Posted by Mishi Methven on Aug 15, 2012
When I am feeling tired and overwhelmed and going through transitions, like the ones Aimee and I have experienced going from one sick child to three children in 10 months, it is not surprising that I'm feeling reflective.
Yesterday I was remembering that not too long after Stella was born, my mother handed me an article from her New York Magazine that was called “All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting.”
You can find the whole thing here: http://nymag.com/news/features/67024/
Basically, the article cites a whole bunch of academic papers from recent years that show having children negatively impacts feelings of happiness for adults. Moreover, research cited in the article shows that the more children you have, the less happy you are.
I remember reading it back when Stella was a baby, but it didn’t really resonate with me. Although I had a bad case of the “baby blues” in Stella’s first weeks, I thought it was crazy to think that parenting wasn’t a magical, wonderful adventure. Obviously the people who weren’t enjoying it were doing it wrong---that’s what I remember thinking after reading the article. No matter what, I couldn’t shake the ideal that this little baby in my arms was going to be infused with all the things I wanted for her--- a love of reading, an interest in history, a passion for travel. We were going to be best friends for life, she would adore me and I would adore her. But, of course, that was before I really knew Stella. By the time she was 9 months old, I was exhausted all the time. I felt like parenting her was all about frustration, sacrifice and struggle. It was hardly fun at all. My ideals of parenthood were tossed on the ground and stomped on, like the Cheerio smitherines that lived under Stella’s high chair. So I changed my mind, remembered the article and decided the problem was my child…she was just difficult and challenging and maybe if I had a different child, it would be better and more fun.
Then we found out that Stella was going to die and everything changed in one gut-wrenching, ice cold, harsh and heartbreaking instant. All of a sudden, everything I believed was transformed. I soon realized that Stella wasn’t the problem---it was the way I viewed parenting. I thought of Stella as an accessory to my lifestyle. She was adorable--- a little round ball of fiery energy with pink lips, bright blue eyes and gorgeous curls. Strangers often commented to me how cute and/or beautiful she was and I was always proud to be seen with her…but I was not always proud to be her mother. It was difficult when daycare workers would approach me at the end of the day with an incident report and tell me she had bitten or pushed or pulled hair or done some sort of damage to another persons child. It was exhausting that she felt 5:00am was a perfectly respectable time to wake up in the morning and start her day. It was frustrating when she didn’t get her own way and physically lashed out--- cutting my lip with her nails during a tantrum, throwing a bowl of pasta with full force against our white walls, rolling from one end of the room to another screaming because I wanted her to put her shoes on. It felt like a personal failure that my child wasn’t a cuddly, kind, polite little girl. I don’t know what I was expecting parenthood would be like, but I distinctly remember wondering if the work and stress of being a parent was “worth it”. I resented the loss of freedom and autonomy and self-indulgence that came with being a mother. But the issue was how I viewed parenthood--- I thought it was like an economic investment. You know, you put in the time and the effort and the money and your “return” was an adult child who was well-adjusted, smart, independent, polite, loving, etc. I thought being a parent was all about what I would get back someday, which was the feeling of accomplishment and pride that comes from doing a good job parenting. The glory that comes after the work where you get to sit back and watch your masterpiece be admired by others. I always imagined these moments of pride when your child graduates top of their class, when they get an amazing job in a great company, when they volunteer to spend their summer planting trees on the West Coast. Somehow, for some reason, I convinced myself that the reward of being a parent was having a grown-up child that would “prove” and “reflect” that I was a good parent.
But finding out that your child is not going to survive toddler-hood changes everything. All of a sudden, parenting is not about YOU anymore, it’s totally about your child. There is no reason for us to force Stella to say “please” or “thank-you”. There is no urgency for us to make her to brush her teeth. All the “teachable” moments like asking her what colour the light needs to be to cross the street suddenly seemed pointless. Reading books for any reason other than pleasure made no sense. Parenting a child who is going to die, I am certain, is a much different mentality. And it needn’t be all or nothing, I think there is a way to have fun and still teach your children what they need to know.
In the last 14 months parenting Stella, my view of what a child is has completely changed. My children are no longer accessories that I take out in designer clothing and a $1000 stroller to Starbucks where I get frustrated because I can’t drink my $5 latte in peace. Parenting Stella, Sam and Hugo is not my job, it’s my choice. I care so much less about teaching them the alphabet and so much more about making them laugh by putting a silly wig on my head. The farm is no longer a place to have them count how many eggs are in the picture on the wall there are, but a place to giggle as we play hide and go seek with the chickens. It doesn’t matter if my kids clothes are dirty or ripped…that probably means they are having an amazing time. I regret all the fun times I missed with Stella when she was younger because I was too busy trying to fit her into my life instead of changing my life to fit the purpose of parenting.
For me, parenting is not about providing society with another adult anymore, it’s about the journey. The journey should be full of laughter, love, respect. I’m glad I got a second chance to be a parent because I feel like I “get” it now. I want to enjoy my children. I don’t want to spend all my time thinking about who they will be in the future, I want to spend my time learning who they are now. I want to let them pick out their own clothes without me trying to convince them that plaid and stripes are a fashion no-no. I want to hear what they think about Barbie without inflicting my own views about her. I want to take them to the museum if they are interested in dinosaurs, but if they would rather learn about history than I will take them to Fort York instead.
I want to talk less and listen more.
Tonight Sam fell asleep in his crib with his hands tucked underneath him and his bum in the air.
Tonight Stella fell asleep on my lap, cuddled under her special rainbow blanket that was knit for her by a blog reader in the Fall.
Tonight Hugo is cuddled in Aimee’s arms, fast asleep with a baby scowl on his red face.
I still can’t believe Aimee and I have three children. And I can’t believe that I once thought parenting was about the end result instead of the process. I’ve come full circle with that parenting article now. I feel like I once hated it because I was doing it wrong. I wasn’t parenting from my heart, but from my head.
Stella’s middle name is “Joy” and that is my only mantra now. To find joy in myself, my life and my children. To parent as much as possible from a place of joy in today, instead of expectation for tomorrow.
"Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls"- Mother Theresa
Auntie Heather cuddles Hugo and Stella:
The girls with their Stella and Gracie crocheted dolls