Is Motherhood Supposed to Feel Like an Inferno? Parenting Hell Holes


I.  Am.  Going.  Insane.

Summer with the kids is wearing out my reality grip.

It’s hot and muggy.

We are potty training the toddler.

The nearly-seven-year-old is out of his routines and it is totally evident in his behavior.

The other day he took a hose and blasted it into my kitchen window, soaked me and every surface. Intentionally. Twice. He’s been told that from now on, it will be a very dry and boring summer, since he can’t be trusted with water.  Summer can totally suck it.

One by one, motherhood is prying my sweaty fingers from their tenuous grip as I swing on trapeze over a pit of molten lava, poisonous snakes, broken glass, and fire ants.

Ok, maybe that is a bit extreme. But humor me.  I’m struggling.

In reality, Emily is doing pretty amazing with her potty training.  And Jack has more good moments than bad.  So, is it just me and my nutty 40-year-old hormones?  Why isn’t reality registering with my emotional state?

I’ve written before about what it is like to be depressed as a mom.  To feel like a floundering, fraudulent, failure at the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to excel.  To feel incapable of juggling the demands of a stressful job and the needs of my family.  To feel terrified of not having enough patience to weather an entire day with the small folk.  To feel exhausted and sad.

I guess this post isn’t much different, except for the 9,000% humidity as I write.

This summer feels like an endless festival of breaking up cat sibling fights as I warble the Lego “Everything is Awesome” song to try to convince myself it is, and to drown out the footfalls of the horsemen of the apocalypse.

All right.  I get.  I’m being a drama mama again.

Watching everyone’s summer-highlight reels on Facebook, I feel like we are the only family that isn’t having fun in the sun.  People are snapping pictures of their placid tots digging in the sand and bobbing in pools, but I can’t even figure out how to get my two brawling brats out of the house in one piece.

Have you heard of Parenting Sweet Spots?  Well, at the moment, I am in a Parenting Hell Hole.  Both of my kids are in ridiculous phases of difficult that cause a domino effect all over our house.

Individually, they are in normal developmental phases.  Together, they are a bundle of hectic.

Emily is two-and-three-quarters.  She’s a typical toddler mix of Hello-Kitty cuteness, and fierce determination.  Her smile draws people from three aisles away in the grocery store.  She has bouncy curls, and a laugh that could make millions if captured and bottled.  She never stops moving, which means we never stop moving around her.

She is also keenly aware of how to press her older brother’s buttons.

Jack will be seven in a couple weeks.  He has always been my “difficult” kid.  He is freakishly smart, introspective, and aware.  He’s also sensitive and strong willed.  His temper would scare off a grizzly bear.  We’ve been working diligently to teach him calm and compassion, especially towards his sister.  He tries to be kind to her, but lacks the patience to roll with her toddler-nature. He is currently in a phase you might politely put as “finding his own sense of himself as an individual,” but in layman’s terms, he’s completely oppositional and defiant.  Hence the hose in the house.

One minute my kids play angelically with blocks, and the next they are throwing the blocks at each other’s heads, which leads to shrieking, screeching, and sulking.  It is a cycle that repeats 80 times per day and grates at my already frazzled nerves.

I feel like we’ve tried everything. It doesn’t seem to matter if I separate them, spend individual, quality time with them, connect with them before I correct, or model the behavior I want to see from them.  I have a feeling it is a phase we are just going to have to do our best to ride out as lovingly as we can, and I am trying to let go and accept this difficult time with deep breaths. . . .

. .  but it’s still hard and infuriating at times, swinging back and forth over what feels like a treacherous pit of despair yawning beneath me.

I wonder why it is so hard, and if there are parents who deal with their children’s temperaments with more aplomb?  Those people on Facebook, how do they have it all together?

Looking through my photos, I realize I have the highlight reel too.  I have the picture of Jack and Emily, arm in arm, glowing on the beach.  But I didn’t post it online because, in my eyes, that photo was tainted by the how stressful it was for me to get two kids to the beach and keep them from drowning.  What would it be like, I wonder, to post that picture with a caption about how great summer is, and how much I love my life?  How many “likes” would I get?  Would that make me feel any more together about my parenting?

Or. . .  is it closer to the truth that because we lead such open, public existences it makes me feel more like I am in a parenting inferno because I judge my reality against the “perfect” moments everyone else posts?  I mean, no one, not even me, posts a picture of the crying jag they had in the back stairwell.  Maybe if we did share those moments we would feel a little less incompetent or envious.

Isn’t parenting supposed to feel hard and scary?  I mean, we take this existential leap of faith and push a cantaloupe-sized head out of our privates.  Then we are charged with the monumental task of keeping it alive and thriving for the next 18 years.  For someone who could never even keep a houseplant green, this motherhood thing is infinitely daunting.

I think it is safe to say I am not the only one who feels confusion, insecurity, and frustration.

Besides the fact that we judge our (sometimes harsh) realities against the highlight reels of others online, there is also the fact that as 21st century, working women, we are used to having our way, doing things right, and looking amazing while we are doing it.

Here’s the thing about motherhood: You never feel like you are doing a good enough job.

At least I don’t.

The sudden loss of control and autonomy humbles and horrifies me. No matter how many stories I read, lullabies I sing, or boo-boos I bandage, someone always seems unhappy with my job performance as a mom.  There is always something I’ve forgotten to do, sign, or wipe.  Summer serves to make this all the more evident, since I am spending more time with my children.

