The Trouble With Absolutes, Part 1: Parenthood

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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”?

Well.

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.

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13 thoughts on “The Trouble With Absolutes, Part 1: Parenthood

  1. Jen

    We went from shots to ear tubes which helped ever so much! Anyway, thank you for the encouraging words. I only have one but the post above really hit home. Hugs and I hope the ears get better soon!

  2. That post was to the point. Its the little stuff with kids that really get you and sympathy goes much farther than the counterproductive statements that you write about. Its similar to the comments from experienced parents to the legitimately over excited new parent. Their enthusiasm is reasonable.

    I feel for your pain with a household of sick kids. We’ve had a similar experience. There’s a bit of reprieve for us now but not really. The little one is in the hospital recovering from a virus. If only our local clinic had recognized the issue sooner… Hope Michael gets better.

    • Oh, my goodness! Is it almost a relief when you hit the “hospital” point? For me it always is…it’s definitely the point at which all little stuff becomes irrelevant and the grace of dealing with big things takes over. (isn’t it horrible that I actually can say “always” about hospital visits for my kids?)

      • Yea, its not what I would have expected. All the focus turns to important things, even work must take a back seat. I focused on the older girls, which they appreciated and my wife focused entirely on the little one. It also helps to know that she needed time in the hospital to recover and things have improved greatly, she’ll come home tomorrow.

      • These are the times when I’m so grateful for modern medicine…often I get irritated by policies and procedures and paranoia, but in the hospital days I’m so very grateful. Glad she’s coming home.

  3. Ouch! I’ve probably said all those things. People do forget what it’s actually like and how non-stop it can be. Wonder if Joseph and Mary missed that part of childhood.

  4. Ear infections, we’ll pray for Michael. I hear your points, definitely been there with the girls. Sympathy helps folks deal much better than platitudes.

    Our girls have been sick much of the winter as well. In fact little Maura (11 months) is in the hospital recovering from a virus. She’s improving but all the frustration with the sickness ended with her hospitalization.

  5. barbaraschoeneberger

    Just know that you are a good parent and that God always gives us stuff to drive us to the edge because He wants us to get into the habit of calling on Him just before we’re about the jump off the cliff. Actually maybe before we’re about to jump off. It absolutely is the little stuff that becomes the big pile and we can only take so much of our nerves being rubbed raw by an incessant series of small things. I’ll pray for you and the rest of the family so that you get a break.

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