Every parent I know had a certain image of what life would be like with their children. And every parent I have talked to tell me the same thing: that life with their children is not all like what they thought it would be.
What happens next is also really interesting and has got me thinking a lot about the importance of attitude and perspective. Some parents end up disappointed in what their life is like, seeing the discrepancy between their plans and the reality of parenthood. Other parents thought love every moment of it—even the worst parts of it that they could imagine.
It seems that the trick to being a happy parent—and to have a happy child—is to enjoy the good and the bad sides of parenting, to the point that the bad side of parenting becomes a source of joy in itself. I put the question before a couple of parents and here are some of the ways that the difficult sides of parenthood became a source of joy for them.
There is definitely something beautiful about the concept of breasts being able to feed a little human being with exactly what he needs. There is also something delightful and beautiful about holding your baby while you are feeding him in such an intimate, unique, and short-lived way.
But oh boy, can breastfeeding be messy! Some mothers have told me tales of how their milk shoots in their babies faces or leaks all over while their baby struggles to latch on. Other moms shared how gross they often feel what with milk always leaking through their bras and clothes. Some mothers couldn’t get over the unsettling smell that seemed to follow them everywhere while they were breastfeeding.
Then again, as one mother said, if you laugh at it, it’s all becomes fun. When her milk shoots in her baby’s face, she laughs, and the baby, taking his cue from her, learned to scrunch his face as she would open up her bra and would laugh when the milk would hit his face. Another mother told me how she and her husband cataloged all the different ways she smelled because of the breastmilk, and how they would create fake perfume ads based on her “scent of the day”. And all of them said that once their babies were weaned off, they really missed breastfeeding in all its messy, gross splendour.
Diapering is another one of those moments that can be quite beautiful, a great opportunity for parents to bond and enjoy their baby. But do I even need to mention all the things that can go wrong?
Again, laughing it off seems to be key. One of my friends, realising that whatever she did, her baby boy was going to end up peeing at some point when not covered, put up a bullseye on the wall by the changing table and would give her son points based on how close he would get to its centre. Another mom started cataloging the various colours and textures and would send updated to her close friends who, also mothers, started battling it out for the grossest poo of the day. Each week, the winner of the grossest poo would be treated to coffee by the other women.
The most powerful “retake”, however, it to consider every bowel movement as a gift: the gift of knowing that your baby’s gastrointestinal system is doing fine and that you got another reminder that everything is OK.
Especially in the dead of winter, when the idea of getting out of a warm bed into the cool air of your bedroom, nighttime feedings can be quite difficult. The exhaustion, the discomfort, the loneliness, the baby that won’t settle, the baby that bites because he falls asleep at the breast, the lolling head—there is a really long list of reasons why nighttime feeds are just so darn difficult.
Then again, most mothers agreed that despite it all, there is something incredibly peaceful and almost magical when it’s just them and their baby, without anyone or anything to come in between them. One Mom told me that those moments were some of her most peaceful and restful ones, when all she had to do was watch her son eat. Another one told me that’s when some of the most precious things happened—her baby’s first real smile, her baby’s first laugh, and the first time her baby was able to reach out and grab her finger without hesitation, to name a few. Another one said that the nighttime feeds became her meditation time—at which point her mental health became a lot better and, consequently, so did her physical health. So much so that when her husband suggested that he start getting up with her on weekends and holidays, she turned him down!
The consensus is that parenting is truly wonderful. It’s an experience that transforms you as an individual and greatly enriches your marriage. But it’s also tough, sometimes so tough some parents wonder how they will ever get through it. It’s OK to not enjoy every moment, and it’s OK to acknowledge that some moments are tougher to enjoy—and make sure to laugh as much as you can.
But I think there is something else to remember: you should always enjoy every moment. When you are single, enjoy every moment. When you are dating, enjoy every moment. The same for when you are engaged, married without children, married with one child, married with more than one child, and married with grown-up children. These moments will all pass and only if we live them to the fullest will we not regret them.