Nov 7, 2011  •  In Baby, Guest Posts, Motherhood, Parenting

Guest Post: Parenthood Got You Down? Maybe It’s Time to be More Positive.

Our next post comes courtesy of Sara of Stinkerpants Designs. Sara’s daughter Charlie is just a couple of months older than Claire, so we’ve been through many milestones and first-time-mother experiences together. And although Sara and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on parenting issues, her personal blog is one of my favorite mommy blogs to read, because she never writes in a condescending, “my way is better than yours” way and really helps me open my eyes to alternative methods. I hope you enjoy this post — I sure did!


I recently caught an article about parenthood on NPR that confused me. A lot of people have been talking about it, so if this is old news to you I apologize in advance.

The article talks about parenthood, and about how no one ever tells you how hard it is.

Um…what?

Maybe I’m living in some sort of weird alternate universe where everyone is really negative, but I feel like the ONLY thing parents ever talk about is how hard it is. Complaints about lack of sleep, no freedom and public tantrums very nearly scared me out of having kids. Parents seem to have funtalking about the bad stuff, and tend to leave out the good almost entirely. When I think about the other mothers I know, the LAST thing I think is, “I wish you were a little more honest about how hard it is.” I am lucky — most of my girlfriends strike a wonderful balance between talking about the challenges and the positives. But they definitely don’t pretend like their lives are easy. Who exactly is NPR talking to? 

I personally think they’re talking about a different generation — my mother’s generation. From what my mom tells me, her generation never admitted that it was hard. They never talked about post-partum depression, about the days when you want to stab yourself in the eyeball with a plastic spoon just to avoid pureeing more carrots, or how your kid hasn’t eaten a well-balanced diet in ages because s/he throws all vegetables on the floor. Instead, they focused on the positives, sometimes exaggerating their child’s intelligence in a non-stop competition for the best and brightest baby. As if it matters AT ALL whether your kid rolled over two weeks before your friend’s.

Our generation, by contrast, is brutally honest — sometimes bordering on dramatic — about how hard parenthood is. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s not so hideously awful that we need to whine about it all the time. Before I got pregnant, I thought parenthood might be horrible. Like, ALL THE TIME, 24/7, relentless horrors. I’m not going to lie – sometimes, when C is needy & won’t let me put her down, or I have to take her to the doctor, it is ABSOLUTELY a house of horrors carnival ride that feels like it will never end. But not all the time. For the most part, it’s absolutely wonderful. Like, rainbows shooting out of my rear end kind of wonderful. And I KNOW that I’m not the only mother who is this happy. And Y is just as happy as I am. So why is everyone talking about the bad stuff?

Honestly, I’m getting a little sick of hearing about how horribly hard it is for everyone. We all have bad days, bad weeks, bad months. We all need to vent — it’s healthy, and it’s necessary. But at what point does it cross the line between venting and nonstop bitching? If you’re finding yourself “down” on parenthood (or life in general) for an extended period of time, maybe the problem isn’t parenthood, it’s a negative outlook on life. There has to be some happy medium between pretending to be perfect and complaining all the time.

I may be alone here, but I find that I have to work hard to meet positive, happy people — parents or not. I try hard to surround myself with people who have a glass half full outlook on life. I mean, really — does anyone need more negativity? On a daily basis, I feel like I encounter more unhappy people than happy people. From the road raging a-holes who don’t want to let you change lanes to the downright MEAN woman who lives down the hall, I definitely don’t feel like people are hiding their misery. Maybe it’s a sign of the times — economic unrest, high jobless rate, etc…but either way, there’s just too much negativity to deal with as it is.

