“We are not alone” is the first line of the New Creed of the United Church of Canada. It’s a statement of belief that I always liked. And one that now resonates with me as a parent.
Each day when we present our face to the world we hope to be received positively and seen in a good light by others. To have others smile favourably on the angel faces of our children. But from time to time someone’s child is having a melt down in the produce aisle, and one day it will be mine.
Correction: HAS been mine.
Because we all have our turn in the grocery store, as we’ve become more involved with the community and other families of similar-aged children, I have come to learn we are not alone in our struggles, and that allowing others to see ours enables them to not feel alone either. Allow me to illustrate.
Solidarity in struggle
Over about a week, three instances occurred that drove this point home for me. The first was a 4-year-old friend visiting for the afternoon. When her mom arrived to pick her up, she approached with all the “right” things: she let her know she was here and there were 10 minutes left, then 5, then 2 and then started to collect things slowly. As the “No’s!” escalated, each attempt this mom made to diffuse and disengage her daughter only caused her daughter to dig in harder. Of course, I took this to mean that playing at our house is so much fun that no one ever wants to leave! It was a boost to my ego, but it was also supper time and an exit was going to have to occur eventually. I assisted and then when that was less than helpful, removed my presence as an audience. At the apex of the screaming in the front porch, my husband came home from work. The mom scooped up the child and left apologetically. My husband smiled happily as he closed the door. Maybe a little smugly and with a touch of relief. It’s not just us this happens to!
My husband smiled happily as he closed the door. Maybe a little smugly and with a touch of relief. It’s not just us this happens to!
Five days later we are playing in a gym with another age mate of my daughter. This child is one of those old souls who is always polite, kind to others, respectful and helpful. If she was offered to dine with the Queen tomorrow I’m sure her parents would have no apprehensions. I imagine her putting herself to bed and reading her own books. And then as the gym time is wrapping up and her mom tells her it is time to go, she totally and completely loses it. A warm smile spreads across my insides. While I acutely feel this mother’s struggle I simultaneously know: I am not alone.
And then, two days later, it’s my turn. The same friend from the gym is in dance class. Which coincidentally ends at 5pm. Which, as any parent would know (and as the last two examples reinforce), is the witching hour of the day. After a lot of limit-setting and a little cajoling it comes down to me picking up MY darling daughter at the waist with limbs flailing, her screaming that she doesn’t want to go, and her little fists beating the air. It seems like a long walk across the room to collect our boots and coats and it occurs to me that this might be the best form of birth control the “big kid” dancers will receive. The other mom smiles at me and says, “I’m so happy right now!”
After a lot of limit-setting and a little cajoling it comes down to me picking up MY darling daughter at the waist with limbs flailing, her screaming that she doesn’t want to go, and her little firsts beating the air.
I know what she means. Because whatever our struggles, we are not alone. And there is a great comfort in knowing that. While there are differences in our parental struggles and challenges, there are far more similarities.
And this extends beyond our relationships and the challenges of raising our children. Our whole family dynamic changes and shifts when a child joins our families. The person you once dated and perhaps married may become a stranger passing in the night. What was once easy becomes irritating. Romantic partnerships may become more business like. We used to look at each other at 6:30 in the evening and spontaneously decide to head out to a movie. It now costs us about $100 and babysitting planning to get out to a movie – guess how often that happens? The roles of who does laundry and cooks may have been in perfect harmony and suddenly all that shifts and new dynamics need to be found. And sometimes that’s not easy. But guess what:
You are not alone.
There are trying times during each stage of parenting. The challenges do not go away, they change and morph and each stage has its own trials and joys. But you are not alone. My best suggestion is: however you are feeling, put on your boots and get out the door. There’s no need to comb your hair or even shower. You are a parent now and other parents will understand why your eyes are bleary and why you smell faintly (or not so faintly) of spit-up. But find a community. This is essential to your survival as a parent. Go to the community breastfeeding groups, La Leche League Meeting, play group, swimming, gym time… it doesn’t matter.
And you will soon find out, that you are not alone.