Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Five Myths About How Parenting Ruins Your Life

Last week, I (Shannon, Cap’s wife) wrote to my past self, the self from two years ago who wanted to have children but also really didn’t. Too many articles, Facebook posts, and moms with screaming kids at Target had convinced me that parenting would drastically disrupt the life I enjoyed so much. I hope that last week’s post was encouraging as I addressed the faulty logic that played into my fears. This week, I’d like to “myth-bust” a few negative ideas I had about parenting and, in doing so, show a few tangible ways that parenthood has actually made my life better.

Before I begin, I’d just like to say that I did not immediately “take to” parenting. When Elanor was born, I didn’t experience that magical heart-change so many ladies predicted I would have. In fact, I suffered from low-grade postpartum depression for three months after she arrived. I didn’t find newborn care to be intellectually stimulating or rewarding. And even though Elanor nursed, and I cried when she was done, I still think the concept of breastfeeding is weird. I am not an ooey-gooey mom, but I can still rationally tell you that my life has improved.

Myth 1: You lose your mind.

I did not lose my mind. In fact, a book called The Mommy Brain debunks this idea. Though we may joke about preggo brain (and I have had my moments), what’s actually going on is that our brains are rearranging themselves to work better at things moms need to be good at: multitasking, heightened senses (my mommy-sense is tingling!), stress reduction. God is merciful and creative to have designed such a process.

I myself still enjoy creative writing. I still love to teach—but not grade. And my reading, if anything, has expanded in scope: since I first got pregnant, I’ve been more interested in nonfiction (though I am currently devouring du Maurier’s Rebecca with gusto).

Myth 2: You lose your adult standard of living.

Kids do not have to take over your entire life. The main thing I’ve learned so far as a parent is that I set the standard for my own house. If your friend loves getting projects for her kids off Pinterest to keep them occupied every day, she does it because she wants to, not because someone is making her. If, on the other hand, your friend is me, then her toddler has learned to entertain herself. (In December, I wrapped all my Christmas presents while my baby happily played by herself for two hours, taking breaks to hug my legs and inspect fallen wrapping paper scraps.)

Do you not like the noise of children’s programming? Guess what? You don’t have to show your kid ANY TV. I don’t (because I hate how I end up watching the shows too. Curse you, Doc McStuffins!).

Do you hate the idea of your kids tearing around the house on a crazy sugar rush and then completely losing their rational abilities in the meltdown that inevitably follows? Guess what? No one will ever force you to give your kid sweet tea. It is totally up to you. My mother-in-law trained Cap and his brother to like seaweed (yes seaweed) so much that if they were in trouble, she would take it away. You set the standard.

Myth 3: They require so much sacrifice.

Well, this one isn’t exactly a myth. But the “sacrifices” don’t feel like sacrifices once you’re there. My mom told me something once that has stuck with me: “When you give things up for your kids, it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. You do it because you want something else more.” Or as my pastor’s wife once said, “Every no is a greater yes.” It’s true! I used to have actual breakdowns about the idea that once I had kids, I wouldn’t be able to sleep in on Saturday mornings. Now, when I wake up on Saturdays, I cannot wait to see that little face. The only reason I even remembered this “sacrifice” is that the other day I thought, “Wow, I can’t believe I was worried about that! I don’t feel like I’m missing out at all.”

Myth 4: I will no longer be myself; my “mommyhood” will take over what I’ve been up until now.

I am still myself. In fact, I like myself better. I am more productive. I am more punctual. I was lazy and selfish before I had kids. (This is not to say that all people who don’t have kids are lazy and selfish. This is to say that I was lazy and selfish.) Before I had kids, I would have maybe one or two tasks a day, and I would wait until about 3:30 to get started on them, pushing back dinner preparations while doing so. Now, I do tasks as they come to me—partially out of necessity, partially because I realize I like my house better this way. I get at least three times more done than I did before, and I do it all while wrangling a 15 month old who wants to tackle our cat, who is too stupid to run away. And even if I have a day where the only thing I did was wrangle the toddler, I still got a lot accomplished. Hey! I kept another human alive today! I can feel good about that!

Myth 5: My marriage will suffer.

My marriage is better, not worse. In fact, when I think about my newlywed life, I would never, ever go back to that stage. Our marriage took some adjustments when Elanor was born as we both learned that we both had to do a lot more work. But we enjoy each other more, not less. We are an awesome team. We are more intentional with our time together. Our date nights feel more special.

We also argue less. I think this is possibly because I don’t have as much time to sit around thinking about “my needs.” I am too busy meeting other people’s needs. And biblically, that’s freedom, folks.

Is parenting a lot of work? Yes. Most things worth doing are a lot of work: education, marriage, writing a book… Work, but good work.

It is also way more fun. You know how you feel when you watch The Princess Bride or The Usual Suspects with someone who hasn’t seen them? You enjoy watching that film by yourself, but watching someone experience it for the first time adds all the freshness and fun that you felt for the first time, too. That’s how parenting is. Cap and I talk at least once a week about how we can’t wait for Elanor to experience Dollywood or Lord of the Rings. I have never looked forward to Christmas more than I have this year. The magic is back.

Do I still have emotional breakdowns after stressful, horrible days? Yes, yes I do. But I had emotional breakdowns and stressful, horrible days before I was a parent, too. This time, though, they come with chubby cheeks, and if Elanor is awake when I start my breakdown, she will crawl up and pat me on the head. I still say it’s an improvement.

Does parenting come naturally? Well, no. Parenting doesn’t automatically make life better. Probably the best thing it’s done for me is shake me out of my spiritual complacency and send me running to God. Realizing I’m not sufficient to nurture and teach a human life in this world of danger is my first fearful step to enjoying Elanor every morning. God gives me a true, eternal rock to cling to in a world bombarding me with guilt and fear about parenting. God helps me see that it’s okay that I feel overwhelmed by my responsibilities because He didn’t create me to be all-sufficient—that’s His job. God can give supernatural energy and desire to do what I need to do when I ask Him.

He’s the one who’s busted all those myths I listed above. Without Him, parenting (like everything else) would be a meaningless scramble with no ultimate hope, a life of noisy desperation. With Him… what can I say? I obviously like it so much that even with postpartum depression and more work, I immediately wanted to do it all over again. We were pregnant when Elanor was four months old!

1 comment:

Cap Stewart said...

Last week, I (Shannon, Cap’s wife) wrote to my past self, the self from two years ago who wanted to have children but also really didn’t. Too many articles, Facebook posts, and moms with screaming kids at Target had convinced me that parenting would drastically disrupt the life I enjoyed so much. I hope that last week’s post was encouraging as I addressed the faulty logic that played into my fears. This week, I’d like to “myth-bust” a few negative ideas I had about parenting and, in doing so, show a few tangible ways that parenthood has actually made my life better.

[This obligatory comment is designed to make Facebook recognize my article’s content. Thanks for your understanding.]