I vividly remember a day when I was standing in line at the supermarket with my three-week-old, feeling as if I was going to collapse. Like most new babies, she wasn’t giving us much sleep. I’d spent the first ten days of her life pretending I hadn’t just had an emergency C-section, lifting heavy objects, doing laundry, and even driving against my doctor’s orders. My husband had just gone back to work after two weeks at home with us, which is why I found myself with a cart half-filled of haphazard foodstuffs and an infant wailing in my arms. As I attempted to unload the objects onto the conveyor, one-handed and one-by-one, a woman in front of me with a cart full of three kids of her own gave me a knowing look and imparted these words of wisdom: “Trust me, it gets worse.”
At the time I couldn’t fathom how it could possibly get any worse than sleepless nights, chapped nipples, perceived pressure to lose 15 lingering pounds, and an apartment that looked like an armed militia had just come through searching for top secret government documents. My eyes were bloodshot, my daughter was wailing, and I felt like nothing short of a disastrous, weepy failure. It gets worse? “Good God,” I thought. “I may as well just throw in the towel right now.”
Of course, as all parents know, it gets worse and it gets better. The newborn phase was far from terrible — but just like any other stage of child development, there were good days and bad, even good hours and bad. There were plenty of mornings when I snuck in a shower and even a nearly hot cup of coffee. There were afternoons that stretched out before me like a warm promise — my newborn sleeping peacefully on my chest and the family dog at my feet. In those moments, I thought, “Of course it could get worse than this — someday she won’t want to snuggle with me anymore,” and (you guessed it) those ugly postpartum hormones would bring on the tears.
Last summer, we brought our then-7-month-old to a barbecue with new friends. She was an utter delight for the first half of the party, but as nighttime neared, I found myself sneaking off into dark corners of their home to nurse or otherwise comfort my teething baby. I could hear the boisterous fun coming from outside, knew my husband was enjoying probably a third beer while I sucked on a seltzer waiting for the baby to pass out in my arms so I could place her somewhere safe and have a well-earned glass of wine. One of the other moms at the gathering passed by the room I’d thought was a good spot for seclusion and clicked her tongue against her teeth. “At least she’s not up and running around!” she laughed, “It’ll be much worse then.”
Ugh! I wasn’t even complaining. I hadn’t asked for any consult or advice and yet, here it was. That same tired refrain structured to make other parents feel that they were so new, they didn’t know the real struggle yet. I just smiled and told her I was fine. Actually, I’d watched her children running around all night and thought they were pretty adorable. Sure, they’d begged for more sugar than was allowed and yes, they bickered. But if we have nothing to look forward to but doom and gloom, nothing but “worse,” how depressing is that?
Now our girl is walking, starting to talk, and conquering the age-appropriate playground stations like a boss. She’s funny, naughty, and sweet. She blows kisses and pitches unconquerable meltdowns. At 13-months-old, sometimes we joke she’s got early onset of the terrible twos. But it’s not just one thing. Another mom might see my daughter burst into tears when encouraged to share a toy or taken away from a potentially dangerous corner of a room. But I don’t need to hear from her that it’ll be worse when she is strong enough to actually hit and hurt me, or when she gets her period and tells me she hates me, or even when she walks out the door for college and doesn’t look back for a while. I know it will get worse, and better, and just different, as she reaches each milestone. I’d rather savor the good and work through the challenges of now, day by day.
It actually started when I was newly pregnant. People would say,”Don’t wish this time away; once she’s out you’ll never sleep again. It’s worse, trust me!” I am sick and tired of hearing these unhelpful words. Isn’t it hard enough to deal with our pregnancy symptoms, colicky infant, willful toddler, attitudinal teen, and so on in the moment without hearing how much worse it’s all going to get? Parenting doesn’t come with a manual, as the old adage tells us, and I say thank goodness. I’ll find out how much “worse” it’s going to get when it actually gets worse. In the meantime, I have a toddler meltdown to deal with.
But perhaps more importantly, there are challenges, but I choose to focus on the good. Just like every other mom out there, I lose my keys or my temper, and I get frustrated with myself for not being able to solve every problem. I cry in my soup. I stay up at night worrying. But all of those hard parts could never in a million years outweigh the all the positive, the joy, of being my daughter’s mom. The challenges of parenting are just as important a part of the process as the fun. But for every bad moment, every bad day, there are at least twice as many wonderful ones. What if I hadn’t become a mom at all? The thought makes me sick to my stomach. This is the most difficult role I’ve ever played, but it’s also the best. And if I was without her? Oh, trust me, that would be worse.
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