No one told me it would be like this. Seriously. There were no warning labels or ”proceed with caution” signs. No flashing red lights or people on the side of the road shouting, “Stop! The bridge is out!” Only lighthearted sitcoms and moving television dramas that showed the joys of parenthood. Those of us that grew up in the 70s were regularly fed a diet of simple stories that culminated in the neatly crafted familial reconciliations after a seemingly world-shattering yet manageable disagreement between parent and child. There was no briefing from a fictitious ”Parenting Council” who presides over pre-parenting coursework making sound recommendations for anyone wanting to take that dive into the black hole called parenting. Why ”black hole of parenting”, you say? Well, a black hole by definition (informal) is ”a place where people or things, especially money, disappear without trace”. Now, if that’s not the definition of parenthood, I don’t know what is?
No one talks about the mental, emotional, financial, and physical toll parenting takes. Experts don’t warn you to say goodbye to who you are (or aspire to be) once you make the decision to bring a child into this world. You’re not advised to lay your wardrobe to rest, put your social life on indefinite hold, or even prepare to watch ANY money you make just disappear before your very eyes. You hear jokes about the sacrifices of taking care of your kids, but no one sits you down and has a serious, no holds barred discussion about who you are, what will happen to you (especially if you’re a woman), and who you’ll be after the fact. If you’re like me, you get caught up in the cute little baby pictures, the smell of Johnson and Johnson baby lotion, and the warm fuzzy feelings that come with holding a cooing “wittle” baby and just wait for that nesting instinct to kick all the way in. Then, you’re a goner, and the train that is your life prepares to derail.
So at this point you might be thinking , “Yikes! She sounds like she’s a full on entree of bitterness with a side order of regret”. And to some degree, that is true. Honestly, I am working through some residual bitterness and simmering regret. But not necessarily for the reasons some may assume. Let me say that I absolutely love my three children beyond words! They are the source of my greatest joy and by far the greatest gifts for which God has entrusted me.They are incredible human beings on so many levels. I look at them and wonder, “where the heck did these folks come from? These adult, opinionated, compassionate, and complex human beings come from? From me? You mean, I had a hand in helping form them? I’m still in awe”. And here’s where the bitterness and regret abide.
I wish I’d been prepared to handle the cruelty of this world. I wish I’d understood how traumatized I was from my childhood and then empowered to do the work necessary to keep from passing that trauma onto my children. The bitterness that simmers within me is born of those who’ve harmed my children causing them life altering trauma. It is born of my inability to protect and defend them the way they needed and my ultimate failures as a mother. I wasn’t able to protect them from bullies, sexual predators, and systemic racism that makes them begin to question their worth as soon as they became aware of unfairness based on complexion and hue. I regret falling so incredibly short of what my beautiful brown children needed in this world that so often doesn’t love them wholly or even at all. I regret being so paralyzed by my own depression and anxiety, such that I didn’t give them what they needed emotionally when they were young. I know that I’ve contributed to the trauma they’ve suffered in their lives. So, as contradictory as it is, my greatest joy is tinged with the stain of my deepest despair.
Now back to that black hole I mentioned earlier. Parenting has literally sucked my finances (still does) down the parenting black hole. It’s gone and I swear I’ll never find it. It’s also claimed my stomach muscles, my hair color, my mental health (yay for meds), my sense of safety, the reality of my small circle of power, and quite often, my feelings of competence. But, what I’ve learned is that while the black hole has sucked away so many things I thought I valued about myself, the things stripped away have revealed a real person, a better one. A beautifully flawed woman who loves with her whole heart and has done the best that she could to love, prepare, and release her children into this world to make it better. And while no one told me about the trials and pitfalls of this parenting experience, I’m so glad I’ve lived to see the triumphs. To my children, thank you for allowing me to mother you and fighting to keep all of us from being sucked into the black hole of barrenness.