But back to honesty about the trials of parenthood — I’d love to hear your thoughts about the NPR article. My opinion? Either our generation is honest to a fault, or we’re just big fat babies who don’t know how to put our noses to the grindstone and WORK. Are we spoiled into thinking everything should be easy, and cry the second it gets hard? Tell me what you think. Maybe my neighborhood is an anomaly. ;-)


About the Author:

Hi all! My name is Sara, and I’m a first time mama with a just-a-teeny-bit-over-one-year-old. I spend my time taking care of my kiddo, running an illustration business called Stinkerpants, and writing about my life on my personal blog. This post might be a little controversial (I know Jenny and I have differing opinions on the subject!), but I love to hear other people’s perspectives, so if you’ve got something to say, say it! :-)

33 Responses to “Guest Post: Parenthood Got You Down? Maybe It’s Time to be More Positive.”

  1. Stephanie W:

    I think it’s a combination of things, definitely a bit of this generation being a super wide open book to everyone around them. There are so many ways for people to make their lives an open book, like Facebook and Twitter (and blogs ;)), that it’s become more natural for people to be open and share things like who difficult their children are being.

    However, I think it has been a lot of people just not being as tough as they used to be. I am a mom of almost-15 month old identical twin girls, and while my life isn’t the easiest, it certainly isn’t the worse! I have friends who are parents of one child, or of children who are four or five years apart, who complain incessantly (to me!) about how difficult their children are, or how hard it is raising their kids. On good days, I just want to laugh. On the bad, I would love to punch them in the face!

    I have my days, I want to cry and just rant to someone about how terrible my girls are being, but overall, they are wonderful girls and I realize just how lucky I am and just how much my life was missing before I had my girls. I wish more parents were more vocal about the positive, too many are constantly dwelling on the negative.

    • I seriously cannot imagine what twins must be like. I have heard that two kids are exponentially more work than one kid, but when they are the same AGE?! Kudos to you (both for not losing your mind with your kids, AND for not punching anyone in the face!). ;)

      • Stephanie W:

        lol Thank you! It is the only thing I have ever known, so I can’t really compare! My husband and I would love to think that if we ever have another, singleton baby, we would be experts and it’d be the easiest thing ever! Which probably will be the farthest thing from the truth ever. :) I say we congratulate every parent for being a parent, for having beautiful, happy (on some days) babies who we love. I LOVE being a parent.

  2. My experience with parenthood has been like yours: absolutely wonderful most of the time. However, my daughter is easy going, good tempered, healthy, and only 8 months old (also, I only have one). I think a lot of it is just luck: some people have “high needs” babies, health problems, financial problems, etc., and for them I think parenthood really is a struggle.

    Also, my impression of parenthood is that while physically it gets easier, in every other way it becomes harder as your children age and require more (guidance, maturity) from you. This is especially true if you were lucky enough to have an easy going baby. You might feel differently once your daughter is older and her demands are more difficult and nuanced.

    I actually think people are not honest about the difficulty of parenthood. Sure, people complain about a lack of sleep, the mess, the noise, etc. But the real reason parenthood is difficult is because it forces you to face the darkest parts of yourself, and what you see there isn’t pretty. I haven’t had to visit that place (yet) but I am sure it’s only a matter of time until I do something that shocks and shames me (like hysterically scream at my toddler to “Shut the hell up!!!!!” as I saw one woman do; can you imagine how she must have felt when thinking about it in retrospect?). People prefer to complain about stupid surface stuff because it’s safer and easier on the ego.

    I think focusing on the hardness of parenting is a good thing, because then when things go well (as in your or my case), it’s a pleasant surprise, and when they are difficult, at least you don’t feel as alone.

    • Oh, don’t get me wrong: I have a “high needs” baby. She is “spirited,” has food allergies, a temper and had colic. I have a list about a mile long of how hard it’s been for my husband and I (admittedly, mostly me). I actually think that’s party of the reason why the constant bitchfest bothers me so much. While I know that it’s all relative, the things that people are negative about are SO SMALL. And even I, after a year of waking up 4x per night, am thankful that my daughter is overall very healthy. I think people need some perspective sometimes. They need to be more grateful – it could, almost always, be worse.

      I think your point about the TRUE difficulty of parenthood is REALLY interesting – such a good point.

