Confessions of a reluctant parent

Jen never pictured herself as a parent. She always thought kids were loud. Needy. Whiny. Annoying. And, well, that's all true. But they're also pretty wonderful.

Reluctant parent baby pile

My friend said to me recently, “I never thought I’d be a mom who yelled at her kid.” I found this interesting because (a) it made me wonder if I yell too much at my own kids, and (b) I never thought about what kind of mom I’d be until I was a mom. And six years in, I’m still not totally sure.

I never pictured myself as a parent; it wasn’t something I aspired to. I didn’t even like kids. I hated babysitting. Could barely pretend to care when coworkers showed me photos of their spawn or talked about their little league games. I thought kids were loud. Needy. Whiny. Annoying.

And, well, it turns out those things are true.

But my husband, Zack, was always really into kids, and when we started dating, I started warming up to the idea. He was the first person I’d dated whom I could actually see myself building a future with. Kids started to seem fathomable. But still, it was just an idea — and ideas are easy.

I cried when I saw the plus sign on my pregnancy test. I’d thought I was ready, and my son was planned, but still — 

Holy shit, I thought. No turning back.

Everyone told me I’d be fine. That humans had been parenting since the beginning of humans. I’d figure it out.

My kids are now 6 and 3, and I still don’t know if I’ve figured it out.

Melt my cold heart: Kids can break you, in a good way

My kids won me over from the day they were born. I’ve heard that experience described as similar to having a crush — a breathless, overwhelming, all-consuming crush — and I agree with that. I don’t know if it’s the hormones or what, but I’d get all starry eyed at just the sight of my baby. Both babies. I’d just sit and watch them sleep. 

A kid’s love is addictive. When they run up to give me a hug or insist on snuggling up next to me, I melt all over again.

And it’s so awesome to see them learn things and do cool stuff because victory shines so brightly on their little faces it’s contagious. Plus it sort of feels like winning, like I get to take genetic credit when they do normal human things.

Like sharing: My kids are really good at sharing. 

OK, they’re pretty decent at sharing. 

Well, it’s not like they’re going to win at the sharing Olympics or honestly even compete in them. But sometimes they’re sort of OK at sharing. Somewhat.

But when they actually do it — when they share a book, for example (my 6-year-old son reading to my 3-year-old daughter, huddled together on a comfy chair), or when they act out a story together with their toys and barely fight — well, damn. That’s just the best thing ever. Like heart-turns-to-mush or maybe even teary-eyed level. 

Just kidding that was obviously a dust speck on my contact lens. 

(I don’t wear contacts.)

And they can break you in a bad way, the little monsters

Don’t mistake all this mushiness for paradise. The truth is, I wonder all the time if I’m screwing my kids up. But screwing them up a little must be inevitable, right? We’re all the products of our parents and their parenting — good and bad, like it or not. 

Parents do fucked up things sometimes. Even good parents. So how do you know if the thing you did will have a lasting and detrimental impact? How do you know what that line is, and how do you keep from crossing it? 

One time my 4-year-old (at the time) son told Zack that he was going to lock him outside for the night and the mosquitoes were going to eat him. Zack was horrified. “Whoa, bud, why would you ever say something like that?” he asked. 

And my son said, “Because Mom said it to me.” 

I did, truthfully, threaten to leave my son outside as mosquito bait. I said it in an unprecedented moment of boiling-over rage after he had locked me out in the backyard with my infant daughter, and I’d had to climb up the side of the building to remove a window screen and break into a window that I thankfully discovered was unlocked, all while hoping the baby didn’t crawl off a ledge, or that my son, locked inside but refusing to open the door and laughing like a Chucky doll, didn’t hurt himself by grabbing a knife off the counter or tripping over a toy (he used to fall and hit his head all the time — I swear the kid’s head was like a magnet for the floor). And that then, once we were back inside, he threatened to pour his milk all over me. Exploding, I responded that if he did that, it would be my turn to lock him out this time. Oh and that the mosquitoes would get him.

Not my finest moment. (Sorry, kid.)

It’s complicated

My life is unquestionably more complicated than it was pre-kids. I am more distracted. Angrier. I yell more. Snap at my husband more. Sleep less. Struggle more to maintain friendships. Arrive at work later

But I have these two creatures — these little human pets — to have adventures, make discoveries and draw pictures with. (And I don’t even get pissed off anymore when they fuck up my drawings.) I get to experience the world through their eyes, and watch them grow and evolve. 

I guess I’m sort of a kid person now. I even sometimes care when coworkers tell me about their kids. I wouldn’t say I’m totally transformed, and I’m still not sure what kind of parent I am or want to be — but maybe it’s OK to just settle for “human.”

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6 thoughts on “Confessions of a reluctant parent

  1. So vulnerable, so real, SO good! Thanks for sharing the real deal, Jen. Mine are 3 and 6 and even though I 100% always wanted kids (my husband was the reluctant one) I can totally relate. Hang in there, and keep sharing!

  2. I recently watched Workin’ Moms on Netflix and really appreciated what a rich, complex picture they paint of the women on the show. The characters are living interesting, complicated lives, and they happen to be moms. This feels like a stark contrast to the stereotypical way that motherhood is often portrayed: that every woman is ecstatic about being a mom, that her kids are the center of her world and what give her meaning, that as soon as she becomes a mom that is the most important thing about her and that every mom wants to be “perfect.”

    I REALLY appreciate more honest and complex views of women and motherhood and hope that many people breath a sigh of relief or can relate when they read this. This is so awesome Jen.

    1. Thanks Sarah! I feel so heard and understood by your comment. ♥️ I haven’t seen that show (but it sounds great) — so true though, the stereotypical representation is frankly embarrassing and, in my experience at least, nothing like reality.

  3. This is the truth that I am living. I suddenly feel less alone in the experience. So thank you for writing this.

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