I’m Done With The Crap: Damaging Adages Steal Our Real Parenting Joy

I’m dusting off my soapbox for this post. Be prepared.

I’d also like to start with a disclaimer. In no way do I consider myself an expert on…anything. I do however have an opinion on…everything. Take it or leave it.

I am in the throws of potty training my three-year-old son. I had hoped for some inexplicable reason he would be “easier” to potty train than my two daughters. This hope was, as my father would say, “As short lived as a fart in the wind.” (Potty humor intended.)

Easy was not in the cards for us.

We started teaching this skill last spring. Considering my son is healthy, developmentally on target for his age, and gearing up to begin preschool the end of this month…progress is slow. In an effort to express my frustrations after a particularly difficult potty training day, I aired my thoughts on my personal Facebook page. It read like this…

“For. The. Love. — I cannot begin to put into words the agony I’ve experienced potty training my three kids. I hate potty training. Legit. Hate it. Don’t bother patronizing me with any, “Oh man…So sorry. It wasn’t too bad for little Einstein and me. Hope it gets better!” Your winking smiley face will be cyber punched in his one good eye. I. Have. Had. It. *stomps feet, pulls hair…breathes deeply and opens wine*

Many comments were supportive. There were several commiserates (appreciated, BTW). There was also the invocation of the token, and as I will explain antiquated and inaccurate, phrase, “Enjoy every moment.” In defense of the person posting the remark, I believe she was simply trying to point out many parents would gladly endure the less desirable aspects of parenting in exchange for more time with their children, either those who have passed on or those who have grown up and moved beyond the need of a mother’s guidance in the traditional small-child needs sense. I do not disagree with this sentiment.

I have a ten-year-old daughter. I understand time flies. I know, to the deepest depth of the marrow in my bones, that the days are long but the years are short. I have lived it for the last decade. I also understand the opportunity to be a mother is one to be cherished and treasured. It is a privilege denied to many as well as a responsibility disregarded for it’s infinite importance far too often.

However, I have a real soapbox-worthy problem with the cautionary adage, “Enjoy every moment.” Implying that we should be enjoying every moment marginalizes the complexity of parenting.

How many of you have watched Pixar’s new movie, “Inside Out”? Chris Hazell says it beautifully in his blog piece, “Inside Out” and God’s Gift of Sadness featured on the site Word On Fire Blog.

Chris states: “The film masterfully explores the danger of avoiding sadness and exhausting joy, a theme we can see in our culture without much eye straining—an inordinate drive to secure emotional happiness at all costs, avoiding, ignoring, or destroying all obstacles that could hinder it. Yet, as we witness in the film, there is a necessary “growing up” that reveals not only the benefit of sadness, but also the inescapable need for it to allow a deeper sense of richness in our lives and, paradoxically, a more lasting joy.”

I agree with Mr. Hazell. Experiencing sadness (and the plethora of other emotions at our disposal as a byproduct of being human) allows for a deeper sense of richness and more lasting joy. “Allowing ourselves to experience unpleasant emotions can lead to greater clarity of vision with respect to our experiences, relationships and life in general.” — Chris Hazell 

I have written about my close friends who have lost a child, and another set of dear friends who have journeyed through the horrors of childhood cancer treatments with their son. I have several friends with children who have special needs and/or unique extenuating life circumstances that create parenting challenges outside of the set of obstacles the majority face. And I have scores of friends, family, and framily who have one, two…ten children. Each experience is different. To minimalize or trivialize the vast and complex emotions that any one of them have experienced in their adventures as parents by insinuating their failure if they are unable to maintain joy at all times, would be…wrong.

We are not meant to enjoy every moment.

We are meant to FEEL it all. We are meant to acknowledge it all and pay respect to whatever it is. Recognize the sad, bad, frustrating, aggravating, dejecting, terrifying, scary, anxiety ridden moments for what they are so that in the happy, hilarious, triumphant, exuberant, joyful moments we can understand their richness—value their specialness.

I don’t think we are really honest about how freaking hard parenting is. We are terrified someone might accuse us of ingratitude, of failure, or…of not loving our children enough. Well, I’m blowing the whistle on this big ugly conspiracy. Parenting is hard. More importantly, I think we all need to embrace the idea that it is possible to be frustrated about aspects of parenting while also being grateful to have the opportunity to be a mom or dad. We can fail at any number of pursuits without being failures as parents. We can dislike the way a child behaves or some choice he/she makes while simultaneously loving him/her beyond description in words.

I hate potty training. I really don’t like cleaning up poop. Dealing with bodily fluids is not enjoyable—period. If I could wave a magic wand and in a flurry of glitter and confetti stars my son would miraculously only ever relieve himself into an actual toilet…

I WOULD DO IT.

I don’t have a magic wand. Which means I have to live through this phase and accumulate these moments of frustration and exasperation so that when the day comes that he “gets it” and he masters this skill that has not been easy for any of us, we will value the exuberant, joyful triumph that will come along with it. Not because we have enjoyed every moment, but because we haven’t.

 

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