I recently complained about my children and was sent a link to a $125 an hour support service. The reasons this was ridiculous are many (MANY). Mainly there seemed to be this expectation that I had to be happy ALL the time, and if I wasn’t then that was uncomfortable and needed to be fixed. Mackay (2016) describes happiness as the ‘most passive, elusive and unpredictable of emotions.’ I do not experience constant happiness in my life, in fact, that seems a bit one-dimensional to me. Happiness doesn’t accurately reflect the maelstrom of emotions that I live each day. Instead, I think wholeness is a better descriptor of my life at this stage. Wholeness means accepting that failure, sadness, and downright ‘this is a bit fucked’ are all part of life, part of what makes us who we are (Mackay, 2016).
It is recognized that parenting is hard, but so often this is followed up with helpful suggestions for happiness. As parents we need support but it needs to be based on connection, and it has to be consistent. We need people to become part of our hearts and lives; to offer their own hearts and lives as well. Too often we’re told to think of three things to be grateful for each day, to make sure we have ‘me-time’ and that we chose to raise children so complaining about it is just not cool. Sometimes, this merely adds more pressure; it’s another thing to be written on an already bursting list and what happens when it doesn’t work?
There is a problem with me-time. It’s seriously hard to get. Even when we make the conscious choice to put our own needs first, it still requires the kind of planning normally reserved for running a small country. Me-time is an exercise in scheduling, finance and emotional fortitude. This occurs even before you say goodbye to potentially sobbing children and freak out about how you no longer know what to do with your hands in public because they’re usually full of a) child or b) child’s crap (ideally this is figurative, but if you’re anything like me it was once literal and you may never get past it). Being sans children does not automatically mean you are deeply and enjoyably relaxed. Bits of your heart will stay with them, even if their best descriptor is ‘not currently displaying signs of criminal/political aptitude.’ I don’t think we should be ungrateful if we carve out some time, but I think we should be realistic. Getting an hour for a nap does not undo five years of sleep deprivation. It is not a unicorn who grants wishes, it does not have magic powers, it cannot sweep away the dark circles under my eyes, the fuzz in my brain or the constant unsettling feeling there’s something I’ve forgotten; it is merely a nap.
Mackay states that people experience their most significant personal development and growth from pain, not from happiness (2016). We grow when we let ourselves break, when we acknowledge what makes us uncomfortable and the reality we find ourselves in. Trying to skip over that experience to the more comfortable one of happiness means we might be missing out. Parents laughingly say things like ‘It’s ok, I do this every day!’ as we throw on ill-considered outfits and inhale toast in the car. Instead of shrugging away the ‘I do this everyday’ we should say ‘omfg I do this every day.’ We should let that sink in, the sheer volume of time and emotional energy that we expend in care-taking other people. This needs to be felt, and acknowledged.
My son was basically the first infant I’d held as an adult. I freaked out, just a little. Luckily I had an amazing friend, a friend who knows more about the light and shade in life than most others; and she texted me each day. She told me about her own experiences (Day 6: This was the first day I didn’t cry. Day 8: I started crying again.) Without judgment or advice she encouraged me to feel the complete uncertainty and love having my son bought me. I was not always happy, but I was whole.
The experience of happiness is not as important to me as wholeness. Wholeness means every mad step of this exhilarating and exhausting life is acknowledged. Wholeness means when I complain, cry, and break over the difficulties of my life that I’m not given another expectation in the name of happiness. Wholeness means I get to live it. When it’s time, with real support, I get to rise from it – stronger and more complete than when I started this life. The detritus of parenting, the sleeplessness, the sickness, the fear and the drudgery – it deserves respect. How else will we know how far we’ve come unless we acknowledge that the journey was super fucking long.
Maybe what we need is acceptance that joy and desperation are both present in parenting, and that it’s all forming a life. I suspect Mackay (2016) can say it best: ‘the emotional spectrum is broad and that to miss any of it – yes, even the disappointments, the failures and the daily grind – would be to miss out on the spectacular experience of wholeness.’
I like spectacular. Even the spectacular failures.
Mackay, H. (2016). Wholeness, happiness, sadness and positivity. Retrieved from http://www.livingnow.com.au/articles/personal-development/wholeness-happiness-sadness-and-positivity