For a control-freak, the noise and chaos does make it feel like I’m living in hell.  Add to that the sense that everyone seems to be doing it better and happier than me, and it is a recipe for a mama meltdown.

I read the other day that if you bitch about something without proposing a solution, then you are just whining.  So, I feel obligated to wrap this post up with a pithy suggestion, or candid observation about how in reality everything is really great and we just have to let go.

I was complaining to a friend the other day, and hearing myself I groaned.  It seems like motherhood has made me this stressy ball of dysthymic anxiety.  It isn’t pretty.  I apologized to my friend for being such a mess.  She graciously said, “No!  Don’t apologize!  It helps me.  Because I struggle too.”

Such words had never sounded sweeter, but not because I was glad my pal was struggling.

Sometimes when a mom is in a parenting hell hole, she just wants to know she isn’t in there alone.  Maybe you have been there, and you can share with me.  Or maybe you are there right now, and my words will help you feel a little less heated and lonely.

We flounder because we are trying to get it just right for the small people we adore.  We are not failures, even if we have a difficult day, even if we are honest about it.   Nor are we frauds if we are “faking it till we make it” and post the pic of the kids playing sweetly, and neglect to mention that 34 seconds after it was snapped they started mauling one another.

We will get through it.

And when we cool off, we will look at our kids and realize that most of the time motherhood is worth all the confusion, insecurity and frustration.

How is your summer going?  Do you have any tips or tricks for making summer with the kids less hectic?  Please share!  


7 responses »

  1. Eh, I think that bitching without offering a solution is okay in moderation. Sometimes there is no solution, and it’s just about venting.
    As for me, I feel like my pregnancy is stealing my first summer in Oregon. Normally I would be outside and active, enjoying the sun and the heat. But for the most part I am inside, trying to stay cool (and failing) and having zero energy. Yuck.

  2. I loved this so much. I think the highlight reel is hard to compare yourself to. Because it’s this moment in time that was captured but doesn’t show the whole picture. But I don’t know if it’s supposed to show the whole picture, because emotions and moments change so quickly.

    Hang in there. I think summer is really hard for a lot of people.

  3. Um, yes. I think I started reading this a week ago, but didn’t finish because I was interrupted by one sweetie or the other. I’m on the other side now that my two have been back in school nearly a week, and I gotta say, I’m slowly returning to life. Summer was a mixed bag of fun and hell. I learned that a month is about my limit, and I’m already stashing cash with the hopes of having enough to send them both to day care/camp next year. I know you guys live in a condo/apartment, so this may not be an option, but I had to enforce mandatory running/scootering/biking daily. My oldest is also my “difficult” child and when he doesn’t have an opportunity to get physical, it’s gonna be awful. He’ll throw toys, jump on furniture and smack his brother. We have a driveway, and I’m sure some expert will accuse me of giving my kids a body complex or eating disorder, but I made them run five laps daily. They griped less if I did it with them, which I hated because it’s hot as a mutha, but if I made myself plow through it, I felt better. I also slowly acclimated to the heat. Again, you might have downstairs neighbors, but if it rained, we did indoor PE — jumping jacks, burpees (YouTube it), and Cosmic Yoga on YouTube. Perhaps I missed my calling as a drill sergeant or maybe a PE teacher. I hope you’re feeling better. Hang in there — hope school starts soon.

    • LOL! Well thank you so much for coming back to finish and comment– it means so much. I think physical activity is very important. I can totally relate to the difficulty of children jumping all over the house… We strive to get our kids out daily, and of course my son has his karate which is very grounding for him. We actually have a very sweet little yard where the kids run and play. Do you find a delicate balance b/w getting “just enough” exercise (for the kids), and them becoming overtired, overstimulated, and miserable? My daughter is a lot more flexible with such things, but my son is highly sensitive and I am always trying to “figure it out.” Hmmm. . . Anyhoo, I hope you get some free time for you now that your guys are back in school. Lucky duck.

      • Absolutely — it is a delicate and draining balance. I swear, my oldest has always been the kind of kid where if anything is off, we all suffer. We’re constantly dealing with making sure he has enough sleep, enough physical activity, enough “down” time, balanced blood sugar. Oh my goodness. Then there are the transition times. He needs to zone out a little after school, which is when he usually watches TV or plays a game on the iPad, but gosh even that is hard to balance. If he has too much electronic time, he goes berserk, which we’re dealing with today. Sigh… My younger son is a little more roll-with-it but still has some sensitivities. Naturally his are completely different from his brother’s. He’s very sensitive to soaps and detergent, bugs, heat. Yeah. Anyway, sorry for the book, but I feel ya. You’re not alone. I TRY SO hard to be sensitive to their needs but sometimes I just want to scream — and unfortunately often I do. I’m working on that…

      • Your oldest sounds so much like my son. . . like, to a tee. He takes so much finesse and it can be really draining and discouraging. Being a “child therapist” and being a perfectionist, I am constantly feeling clueless and like I’m doing a horrible job. My son needs the zone out after school too, because it is so demanding for him to hold it together all day (which he actually does pretty well…) And to top it off, he is like perfect for everyone besides us, which makes us look like even crappier parents. Sigh. . . If you find any magic solutions, let me know! xoxo. Thank you for sharing this. It helps so much to not feel alone.

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