Having had kids before most of my friends, I’ve now reached the stage in life when many in my circle are coming to me for parenting advice.
“Your boys are so fun, so precocious, so well-mannered. What’s your secret?” they ask.
“Don’t kill them.” I answer.
People always chuckle when I give that advice. “No, really,” they say. “Really,” I reaffirm, “don’t kill them. You’ll want to, but don’t.” They stop giggling and never ask me for parenting advice again.
But I stand by this advice. Don’t kill them. You’ll want to, but don’t. We like to pretend that outside of some adorable sleepless nights right after they are born, parenting is a magical gift full of love and joy. And sometimes it is. Sometimes your heart is full of such inexplicable love that you feel like it might burst. You know that you would die for your children, and you would die if anything ever happened to them. You can’t imagine your life without them.
But there are other times.
We try to pretend that other times don’t exist. We try to pretend that good parents (especially mothers) enjoy every minute of parenthood. This, I firmly believe, is a misogynistic tool used to oppress women. This is to keep them from questioning the unequal burden that motherhood places on them. This is to keep them from asking for more. This is to keep them quiet. And it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous and invalidating and oppressing. You have this baby and it’s not at all what everyone told you. You don’t know what to do with feelings of anger and frustration. You are a bad mother; you know this because you are the only mother feeling this way. You have nobody to talk to, nobody who can help. What would otherwise have been a fleeting moment of frustration turns into an indictment of your fitness as a mother. It prevents you from appreciating the good times. “You don’t deserve to enjoy this,” you think; “You are a bad mother.”
Becoming a mother is one of the best things that can happen to you and it’s one of the worst things that can happen to you. So for to-be-parents and new parents who want some real advice, here’s mine:
The first year of parenting is the hardest year of your life. It is hell. If you get out of it with your wits somewhat intact and have not killed your spouse, partner or some random stranger on the street, you deserve all the awards.
There will be nights when you are so tired that your legs are shaking. You are holding the world’s worst baby, who is only quiet when you are pacing the floor and screams the moment you put him down. You will feel a rage building inside of you that is hotter than any rage you have ever felt in your life. “I JUST WANT TO LOVE YOU WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO DESTROY ME,” your brain will scream. This is when you need to put the baby down for a minute, even if he’s screaming. You need to brace your arms and think, “Don’t shake him. Don’t throw him,” and put him in the crib much more gently than he deserves. Walk out of the room. If necessary, walk out of the house. Just for a few moments, just until you can breathe again.
There will be times when your child smiles at you and leans in for a kiss, and as you look at his nose crusted over with greenish snot and a line of drool drips down from his lip, you think, “Oh god, you are a filthy creature.” And it’s true, he is a filthy creature. Stifle your gag reflex, wipe his nose, and give him a quick kiss.
As he gets older, there will be times when just trying to get him to take a bite of his f*cking food will be a battle. You will want to pry his mouth open with one hand, and shove the food down his throat with the other. Don’t do this.
There will be times when he is kicking and screaming on the floor because you dared to take a fork out of his hand before he stabbed himself in the eye. You will want to grab him by the arms, place him outside, and lock the door. Don’t do this.
There will be times when you can hear him upstairs yelling, “I’M NOT GOING NAP! NO NAP!”, while throwing toys down the stairs. Don’t go up there. Call your mom or a friend. Explain that they either need to keep you on the phone or call CPS. Make them tell you some jokes.
There will be times during potty training when you are positive that your child is purposefully waiting until you are in public to sh*t his pants. Do not accuse your child of sabotage. Do not ask why he’s trying to destroy you; he doesn’t know. Get him home, hose him down, and have a drink.
There will be days when you will find yourself amazed that you have made it through the day without actually giving your child away to the nearest stranger, no matter how clear he’s made it that he hates you and wants to destroy your happiness. You deserve an award for this. There isn’t one, but just know that you do deserve it.
There will be times when he tells you a story that has no plot, no characters, and seemingly no end. Stifle the urge to scream, “THIS IS THE MOST BORING F*CKING STORY I’VE EVER HEARD,” and instead mutter “Oh really?” while you plan your grocery list or child-free vacation.
There will be times when you want to throw Candyland into the fire while yelling, “THIS GAME HAS NO F*CKING POINT.” If you do this, just be sure the kid isn’t around so you won’t have to explain why it went missing.
There will be times when you just want to be able to take a sh*t without little hands banging on the door asking, “What are you doing?” Don’t scream, “Jesus Christ, I’m taking a sh*t.” Instead, say, “Hey, where did your bear go?”, and they will go off to find their bear. It doesn’t even matter if they have a bear.
Around 5 or 6, your child will start to tell “jokes.” These are the worst jokes in the world. They will make no goddamn sense. You won’t even know they are jokes half the time. Just say the jokes are funny and fake a tiny laugh. They aren’t funny, but he has plenty of time to find that out later.
There will be a few really good years when your child is less of an a**hole, and becomes self-sufficient enough to play by himself for a little while without destroying your house. Cherish these times. Because he becomes a teenager next.
Around 12 or 13, he will start to smell. Not figuratively, literally. He will smell like he’s made of rotting oranges and hormones. You will wonder if he has an endocrine imbalance. You will have to roll the windows down when driving. You’ll wonder if you can just melt 100 bars of deodorant and then dip him in it. You’ll want to burn his shirts and his underwear instead of washing them. Don’t ask your kid why on Earth he can’t tell that he smells like a rotting corpse. That part of his brain hasn’t developed yet. Keep extra deodorant in your purse and in your glove compartment.
None of his emotions at this age will make sense. You don’t know why he’s sad. His friend drama is absolutely ridiculous. His arguments will lack any logic. Don’t yell, “Your opinions are invalid because they don’t make any f*cking sense,” no matter how badly you want to. They don’t make sense to him, either. But they’re real to him. Remember, he’s about 90 percent hormones right now.
Around this age, he’ll discover sarcasm. He’ll roll his eyes at you like it’s his job. Do not slap him, and boy, you will want to. Instead, explain that each eye roll equals an extra chore he has to do.
He’ll find the sappiest, most poorly written song of teenage angst and he will play it every minute of every day. He will sing along in a cracking voice filled with unnecessary amounts of emotion. Don’t tell him that his taste in music sucks. Instead, record a few seconds so that when he’s 25 and aghast that you don’t know who the latest art-rock band is, you can play this back to him and remind him that his taste in music is not to be trusted.
All of these things and more will happen. Getting through them without drop-kicking your child across the living room is the biggest challenge of parenthood. You deserve an award for not evicting what is surely the world’s worst houseguest. Acknowledge that, and instead of beating yourself up for feeling the way anybody would feel if a fellow human had just literally sh*t all over them, pat yourself on the back. And enjoy every smile, every laugh, every hug, and every bit of love with the full knowledge that you deserve it.