I often describe parenting a spirited toddler as “eighty percent stress and twenty percent more joy, love, and happiness than I ever thought possible.” It’s overwhelming, trying to remain patient and calm amid constant breakdowns about broken graham crackers and undesirable shoes and guacamole that is really spicy and burns one’s tongue, but is also too delicious to stop eating, but then IT BURNS AGAIN. I’m not a naturally patient person, and some days I struggle to keep a lid on the rising tide of rage bubbling just beneath my skin.
It’s hard work, trying to develop a child’s moral compass and teach her the importance of perseverance and delayed gratification when all you really want is to make the crying stop. As a working mom, I’m not even with my child all day most of the time, and weekends are sometimes just a little more than I can bear. By Sunday evening, I am often worn to a quiet, grumpy nub. And if my daughter happens to be angry and miserable on a day when I’m feeling particularly hormonal, I might end up handing her to my husband and locking myself in the bedroom for a few minutes of Netflix and deep breathing. The eighty percent is grueling and thankless.
And then, just when I’m convincing myself that becoming a mother was a huge mistake and drafting S.O.S. emails to veteran mom friends (“WHY DID I EVER THINK I COULD DO THIS?!?”), the twenty percent comes soaring in to save the day.
The 80 percent might have its way with you, but, wow: When the 20 percent arrives, life feels pretty incredible. The 20 percent is impromptu family dance parties. It’s intense giggle fits, giant grins, and the expression of delighted wonder on my daughter’s face when she tries on a new pair of shoes. It’s shared smiles, inside jokes, mastering new skills, and enjoying each other’s company in comfortable silence. These moments goes on like a salve, soothing the scorched edges of my mother self. And just like that, I can go on.
The thing about time is that it doesn’t plot an even course, with each minute ticking away predictably until you’ve lived an entire lifetime. An hour can fly by without notice, or it can change your life forever.
Time is flighty, swinging you into the infinite abyss at erratic intervals. The universe renders its blinding blow, and when you come to, you realize you’re no longer looking at a single moment—suddenly, you’re staring down at your whole life.
It’s usually the wonderful moments that crystallize with glinting beauty in our memories, but sometimes the terrible moments linger, too, launching us forward as slightly different versions of our previous selves—a little less trusting, a little more broken. Sometimes you see the universe through that wide-angle lens and start to wonder what this is all for.
In this season of chaos and child care, there are many opportunities for me to complain: The whining, the tantrums, the loss of freedom. The mornings after my child’s hours-long night terrors, when I’m so tired my teeth hurt. But there’s also the magic.
We’ve all been told, “Savor this time of having small children, because looking back, you will only remember the wonderful memories.” And, while that’s mostly true, there is room for both the joy and the struggle. The hard moments show me how tough I am, even if they’re often difficult to live through. When I’m having a particularly rough day, I sometimes complain to my husband, “I can’t do this!” He responds, “But you already are.”
The truth is, being a parent is hard. Being ALIVE is hard. No one said this was going to be easy, and mothers often feel like admitting that being a parent isn’t always fun goes against some unwritten code. There is no coalition of perfect mothers writing these rules; the International Society of Utterly Selfless Mothers Who Enjoy Every Moment would have very few members, and I don’t think I’d want to be friends with any of them.
I spent the first year of my daughter’s life waiting for the mom shame to fall away, waiting for permission to do this whole parenting thing on my own terms. And then I realized I was the only one who could give it.
So just in case someone needs to hear it today, I give you permission to hate some moments of being a mom. But just try to make sure you stay awake to the glory, so that when the twenty percent arrives, you are ready to soak in that luminous love and refill your tank for another lap. Because, as I have said countless times, the hard times are tough; they will knock you down and suck you dry. But the good times? The pure joy of reveling in these beautiful little lives? There’s nothing else like it.