/08/thirty-two.html http://well--yeah.blogspot.com/2010/06/yep.html

    Don't believe those ladies. This part with the toddlers is so intense that it's almost too much to take in while you're in it. Easier days are ahead. love, Val

    p.s. I have told people the most luxurious part about not having babies anymore? I can sleep when I am tired. It was so many years of my sleep being dependent on other people sleeping, I didn't even know what that was.

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    1. Love this comment! :)

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  17. Those women are full of crap, and also just mean. My own mother told me - when I was a teenager! - that raising teenagers is way more fun and interesting than mothering toddlers. And that was despite her middle child, my brother, being... we'll say challenging during the teen years.

    I can only assume you get targeted with crap warnings like this because people think you look like you have it all together: your cute kids behave well in public, you look good, etc. I got the nastiest "labor hurts" comments on those rare days in late pregnancy when I walked out of the house looking cute, rather than merely blimpish. There is that element of womankind who just have to tear down their sisters who look like they're doing it better or having an easier time or something, even if we're all dealing with the same struggles.

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  18. I love my mother in law. (That would be Val, above.) I just thought I'd say this.

    Also loved this post and all it's comments Laura. Those ladies sorta suck.

    Seriously.

    THIS IS HARD, and I know it gets easier. I wonder if the problem is that when they see moms like you with tiny children, women with children that age are remembering the unconditional and totally devoted love that young children have for their moms. For babies and toddlers, about 80% of their world is MOM. Oh my goodness, if there's anything I'm sure of it's that these boys of mine, they are completely devoted to ME.

    I imagine that changes, slowly, as they get older. Right now it's easy to take for granted because EVERYTHING ELSE IS SO HARD. But yeah, I think that's what moms of older children are remembering, and why they can't seem to stop themselves from saying the dreaded... "Enjoy every minute, this is the best time of your life!"

    ;)

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  19. The love affair a baby is: how you sleep and wake up in the same space, that craving their skin, hearts beating together. I get it. There is something very special about the intensity of life with a baby tucked in your shirt.

    Those teenaged moments when they act like you're dumber than shit? So hurtful, in ways they don't even comprehend.

    And the times you can look back on when you were baffled and tired and acted like an ass because you were just plain furious and overwhelmed? So regrettable.

    Life with babies is also incredibly brief. Thankfully, probably, lol. I've been told one year olds are at their maximum cuteness FOR A REASON.

    I love you too, Alicia. love, Val

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  20. Yes! Thank you! When I had my first and people would say "Oh, enjoy this time, it goes so fast and you will miss it!" I would just say, "ok, thank you." all bleary eyed and not really understanding what they mean. This second time around, I think people are saying it to me more. But, since we are done after two kids, I know I need to enjoy this time, I won't be doing it again. And now when people say it to me, I can see exhaustion in their faces and tears in their eyes. They are SAD people. This makes me sad. Is my future really destined to be abysmal? I think NO. Every stage of parenthood comes with its glories and its challenges, and we just need to rise up to the challenges and savor the glories and we'll all be ok.

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  21. I must be really good at wearing a "don't make dumb parenting comments to me" while I'm out and about with my 2-year old. It could also be due to the fact he's normally running around like a crazy person and people are wondering why I didn't leave him at home (ha!).

    My saving grace through the tough parts of baby/toddlerhood is my stepson. Right now he's 10 and just knowing that someday my little one will be able to do things on his own, be able to handle a range of situations without worrying about fitting in nap time, and in general be more rational is what keeps me going during the rough patches. Of course he's super cute now and I love him to pieces but I sure as hell wouldn't want to sign up for a parenthood of just the baby/toddler stage.

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  22. Oh, THANK YOU. You have no idea how much I needed to read this today - just an acknowledgement that other people feel the way I do right now. As I was getting my son ready this morning, fighting back tears because he was screaming and the kitchen hadn't been cleaned and everything was piling up, the news in the background was interviewing the mother of a missing child. I literally said out loud, to myself, "Other people are missing their kids right now. The worst has happened to them. And I am freaking out because ... my kitchen isn't clean?" Even though I can clearly see how lucky I am on a daily basis, I can't always keep that at the forefront of my mind when I'm in the thick of things. It's a helpful reminder that others out there feel the same way, and others out there are looking to the future with hope, despite what the older generation tells them :) Thanks for being so candid with your thoughts!

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  23. Thank you all who chimed in, young and "old" :) Always good to feel like you aren't alone with some of these thoughts and even better to hear that the doomsday ladies are probably making these comments from a sad place. Like maybe I happened to encounter a few women whose teenage daughter recently ran off with a boyfriend or something. Who knows?! And like LSM said - they probably also corner the pregnant ladies to talk about how terrible labor is and that they will never sleep again.

    Rachel - I can handle the concept of little kids, little problems/big kids, big problems. That makes sense to me and I know there is some scary heartbreak for me as my kids struggle with normal life stuff. But I think the fact that I will be better rested and also able to find more personal outlets to deal with stress will help me manage those changes better. Plus I will try, try TRY to keep perspective all along the way, though it's not my strong suit at times. Thanks for chiming in as someone in the boat of having a young one and an older one.

    val - Your comments were FANTASTIC. So great. And this quote needs to go viral on Pinterest :)
    "We will spend more of our lives relating to our kids as other adults than we do raising them, and that's nothing but beautiful. "

    Thank you all. Let's keep on, keeping on! And all get another cup of coffee because we be tired, yo!

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