    • Completely agree with your comment that the HARD part of parenting isn’t sleep and temper tantrums – it is the psychological/emotional aspect of being a parent. I found the first 3 weeks really difficult (my son is only 11 weeks) not because of sore nipples and lack of sleep, but the overwhelming WEIGHT of responsibility. I felt suffocated and the realization that I was responsible for this (adorable, easy, wonderful) human being, FOREVER, was very hard to process. I felt like people expected me to complain about sleep and breastfeeding – but when I said – “It’s scary how much responsibility I now have” they didn’t know how to respond. Our baby is easy, the psychological aspects of being a parent are hard, and they need to be processed instead of ignored.

  3. Michelle:

    I *completely* agree with this. Honestly, people say “no one told me how hard it would be!” so often that this one statement alone should clue everyone in. If that’s not enough, every blog, every parenting magazine, every playground conversation is full of non-stop complaints and horror stories. And sure, we need to be able to talk about our problems, but is it really that bad??

  4. I really enjoyed this post. Not a parent yet myself, growing up all I heard was how much your life would change, how hard it was, and how much you would have to give up in order to have children. I had even heard mothers of older children say, “I might do things differently.” Which shocked and terrified me. I didn’t want to have children for so long because of this. I didn’t want to feel strapped down and like I no longer had a life because of my kids. I didn’t want to resent my children or myself. It actually took me watching an ex boyfriends two and four year old for two straight months (single soldier who was sent on a training mission) to find out how wonderful it was. Sure, it was challenging. The little girl would throw a fit if you didn’t let her wear her dress shoes instead of snow boots and the little boy would freeze in a store and if you tried to move him would scream. But the JOY and FULFILLMENT I had from them was enough to move me to tears. I continue to miss those children very much and this was four years ago. I cannot wait to have kids. I am ready for the downs AND the ups. :)

    • I want to add really quick, that I COMPLETELY understand that my two month experience alone with these children is not at all the same as having your own children all the time forever, and ever. I was just surprised at how much I truly ENJOYED the experience of them and it was what made me look forward to having children of my own, despite the non stop horror stories I’d heard my entire life.

      • Oh, that is so wonderful! I think two straight months with two kids is more than most people experience prior to having kids. I had never changed a diaper before my own baby, and only ever held one other kid. I have zero experience with older kids. What a great opportunity you had, and I’m so glad that eased some of your fear. People really have the ability to scare the everliving crap out of you, don’t they?!

  5. I’m not yet a parent, so I can’t speak to the playground conversations or anything like that, but one thing that annoys me so much when others ask when we plan to have children? People say “wait. wait as long as you can to have kids” like they’re some sort of life-ruining demon spawn or something. I understand that there will be challenges. I’ve been told many times that parenthood is the hardest thing you can do. I know that it will test me in ways I’ve never been tested. But I also know that it will be an incredibly rewarding experience, and that every tear and tantrum will be worth it in the end.

    Thanks for sharing this, I enjoyed this post!

    • YES EXACTLY. Every time it’s brought up, it seems that (aside from the potential grandparents involved), the conversation turns to “Oh my god, do NOT ruin your life, you’ll never have any fun/do anything good/have anything nice/have any money/sleep (whatever) ever again.” Ugh.

      • I can honestly say that my life is more fun than it was before. Granted, I was always kind of boring (not exactly a party girl, haha), but it’s really fun to see her experience the world.

        • Sara D:

          Yeah NoDak, I mean, you’ve seen my life with baby. It’s amazing and wonderful. A baby is so amazingly fun and interesting in this totally new and unexpected way. I’ve personally never been happier. I guess if your life’s ambition is to backpack across Europe or to summit the ten highest mountains, then yeah, maybe a baby would ruin that. But in general, I still have a lot of fun, a really happy relationship, and just about everything I’ve ever wanted in life. Maybe everything, now that I have her.

  6. I respectfully disagree with your post. I believe that people are being brutally honest these days, but under a cloak – the online world. Women are looking for comfort in the fact they’re not the only ones who feel isolated and at times at their wits end, so they turn to blogging or telling it like it is. Most people I know don’t “complain” about their sleep deprivation or post-partum depression non-stop to friends or acquaintances.

