I stand in the living room breathing deep, feeling the muscles by my jaw tense as I focus on finding a teeny tiny grain of patience in order to stop myself from yelling, “JUST CLEAN UP THE &%$#@*&! TOYS AND STOP ASKING ME QUESTIONS!!!”
I tightly manage to say, “OK, only a few more things and then everyone can head out back to play!” and it doesn’t feel warm and loving at all. It feels very fake and I wonder if my kids notice the false upturn at the end of the sentence. In this moment love turns into an action rather than a feeling, because the only feelings I can find inside are resentful, angry and exhausted.
Right now to be loving doesn’t feel easy and cozy. Being loving is taking every last drop of my energy and all I can muster with that energy is the ability to hold my tongue and not scream at them about the living room.
It is painful to write, but the truth is, in this moment I don’t want to be near my beautiful children. I don’t want to hear their voices, see their faces or help them zip their coats. I don’t want to feed them dinner or get them a drink. I don’t even want to talk with them.
How can I ever feel so done with a job that would wreck me completely if it were gone?
I am in my dark pit place of parenting right now, and barely able to send up a flare to let you know I’m down here.
Right now love feels cold and brittle.
Love feels like holding my tongue and not cussing about living room clean up time.
It feels like walking quickly into the other room because my patience is so thin that I cannot face the normal kid outbursts without having one of my own.
It feels like changing my tone in the middle of a sentence when I realize I am about to snap again.
It feels like stopping myself from sighing when my child starts talking to me.
Love feels like starting a load of laundry and holding the shreds of our routine in place so my children have a semblance of order while I, their mother, am in disarray.
Right now love doesn’t feel warm and cozy.
There is a certain irony that comes with wanting to talk about a difficult part of parenting and being so worn out from parenting that you can barely string together a cohesive sentence. In fact, I have started writing this post each day for the past three days, and until this morning I was so tired and discouraged I couldn’t make it past the opening sentences.
I’m tired, and complaint filled, and looking for escapes. I’m having a hard time concentrating on just about anything besides reading or knitting (hey, the kitchen may be a mess, but I’ve got a hat, booties and socks nearly done!) I have started a post like this about three times and then stopped, but today I will finish it because I’m tired of not being able to talk about this part of mothering. I’ve got to tell this part of my story because more than being physically tired, I’m tired of feeling alone.
I think that I don’t see this story told more often because those of us who would tell it are so danged tired when we’re in this dark pit, and when we come out again…well, maybe we pretend it will never be difficult again…
Here is my parenting story:
My life as a mom does not go in some neat upward slope of improvement. I do not learn a lesson once and then continue on, now more happy than before.
The “big picture” of parenting for me is more like this:
- Learn something new – feel great about this parenting solution and continue on more happily…..until
- I stumble – possibly kids outgrow what was working, possibly work, living circumstances or the weather changes. Often I don’t even realize anything has changed until…
- I fall (sometimes crashing hard) – I find myself struggling in the dark pit. This is one of those parenting phases where you just think to yourself, “You’ve GOT to be kidding.” Kids might be angry or defiant, I might be yelling or resentful. Everything feels like it’s coming undone and it’s hard to appreciate anything good that is happening.
- Something shifts – maybe I get a break, I have the right conversation with a friend, or we all get a good night’s sleep. Gradually, I crawl back up into the light and…
- Learn something new…or relearn what I thought I’d already learned before…
And so it goes – I feel (I hope) it is in an ever upward spiral, this growth and learning that my kids and I are doing together. But in the thick of it, when I am in the dark pit and I don’t have the energy or emotional resources to set things right, there are days I can’t believe I’ve fallen again, and I am consumed with shame and feel so broken.
I learn and relearn about parenting my kids many, many, heart-wrenching guilt-inducing times.
I learn and relearn how to connect with them when I’m tired.
I learn and relearn how to set boundaries.
I learn and relearn how to take care of myself when I am drowning in the needs of others.
I want to tell this story, because I know I am not the only one living it, yet when I am in this dark pit parenting place I feel ashamed and alone. I feel embarrassed to need help or encouragement. I feel too tired to reach out because I know I don’t have the emotional strength to deal with it if my hand gets slapped.
When I am in this phase of parenting – the low down exhausted phase, I dread hearing advice. The message I want to hear is not, “You know, maybe you should….”
We get uncomfortable seeing someone else in pain. It isn’t easy to sit with someone, see that they are hurting and not be able to stop that hurt. The tendency is to want to give advice, but maybe advice is not the “help” is not that’s needed at these times.
I don’t need suggestions, criticism or nitpicking over what parts of parenting I’m doing wrong. Believe me, if there’s anything I can over think, it’s parenting. I can tell you in great detail the list of things I could be doing better.
Have faith in me.
Soon, soon I will be ready to come up with creative solutions and ideas for whatever new phase of parenting I’m in, but for now, I am in the dark pit and I don’t need advice.
I need compassion.
A voice of friendship and a little light to see by.
All I want is to hear is that there is an other-side to the darkness, that I’m not crazy and that yes, as we grow as a family sometimes we come to those phases that are downright exhausting. Sometimes as we raise our children we are flayed open or burned to ash because parenting asks so much of us.
And we are equal to the task. We will heal, we will rise again stronger than before.
All I want to know is that I’m not alone.
So if you are here with me, my friend, reach out your hand. I’m here and I’ve been here before.
We’ll make it out again.
I think…I think I’ve found a little light, and we can walk this path together.
You are not alone.
Alissa Zorn is an author, and founder of the website Overthought This. She's a coach and cartoonist passionate about helping people overcome perfectionism and shame to build authentic, joyful lives. Alissa is certified through the International Coach Federation and got her Trauma-Informed Coaching certification from Moving the Human Spirit. She wrote Bounceback Parenting: A Field Guide for Creating Connection, Not Perfection, and is always following curiosity to find her next creative endeavor.