Thursday, April 16, 2009

Moms in Misery?

I hope that someday I'll have a family of my own and be a good mom. In the meantime, Carolyn makes me feel both more and less freaked out by the whole idea:

Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Hi, Carolyn:
The March 15 column about "Maryland," the miserable mom of an 8-month-old, makes me wonder: Is that the reality of parenting? Are all mothers sworn to secrecy that it actually sucks, and this whole "I've never been so exhausted OR happy in my life" position is just a facade? I've always wanted kids and feel like I have maternal instincts, but I've also always had this deep-seated fear I would be one of "those" mothers who secretly hated it. Tell me the truth -- what is it really like? Is there a way to know how you'll respond?

It's a much longer story than I can cover here, so I'll aim for the highlights.
Newborns aren't all bubbles and bliss. Babies are hard work in the sense that they're relentless. They can't get their own food, they can't keep themselves clean, they can't tell you they're hungry or hurting or sad. All they have is flailing and crying, at least in the beginning. And so you have this flailing, crying thing with you 24-7, who can't even smile yet for the early months, and the buck stops with you.

Now, some people have an easier time with this than others, and just about every variable comes to bear on how easy or difficult it is. The parents' health and temperament factor in. The quality of their relationship factors in. Their ties to community factor in (family, friends, neighbors, access to hired help). Their expectations are a huge factor.
Possibly the most influential factor (that I think gets overlooked) is the difficulty of the baby. Some babies fuss less than others, sleep more, nurse better, digest food better, have more fully developed nervous systems than others, you name it.

If you're a parent of a fusser/crier, and your only exposure to babies has been to the even-tempered ones, then you're going to second-guess yourself, hate your child, hate your mate for getting you into this mess, and hate everybody who offers opinions on what you can do to get your baby to stop crying. Exaggerating, maybe, but in some cases it's just this bad.
The saving grace in these situations can be even one key person who can help you see that it's not you, you're not crazy, it will pass, and there are things you can do.
It's quite possible that "Maryland," of the past column, just needs that friend who can provide some perspective. Or, the baby could have health problems (reflux, autism -- there are a bunch of known culprits, from common to rare). Or, Maryland's baby is just fine and Maryland needs sleep, better nutrition, counseling and whatever other treatment for postpartum depression is indicated. In any of these cases, a respite caregiver can be a lifesaver.

Finally, some of "those" parents just aren't baby people/toddler people/tween people/teenager people. In other words, typical parents have ages they like better than others. The ones who aren't baby people can get a real scare, since their bad phase comes first, when they don't have proof that they can be happy and good at this. In so many cases, it's a matter of hanging in until the phase passes -- and the phases do pass quickly, as does childhood itself.

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