    You’re comparing our generation to that of our mothers, whom had different expectations as women than we do today. Many more women today are literally running the entire show by either working full-time or part-time, going to school, keep their kids happy, healthy, intelligent, trying to stay fit and sexy for their husbands, and maintaining some sort of social life. Maybe this is just the women I know, but my friends who are stay at home moms literally do everything for their families but go to work. They clean, cook, watch the kids, do the finances, get the house repairs, car repairs, take care of the older family members… etc. This is not easy. It is a choice, yes, but it is incredibly hard, and somewhere, sometime, it should be OK for them to “complain”.

    You have been lucky enough to have found total awesomeness in becoming a mother, and that’s great. But this is only your perspective. I can tell you that the overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, fear and anxiety that came along with parenthood for me can’t be described as complaints. Anyone who treated my feelings as such are no longer in my life. To say that what is difficult about motherhood involves food being thrown on the floor or pureeing carrots is shows how little you understand about what these “complaining” parents are actually going through.

    I love being a mom, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. Most definitely shooting rainbows out of my ass amazing. But there are many days where I feel helpless, exhausted, and I’m second guessing myself constantly. Thank goodness for the women whom you say are too dramatic, because otherwise I would think I’m the only one, and then I would most definitely stab myself with that plastic spoon.

    • I absolutely agree with you that it’s ESSENTIAL to have people to talk to that make you feel less isolated and alone. I have a group of girlfriends who are my saving grace. But I guess my point is that there’s a line between bitching for camaraderie, and bitching all the time. I personally think that people are a lot more negative these days about everything, not just parenthood (or maybe they don’t hide their negativity as well as they used to). I think it’s exhausting to deal with.

      I guess I’m confused by your comparison of our generation to our mother’s generation…because what you just described is what my mother did. And her mother before her. Women who stayed at home were responsible for EVERYTHING. And even after my mom went back to work, she STILL did everything. Yes, I do more than my mom did when I was my daughter’s age (because I work from home, which is REALLY hard), but I don’t think I’m entitled to do more bitching than she was. Motherhood is and always has been hard.

      As I’m reading your comment, though, I’m realizing that it may not be clear from this post (and if it’s not, I apologize), but I’m not talking about the feelings you’re talking about. I think that this post, out of the context of my own blog, makes me sound like I have an easy baby and I have no idea what it’s like to have a difficult time.

      So as a bit of a back story, I’ve shared on my blog that I absolutely do not think motherhood is all candy and roses, and anyone who knows what I’ve been through with my daughter knows that I absolutely know EVERYTHING about overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, fear and anxiety. The problems that we’ve had with our daughter have seemed never-ending, and I’m in the middle of a hideous week in which I have cried every day.

      However, this post isn’t about those feelings. And it isn’t about those bad days or weeks. This is about women who ARE bitching about food being thrown on the floor and pureeing carrots. It’s about nonstop bitching about mundane crap and being obsessed with the negative.

      I think part of the reason why all the bitching bothers me so much is that I feel like I have REAL problems with my kid (and even those problems could be SO much worse), and complaining that your kid wakes up once per night at 5 months is flat-out obnoxious. I have a long, long list of all the hideous things I’ve had to deal with over the past 15 months – everything from colic & food allergies to a sprained baby ankle and a ring around the asshole. But even when I look at that list, I think to myself, “my child could be in a hospital bed,” and I immediately feel grateful for what I have. There isn’t enough of that, I don’t think.

      I apologize if this post seemed to discount your feelings, because you are absolutely not alone.

      • Ahhh ok. This makes a lot more sense now. I appreciate the clarification! And you have a really good point. I have a super healthy baby and yet I had post-partum depression and I still feel so guilty about that. All I can think some days is why the hell am I so sad, when there is nothing wrong in my life? I see other people with kids with all of the issues you’re talking about – some of which we’ve had but mostly our kiddo is fine – and it really makes me feel bad about feeling bad. But that’s not the same as constant bitching about babies waking up in the middle of the night or pureeing baby food, and I see the difference now. Thanks for explaining :)

        • I’m sorry it wasn’t clearer from the get-go!

