When you have mixed feelings about parenting

Ok, you got me…. The truth is EVERYONE has mixed feelings about parenting pretty much all the time.

And when I say ‘mixed feelings,’ I’m not talking about 99% love and gratitude with a tiny bit of frustration mixed in. I’m talking about love, hate, euphoria, fury, despair, satisfaction, ALL OF IT.

This week I came across an Instagram post by P!nk, one of my favorite celebrities (who else is a huge P!nk fan?? Isn’t she just so real and relatable and so completely herself??! I love that she’s such a vocal advocate for women and underrepresented voices).

Her post was about a book she’s reading called THE AWAKENED FAMILY by Shefali Tsabary, PhD. There was a picture of the book cover, and then a paragraph with a few passages underlined.

I want to share the paragraph in its entirety because it’s so good:

“It was having a child that awakened me to the realization that my essential self had gotten lost in the process of growing up. And what a rude awakening it was! Although I had been practicing mindfulness for an entire decade before becoming a parent, I found myself ill-prepared for the onslaught of new triggers my child evoked in me. Just as a new exercise class makes you aware of muscles you were unaware of, so it is with the parenting journey. No matter how enlightened you think you are, having a child unravels you in ways you couldn’t have prepared for.”

That last line pretty much sums it all up. I don’t know a single person — friend, client or otherwise — who hasn’t encountered some version of this phenomenon. We hear so much about the LOVE everyone feels for their babies, and it is indeed indescribable and intense and amazing.

And it’s also painful. Right beneath the love, in almost every moment, there’s fear (what if I lose them? How would I survive that?), guilt (why don’t I appreciate this more? Am I doing a good enough job?) and even sadness (how many more times will they do this particular cute thing?).

It can also be hard to remember who you are. I have many clients who feel extremely disoriented by the transition to parenthood. This can be particularly true for mothers, who do the physical heavy-lifting in terms of pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding — and even in 2018 tend to carry more of the burden of child care — but it upends the life and identity of fathers, too.

And when you’ve spent decades in school, preparing to have a career and then finally GETTING that career underway, the shift away from all of that even temporarily can create anxiety and ambivalence and a lot of other uncomfortable feelings that for some reason we feel like we “shouldn’t have.” The way it changes our relationship with our spouse is also not always happy and joyful.

It is so hard to admit to the intensity of the negative emotions sometimes because we fear that others will perceive us as unloving or ungrateful. We don’t want to be complainers.

Let’s assume the love is there. Let’s not worry that in admitting negative or difficult emotions we will ‘be a negative person’ or risk appearing ungrateful. You can love your kids fiercely AND feel bored or resentful taking care of them sometimes — or even a lot of the time. You can be so incredibly thankful for your babies AND long for the simplicity and peace of life before parenthood. It’s all possible. It’s all ok!

The more space we give ourselves to experience the full range, the less unnerved we will be when the harder emotions show up. And the more we acknowledge the harder emotions, the less they’ll rule us from the depths of our subconscious.

What has your experience with parenting been like? Do you let yourself feel even the most painful of emotions, or is it too scary to go there? Do you compare yourself to others?