Mother nature has set us up with a paradox: the ability to reproduce, without the ability to parent. We inherit the reproductive urge, that’s how we keep humans on the planet. What we don’t inherit is the ability to parent.
Love is innate. Parenting skills are not. They’re learned. We’re simply not born with the tools to parent. These, we need to learn as we go along. It’s called on-the-job learning.
There’s no such thing as a parenting gene. There’s nothing to determine what kind of parent you’ll become. There are loads of things that make a difference:
- How you were raised
- Your belief system
- Where you live
- How you communicate with your partner
- The kind of work you do
All of these play a part in how difficult or easy parenthood will be. Being a parent may not come as easily as we expect or hope.
Parenting is a hard job. Ericka Sóuter, author of “How to have a kid and a life” sites a 2015 German study that found being a parent actually creates more unhappiness than:
- The death of a spouse
Even when you think you are prepared, the difference between the theory and being amongst it means parents are often unprepared for the transition phases of life – the changes from the effects of becoming a new parent are enormous. And they don’t stop. They carry on relentlessly. You get the newborn phase sorted and relax into the routines, only to have everything change when they’re two. Which involves new learning and new ways to work. And then they’re three. Then suddenly, they’re five and starting school. Wow, there’s a whole lot of learning there too …
In the blink of an eye, the teenage years arrive and we’re back to feeling like we really don’t know what we’re doing. Again! The things that used to work, just don’t anymore.
Parenting is touted as the most natural thing we can do. Part of the problem is that parents don’t feel safe expressing how hard parenting is without feeling like a bad parent. There’s an all-consuming anxiety that we’re never doing anything well. Not parenting, not relationships. Not work.
Change is hard. It’s hard to take the first step to leap off the cliff. We dither, we hedge, we promise ourselves we’ll do it next week. And then we get busy. Or life is temporarily smooth and we think, “I’ve got this,” before the following week the hard things are back and we fall apart just as quickly.
When the Going Gets Tough
Put yourself back on your to-do list. We don’t have time to focus on ourselves when we become parents, yet the experts agree if you don’t focus on your own happiness it has profound effects on your children. Happy parents have happy children.
It takes work to put your needs as high on the list as the needs of your children and your relationships. To make it a priority to focus on hobbies, interests that aren’t parent-related, social connections with people in a non-parenting situation, and activities that have nothing to do with parenting. And to nurture all of our relationships. They reflect our love of ourselves and our boundaries. By doing this, you’re modeling healthy relationships that meet your needs for your children.
Three top tips:
- Nurture your relationship with yourself as a source of strength, love, companionship. Take time to make time.
- Create a village for yourself. A support network that is outside of your immediate circle.
- Find work that nourishes you and prioritise being flexible. It is ok to sometimes choose work over family, the balance/juggle will change.
There is a parenting happiness gap that we’re quick to not talk about – we’re not proud to acknowledge the hard side of parenting. It arrives with an element of shame, guilt, and a silent question, “What will other people/the neighbors think?” We tell ourselves we ‘should’ feel grateful, and then we feel guilty because we don’t. The idea that becoming a parent is fulfilling, instinctive, and natural is just that, an idea. The reality is often different and leaves us feeling stressed, guilty, comparative, torn, and confused. We tell ourselves, we’re not supposed to feel like that, we ask, “What’s wrong with me?” Parenting is touted as the most natural thing we can do. Part of the problem is that parents don’t feel safe expressing how hard parenting is without feeling like a bad parent. There’s all-consuming anxiety that you’re never doing anything well. Not parenting, not relationships. Not work.
But honestly, is there a parent out there who hasn’t been overwhelmed by their feelings? The realities of juggling careers, relationships, self-care, finances, and parenting are huge.
We understand that no one is perfect, everyone is struggling with this. Yet it’s hard for us to see that other people are struggling with the same things. We hide that from other people and only post picture-perfect photos. Understand you’re not alone People have a veneer that we see, Scratch the veneer and look under the surface and we’re all struggling with the same stuff, stuff that is hard. Comparing ourselves to others doesn’t help.
It’s okay not to love life 100% of the time. It’s ok not to love being a parent 100% of the time. We feel so guilty when we’re not happy with how things are going. We feel so disappointed with ourselves and our kids. That’s ok. Life isn’t perfect. We all make mistakes. We tell that to other people, how often do we say that to ourselves? We have to learn every day based on our mistakes. and that’s ok. We don’t have to have the answers for everybody. Parenting completes us when it’s a part of us, not when it’s all of us.
It can be done. You can have kids and have a life. It is possible. It just takes work; it won’t miraculously happen. Parenthood. It’s the biggest long-term personal development project an individual can ever take on.
Click here to explore your parenting options with a fellow parent and coach who knows just how hard parenting can be. Another set of eyes looking at your situation and coaching you to make the changes that make a difference could be the most worthwhile investment you ever make in your family’s future.