          PPD is a whole other ballgame. Depression IN GENERAL is a whole other ballgame. And honestly, I don’t even think there needs to be a chemical imbalance to be depressed a lot of the time, when you have a difficult baby.

  7. Molly P:

    I completely agree with Jacqueline. I also think the discussion of how hard motherhood can be is definitely at its most vibrant online. I was part of a community new mother’s group and I attended, partly for myself and partly out of curiosity, over a couple of years. I rarely met a woman who wasn’t overwhelmed or felt unprepared in some way. And many came to the group because, rather than having someone to “complain” to, they felt isolated and alone at home week after week. The meet-ups were not venting sessions, but rather brainstorming sessions, and I often came home with a new bag of tricks.

    There are some “get real” blogs, but the magazines and media portray, in my opinion, a bliss and rainbows point of view. Motherhood is supposed to be some kind of “happy ever after.” It is fulfilling, but it is not all I am. I do read some “horror stories” in articles, but they often come across as “isn’t that funny?”

    I think parenthood is quite hard (I have an infant and a toddler, one is physically difficult, the other is emotionally difficult) or perhaps challenging is the right word; and no matter who might have told me, there was no knowing or deep understanding of “hard” until I learned for myself. My first baby had colic and there was nothing about the unceasing months of screaming that I could call fulfilling. Then I had two under two and didn’t sleep for six months (up all night with one, up all day with the other.) I couldn’t even function, so discussions of “happy” were obsolete. Every baby and every experience is unique, with so many factors- finances, other life stresses, baby temperament, support networks or lack thereof. I love my babies and I have a lot of fun, but there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not tested by them.

    Am I happy? Very. Is it hard? Very. I never equated happiness with ease.

    • It’s so funny, because I really don’t know how we can have such different perspectives of the media. I feel like, with the exception of sitcoms, the horror stories I’ve heard haven’t come off as “that’s so funny.” They’ve come off as completely terrifying.

      I’m not sure if you will get my response to Jacqueline in your email – if not (and if you have a minute), you should definitely read it. I think I forgot when I submitted my post that Jenny’s readers would have no idea that I had a “hard” baby, haha. ;)

      • Molly P:

        I just read your reply to Jacqueline and that really did help put things in better perspective for me and helped me better understand what you were saying- yes, that makes a lot of sense! I also look to my single mom friends (one who is raising twins on her own) and admire them so much- just thinking about them quiets the complaints in my head!

        I think my media interpretation is more the idea that marriage + plus baby equals happy ever after. It’s an idea taught to kids from Disney infancy. And, those parenting magazines are slathered with gooey-eyed moms gushing over baby. Ugh. And, every time a celebrity gets pregnant, it’s glorified. But, this is clearly very subjective!

        • TWINS ON HER OWN?! TWINS ON HER OWN. WTF. I didn’t even get past the first part of your comment before my jaw hit the floor. I cannot even imagine.

          I really wonder how much help those celebrities have. Even having the money to hire help when you need it…that would make things a lot rosier for me!

  8. Kate:

    Maybe it’s because of where I live (in a small American community overseas with a fairly homogenous group of women in terms of social class, etc), but a lot of the moms I meet are optimistic about parenting to the point where they MUST be lying to themselves… or at least I hope so. If I have to hear one more person say, “I love having someone who is totally dependent on me!”, or “I don’t mind the lack of sleep because I just look into their little eyes and it’s all worth it” I am going to scream. I can find the good in parenting (and do on a regular basis), but some of the things people say … they have to be lying… right????

    • OMFG. Yes. They are.

      I went to a baby shower yesterday, and I said to myself, “WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?!” I had never had an experience with a group of women that talked about nothing but the positive. Obviously there are pockets of these women out there, but I didn’t meet any of them until yesterday. It’s like the Stepford Wives.

