The Trouble With Absolutes, Part 1: Parenthood

between heaven and earth
between heaven and earth (Photo credit: Mara ~earth light~)

It’s not the big stuff that gets you, it’s all the little stuff piled on top of each other. When the big stuff hits, you handle it with grace. It’s the little stuff that makes you lose your cool.

This has been my mantra lately. I think we’ve had viruses running laps around our house nonstop since the first of the year. In conjunction with teething and separation anxiety, Michael’s become progressively more clingy and needy. When he’s with a sitter he cries the whole time. With me, he just complains and whines any time he’s remotely uncomfortable or bored. Which is most of the time.

Any mother can tell you that a baby’s cries and complaints flay your nerves raw almost instantaneously. They’re designed that way, and so are we. Pile that on top of three other kids who’ve also been sick, plus cooped up by snow that is not conducive to any kind of outside play for ones this small (it’s up to their thighs, with a crust that gives way at every step) and…well, use your imagination.

Basically, having four kids is kicking my butt. My fuse is nonexistent. Whoever said after the third child adding more doesn’t make any difference? They must have been living on some other planet.

What does all this have to do with “the trouble with absolutes”?


I’ve spent much of the last few weeks talking myself down off a “the sky is falling!” cliff. I find myself saying things like, It can’t possibly get any worse! when I know full well, from my own experience, it can. My present trials are nothing more than annoyances. I feel like a terrible mother because I cannot STAND stepping on one more DVD case. Or tripping over one more pie plate I’ve put away three times since lunch. Or breaking up one more fight between children who only want what someone else has because someone else has it. Or being interrupted while I’m having a conversation with Daddy.

I’m not a terrible mother, of course, and painting a broad black stroke against my own character only digs me further into my pity pot.

And yet the opposite reaction–the one moms in my situation hear all too often–is equally counterproductive. “Oh, enjoy it! It goes so fast! Someday you’re going to miss these times.”

Cough. That was the word you know I was thinking, but was too polite to say.

I know people mean well with that sentiment. They’re trying to say, “Don’t focus on the bad and forget to notice the good. It’s not going to last forever, and on the other side, you want to remember the good, not the bad.”

The problem is, there’s a subtext to this message: Your problems are not valid. Your feelings are not justified. It’s not okay to be frustrated. If you can’t set aside your frustration and focus on the good instead, you’re a Bad Mom.

I don’t think anyone means to convey that subtext, but it’s there nonetheless. And that absolute is just as damaging as the other. Yes, it will pass away, but that doesn’t make it any easier to bear right now. Yes, others are dealing with far more painful problems than my ten weeks running of sickness and crabbiness. At least I have my kids. And yet, all crosses are real. Pretending otherwise just makes a tough job unnecessarily harder.

On Thursday night, the family went out to dinner, and a couple in their 70s stopped me on the way out. “Your kids are so well behaved,” she said. “I didn’t even realize there were children sitting behind me.”

These are the messages parents need. Parenthood is hard at all stages. Affirmation and encouragement go a long way, while you’re going to miss it and oh, you sure have your hands full! just flay an already battered soul further, layering guilt upon the sense of failure that accompanies losing your temper again and again.

UPDATE: Michael’s 15-month well-child visit became a sick visit, and lo and behold, the boy’s ear infection never fully healed. The culprit? Urgent Care under-medicated him. In other words, the prescription strength was too low for his size. (Face-palm.) Since that Rx was already a second-stage remedy, now we’re bringing in the big guns: antibiotic shots three days in a row. Yippee. I hope this finally takes care of it.