I love my child but I don't love parenting. Will this change?

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK
Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK Photo: Shutterstock

Question: I love my child. She is magic. But I don't love parenting. I just don't love this phase - she's 3, and, man, is it relentless.

I miss the space to be still and alone, literally and inside my own head. I want to find ways to love and appreciate and be in the moment in this parenting gig, because it's not going away anytime soon.

Any advice for this mama, who is madly in love with her child but a bit resentful of all-consuming motherhood?

Answer: I have a good friend who, when our kids were little, I would regularly text to share how desperately I needed a break.

The chaos of living in a small house while parenting one, two and then three children chipped away at my soul, and although my love for my family was endless, so was my desire to get away from them.

I would enviously watch other mothers whom I perceived as blissed-out with motherhood, but when I was brave enough to speak my truth, "I am so burned out with these kids," they would turn their heads quickly and say, "Me too." The more I told other parents how tired, and yes, in love I was, the more other parents told me they felt the same way.

And for many of us, this wasn't because of a lack of the ubiquitous self-care we were told we needed at every turn, nor was it because of any specific stressor, per se. We were tired because parenting young children is tiring. You can be culturally, physically and emotionally enriched all day; you can have an active sex life with a wonderful partner; and you can work in a field that fills your soul, and parenting young children is still hard. You could be the most fortunate human on this Earth, and still be tired of parenting your young child.

You see, there's nothing wrong with wanting to be alone, to be still and to be inside your own head. Parenting a 3-year-old can feel as if you are parenting a tornado. But every once in a while, you may find yourself in the centre of the storm where it is quiet, and you remember how much you love your life. That's a rare occurrence for most of us, and waiting for that peaceful stillness can feel like "Waiting for Godot."

You mention that you want to be "in the moment in this parenting gig," and so I will challenge you as my teachers have challenged me when I have said the same thing: What other moment do you think you are in? When your child screams "no" and throws the food, that's a real moment. Being in the moment is not waiting for peace; it is recognising that the nights you stay up with her fevers are as real as the snuggles while you read "Goodnight Moon."

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One is certainly more relaxing than the other, obviously, but not any less real. Waiting to love parenting and feel present is maddening, and, frankly, unrealistic. If you want to be present, simply wake up to what you are doing. Poof. You can love it or not, but it doesn't change the reality of your life.

Some may find this thinking discouraging, but it was profoundly freeing when I realised that my ultimate parenting life or love or experience wasn't just around the corner or just out of reach. When I learned that being present just meant living my life, I didn't feel dogged by the parenting guilt and worry (as much). I also stopped expecting my children to be anyone other than who they were.

A 3-year-old, on a good day, is despotic, hysterical (funny and dramatic), needy, independent, intelligent, immature, and generally tired, hungry and sick 90 percent of the time. And are you, a rational and mature adult, supposed to be in love with that all of the time? Do you actually want to be fully present for every tantrum? I don't!

I want to mentally check out so that I don't run away from home. Our brain does this amazing thing for us: It allows us to parent our children in the worst times without totally losing it. There is something to be said for not being totally present for every moment; being completely present can be overrated.

I don't blame you for any of your thinking or desire to be more in love with parenting. Before you were conscious of it, you were probably fed a steady diet of mothering expectations, images, hopes and dreams.

Mothers have been sold a bill of goods through which we trade our brains for parenthood, and it is suffocating many of us. Sure, it is better than it used to be (which is always what people say when things are still pretty darn bad), but my coaching practice and living among other mothers has shown me that our faulty mothering expectations run deep.

So, what are you to do?

I am not going to recommend that you fall in love with parenting or become more present. Those words don't mean anything, and they don't help you when you are scrubbing marker off the walls or dodging a kick.

I will suggest that you visit your doctor to discuss your general health and to make sure you are not depressed. Hormone changes plus huge lifestyle changes can do a number on a mother's emotional life. Seeing a doctor is a form of self-care that many mothers eschew, but desperately need.

Then you can decide how to reclaim some of your time and your mind. With options such as therapy, mother's groups (without the kids), child care, hobbies and parenting classes, there is a world out there that, with some creativity and courage, you can rejoin.

Sitting in a library alone, reading, won't make your daughter any easier or grow her up any faster, but it will help your desire to be quiet. Respecting your temperament is a crucial need as you continue this parenting gig.

As your child gets older, understanding your own needs will become more important. Also, I don't know you if you are an introvert, but I find Susan Cain's books to be profoundly helpful for some parents, and learning about introversion can help you adjust your expectations while finding more forgiveness for yourself (and your child).

Finally, find yourself a friend with whom you can be honest and have a good laugh about your parenting life. Laughter will not cure every parenting woe, but if you can find someone who won't cheerlead or frown or judge or pity you, you will feel understood and relieved. And a bit of relief when parenting a 3-year-old is worth its weight in gold.

Leahy is the mother of three daughters. She holds a bachelor's degree in English and secondary education, a master's degree in school counselling and is a certified parent coach.

The Washington Post