    • Sara D:

      I love having someone who is totally dependent on me. That very sentence freaks me out. I love my daughter, and I see the real specialness about the way she needs me, and the way that I’m able to meet her needs. But LOVING having someone dependent on you? That does not compute for me. I always thought that the best part of raising children was supposed to be when they started meeting some of their own needs, and then you could enjoy them without having to physically provide for 100% of their basic biological needs.

  9. I’m still on the fairly young side, so my friends aren’t having kids just yet, but I feel like everyone in my office either just had (within the last year) or is about to have a baby. I thought my male boss, who just welcomed his first son into the world 2 weeks ago, would be the last of the cycle, but my female team lead just announced she’s preggers. It’s never ending! Back to the point: All they talk about is how great it is and how wonderful their children are. They talk about the clothes and their little feet and the gurgling. Sometimes I wonder if they gather secretly to discuss the whaling and destruction. But publicly, their experiences are all sunshine and rainbows (kind of like Kate’s experience). Maybe some women just feel like if they’re the first ones to complain, that the others will disagree and gang up on them and confirm that they’re the horrible mothers they think they are? I think that would be my worry if my friends were all smiles about raising their kids. Maybe the next time they’re talking about how great it is, I’ll just stick my head out of my cube and break the ice for them: “Ever been peed on while changing a diaper when you’re all dressed up, running late, and about to head out of the house?” lol

  10. i’m a new mom (baby is almost 10 months) and i’ve been thinking about your post all day- super thought provoking! like another commenter said, people told me all about how physically taxing it would be (heard lots of “sleep now while you can!” when i was pregnant) but i was not really warned about the emotional and spiritual toll motherhood would take on me in the beginning. i was not told about the intense fight or flight response that would surge through me every time baby cried, or the depression that would hit each time the sun went down. when i shared these feelings with my mom and mother in law, they looked at me like i was speaking gibberish! when i vented these same feelings with my peers, they totally understood and made me feel validated. so in the beginning, i think my complaining was totally necessary. group therapy, if you will.

    BUT when my hormones were back on track and motherhood was becoming my “new normal”, my venting turned into bitching. i really think this stemmed from 1) my perfectionism- wanting baby to be/act/sleep perfect, and wanting to be the perfect mom but failing constantly 2)wayyy too much info online making me hyper-aware of everything baby was doing or not doing 3) i’m just a wuss, straight up! i’ve had a relatively easy, comfortable life and motherhood is not easy, or comfortable.

    then a few months ago, i stopped bitching. like, pretty much cold turkey. my 11 year old cousin was dying of cancer at the time, and it was a slap in his parents’ faces to complain about how “hard” it is to care for my healthy, vibrant baby girl. a few middle of the night wakings is nothing compared to what his parents had to do- comfort him all night long as he vomited, inject medicine into him constantly, and prepare to say goodbye to him for good. just like that, my whole perspective on motherhood changed. i now enjoy motn feedings, and make sure to kiss baby and stroke her little head while i enjoy the stillness of the night. my cousin is gone, and i know his parents would do ANYTHING to hold him again.

  11. I definitely have had the opposite experience from you — exposed almost entirely to the sunshine-and-rainbows crowd. Only had one friend give me the “parenting is hard” speech before I had kids, and I totally didn’t understand what she was getting at. I just thought she was oddly pessimistic.

    Frankly, to the extent that people DO complain, I think much of the problem stems from the stressed state of parents in our society. Even when the complaints themselves are about another sleepless night, they’re not necessarily ABOUT the sleepless night, if you know what I mean. Parenting is harder than in the past in many ways: exposure to overwhelming information via the internet and the often impossibly high standards that come with it, the general need for two-income families combined with the scarcity of affordable childcare, loss of close-knit family/friends/communities as compared to our parents’ day, lack of maternity leave, pregnancy exceptions in medical insurance policies, struggling school systems, ever-increasing consumerism, ever-more-insane college costs, etc., etc. I think parents SHOULD complain … not about thrown cereal or the occasional tantrum, but about the fact that our society so often fails both parents and children. As long as parenting is only hearts-and-flowers in the media (as I still believe it is), those kinds of things are never discussed.

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