A few days ago I found myself googling the following words: “I want to leave my family.”
While I let that sink in, and before any alarmed readers get on the blower to Social Services, I’m not actually seriously thinking about leaving (well, not for good anyway, but a spa weekend or something might be nice. I hope my husband is reading this). So I’m not at the packing my bags stage, but when I typed those words into google, I was not in a good place. 5 minutes before I’d been standing in the garden, the patio doors firmly shut behind me, muffling the cries of the baby and the whining of the 4 year old, and staring up at the sky at an aeroplane – who knows where it was flying, and frankly who cares. At that moment all I wanted was to be on that aeroplane flying away from the nappy changing, the cooking, the food being flung on the floor or flatly rejected, the constant demands on me to ‘get this’ ‘get that’ ‘help me with this’ ‘pretend to be that’ ‘give me a,,,,’ ‘waaaaaah waaaaaaaah’ ‘I want this’ ‘ I want that’. The floor caked with weetabix (a reoccurring theme readers may have noticed), the never ever ever bloody ending wash / dry / fold (er hem) / put away cycle, the forms to be filled in , the bills to be paid, the recycling that I’m now keenly aware if I don’t do will end up in stomach of some poor unsuspecting fish…
It was one of those days when I couldn’t get over it. Despite knowing how lucky I am and what a privileged life I lead, there had simply been too many demands on me that day. It was a day when I really did not like being a parent. I felt desperate. Even bed time brought no respite. I has just settled down to do a meditation when the 4 year old shouted for me a 9th time. The word ‘muuuuuummmmmmy’, whined at the particular pitch my daughter has perfected when mixed with the annoyingly calm voice of the mediation woman telling me to ‘let go’ and ‘breathe in peace’ is a particularly cruel combination. I lost it. Big time.
But then yesterday happened.
Yesterday started with my body waking up OF ITS OWN ACCORD because I’D HAD ENOUGH SLEEP. This is something that literally never happens. The baby was cooing angelically in his cot. The 4 year old was humming to herself as she played happily in her room. ‘Good morning Mummy! I’m going to give you a big cuddle!’ she announced as I walked past. Peering into the baby’s room I was met with a huge grin. My heart swelled. I could literally feel the oxytocin coursing through my body. This was not just good. This was indescribably the best feeling in the world. The only other thing I can liken this feeling to is how I felt one summer night in the early noughties when I took ecstasy on a party boat on the Thames. It’s the same result – that feel good hormone surging through the body. The day continued like this. We packed a picnic and went to the lake. The baby slept when he was meant to. The 4 year old behaved impeccably the whole day. I wore a swishy floral midi skirt (I don’t know why that last bit is relevant but it felt important.)
So to recap – wracked with sobs, desperate and hating my life one day. Filled with joy, skipping around, heart swelling with love, pride and happiness the next.
No I’m not a manic depressive. (And I’m also not making light of this condition having had experience of it with a close friend.)
I’ll say it again or else the line will lose it’s punchiness.
I’m not a manic depressive.
I’m a parent.
And my point is that there aren’t very many just ‘cruising along feeling pretty normal’ parts. The line on the graph is rarely straight. But neither is it all bloody awful, or all bloody wonderful as magazines / blog posts / parenting books / friends might have you think. It’s wibbly wobbly.
On the friend subject, I recently asked one of mine who is on baby no.3 how it’s going. “Que du bonheur!” she replied. This is French for “only happiness” incase you’re wondering (and she is actually French – I don’t have the kind of fancy pants friends that just speak French for effect.) But back to the reply: “Only happiness.” That just can’t be, can it? Even if she has the easiest kids on the planet, there still must be lows, right?
At the other extreme is the friend of twin babies who announced recently that she doesn’t expect to be happy for at least another 4 years. Well that’s a bit extreme don’t you think? Don’t get me wrong I don’t doubt that there are many many tough moments, many wishing she was on a plane to….anywhere…. moments. But there must also be those heart-melting smiles, those big eyes staring at you – their world – in total adoration……. Cue oxytocin release…..
At this point I feel I should make it clear that the highs and lows of parenting I am discussing are what I perceive to be on the ‘normal’ spectrum. There are those who experience lows which continue to be low, periods when there is no fluctuating line on the graph, just a long, flat, line. Now I’m no expert and I’ve thankfully never personally experienced serious post-natal depression (mild – for sure yes), but I would say that if you are only identifying with the ‘lows’ I’m describing, and are wondering what the heck I am talking about when I mention the rush of feel good hormones, then it might be a good idea to contact your GP or access help (for UK based readers the charity Mind – www.mind.org.uk – has some great resources including an info line you can call to talk to someone.)
So what’s the conclusion here I hear you ask? Well I guess in a word – it’s a rollercoaster. When you decide to start a family, you don’t realize that you will be leaving behind all those ‘cruisy’ periods when life is ‘you know, just pretty okay.’ In my experience, in fact, there are very few ‘pretty ok’ moments. You’re in for a hell of a ride. You’re going to experience happiness, fear, desperation, and back to happiness again on a levels you previously didn’t realize possible.
Hold on. Go with it. This is life. This is parenting. Feel it. Feel it all. It’s worth it.