Monday, February 22, 2010

When an Asylum Starts to Sound Like Fun, You Know You're a Parent

The tension of a family car, rocking on the edge of a precipice. The moment before a bubble turns into a mental exclamation mark and a fine spray of soap. The match that doesn’t strike the first time while the fuse lies- menacing. That’s how it feels to have children sometimes. Not all the time, thank goodness, but some days you feel the sprung muscles in your shoulders bunched like those of a professional wrestler ready to throw another to the ground and inflict violence.

You can hear it in the voices of parents. The fixed grins betraying the lack of an inner smile, tense little lines whitening their lips in restrained frustration. You see it and you want to hug them or at least anaesthetize them until they are relaxed. You wish that the knotted clenched knuckles would be as languid as those of someone made semi-conscious by the lazy swing of a hammock.

You want to say something, like, hey, haha, kids, hey? Funny little guys- always kidding around… but you know instinctively that saying that would lead to possible disembowelment and definite strangled yelling. And nobody tells you about that tension when you’re pregnant. Even parents who are themselves in that stage of life will not admit it. There’s a code of silence. That’s why every cool inquiry about whether or not you are getting enough sleep is not to do with them actually wanting to know how many hours, but whether or not you are any better at wringing out the tension than they were, or are.

The words ‘terrible twos’ are not just there to acknowledge a difficult growth period for a child, but the also the way a parent can be left mute with unexpressed anger and helplessness by an enemy so defenseless yet invincible. You can’t beat a child. You can’t yell. You can’t use common sense or logic. You try the endless cajoling that poses as solutions-based negotiation, and yet this is met with stubbornness impossible to undermine.

You’d love to take the child, whose vocabulary is limited to stuff they like to eat with, stuff they like to play with, and the stuff they don’t, and show them a wide world made up of gross human rights violations, incredible beauty in art and scientific achievement, of millions of people who are funny, brave, clever and adjusted, but you can’t. You can’t use an adult’s weapons in a juvenile battle.

Sometimes you have to learn to speak their language. Sometimes you have to surrender, and allow them to see that their usurped territory isn’t as much fun as they thought it would be without a big person making it useful, tasty or funny. Who learns the lesson then? The parent? The child? And then there are days when everything is just right, and people stop to comment on your children. And you feel a sense of pride. Ridiculously. As if anything you ever did could have created something this perfect.

Parenting can and should be rewarding, but sometimes… it isn’t. You chase through the endless mazes only to end up on the little pad with the electrode on it, that zaps you and sends you once more into places you can’t quite associate with fulfillment and peace. So. To any of you sitting with the thousand yard stare of a new or multiple mother or father, most of us have been there. Most of us know what it is to live in a dissociated state, losing track of time and purpose. But we will come through, we have come through. Some of us have chosen to do it more than once.

And though it sometimes isn’t true when we say it, it very often is. Parenting is rewarding. We’re with you, wherever you are, pointing to the good bits, the bits you sometimes miss for sheer fatigue, and the bits that haven’t come yet. Trust me, they are there.


  1. Well said :) *through tightly clenched lips*

  2. love the last label *plot loss* cos thats exactly how you feel when you become a parent like you have somehow lost the plot entirely, but here we are doing it over and over having more than one that should speak volumes in itself. No one can prepare you for parenting it is something you just have to experience for yourself!

  3. @cazpi *silent moment of appreciation*

  4. you are all saints.
    thank you for raising the next generation.
    it's the hardest job in the world and you do it with love in your hearts..
    err.. right? ;)
    *remembers to take her pill*

  5. @kambabe You are a childcare ninja! You can talk to them in ways I have no way of beginning to understand- you should bottle that gift!
    @anita: Ooh, Saint! Liking that. I'll let you have a big toe or something when I die. And yeeeeeeeeeeah, sometimes? *whispers* the love bit? seems far from the stress bit of parenting...

  6. @PHG: We can all relate- which is why there should be no pretence. That's just bullshit, and doesn't help us to cope.

  7. My partner thinks that reasoning and being logical and getting the child to understand things will make sense. :) I guess it's not possible to do that with a child. Thanks for making me realise it!

  8. @mamastella: I think it depends on the child- we do what gets results, rather than trying to insist on one particular way of doing things. Hope you find the way that works for you. :-)

  9. before I was the parent of a teenager I thought I was an abused child; after I parented several teenagers I was amazed at my parents restraint in not beating me much, much more frequently ~ in fact I am now impressed that I survived MY childhood :)

  10. @totally cooked: You aren't scary at all, now... *backing up*

  11. Dude, excuse my French, but this is a fucking brilliant post.
    That whole analogy about the pad with the electrodes in... I so know how that feels!
    See- this is why I love reading your stuff. You can say the things I feel but can't find the words for.

    1. Sheesh, that was a lovely comment. For some reason, only seen now.

    2. Sheesh, that was a lovely comment. For some reason, only seen now.

    3. Sheesh, that was a lovely comment. For some reason, only seen now.


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