For the past 11 weeks, I’ve seen so many memes about how this is a great time to NOT have kids. And they are hilarious. I mean that sincerely. I’ve laughed out loud at most of them as I look around my disastrous kitchen and family room that looks like a war zone. But it got me thinking: what WOULD my days (weeks? months?) have looked like if this had all happened before I became a mom? Would they be “better?” Would I be “less stressed?”
I’ve done a lot of thinking on this, and I can’t answer for everyone, but for me, and my personality, and my set of circumstances, I think I can honestly say….no. My stress level could have been lower but I think on the whole, this experience would be worse for me without kids.
Hear me out.
Every blog I read right now talks about how stressed parents are, and yes, that’s true. This is quite possibly the most stressed I’ve ever been in my life. I’m stressed financially, I’m stressed physically, I’m stressed emotionally, and probably countless other adverbs I’m not thinking about.
But as the 2019/2020 school year comes to a close, and I pause and contemplate the alternative, how would “pre-mom” Emily have handling all of this, I realize it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. For me personally, I’d be worse off without a 4 and 6 year old at home. Here is why:
1. I never felt pressured to “use” this time
I have a really bad case of “not working hard enough syndrome.” We’ve already been over this. I know myself. If I didn’t have two little people absorbing every spare moment of my time, I’d feel so much pressure to ride triumphantly into the fall of 2020 with 4 new book projects, multiple home accent walls, and maybe even a sliding barn door hung somewhere since I hear that’s a thing right now (is it still a thing? Dear God, please don’t ever let me turn my home into a stable if it isn’t still a thing.)
But here is what’s great: I haven’t felt that pressure. Any of it. I’ve focused on keeping my work moving along, keeping the kids doing SOMETHING that doesn’t burn the house down, and making sure we have food in the fridge to serve on the dishes in the dishwasher that have already been there three times today. That is enough to occupy all of my energy. I don’t have extra energy to feel guilty about “not doing enough.”
That’s not to say I feel no guilt. Oh goodness, there’s guilt. There is all the guilt. But it’s normal parent guilt. Let’s be honest- if I wasn’t feeling guilty over how many hours my kids watched their iPads yesterday, I’d be feeling guilty over some other dumb parenting thing. So I think that’s why I’m able to look past the parenting guilt so easily. It’s like there is this pre-reserved portion of my brain reserved for questioning my parenting choices and it’s currently full, but it was ALWAYS full, so while the thoughts are currently DIFFERENT, that receptacle was always present, so it doesn’t feel drastically unusual.
2. I have two tiny people to be strong for
It’s so easy to fall victim to the “spiral.” The spiral of anxiety and worry and uncertainty. I know the spiral well and I also know that I’d probably stay on the spiral a lot longer and a lot deeper if I didn’t have my two kids to “fake it” for. I’m so disappointed that they missed an entire portion of their schooling, but I can’t let them miss a whole portion of their CHILDHOOD. When I’m consumed with uncertainty, my kids are the motivation for me to find a way to cope, to deal, to sort through it, etc. Because they deserve optimism. They deserve the best display of normalcy I can muster. I know myself, and I have a feeling that if this all happened pre-kids, I would have a LOT harder time finding the motivation to confront the bad feelings when they creep up.
3. I kind of love the holidays, both real and fake
To that end, if this had happened pre-kids, I’m not sure the past 11 weeks would have been peppered with so many celebrations, both big and small. Sure, we still would have had St. Patrick’s Day, and Passover, and Easter, and birthdays, but….would I have had Star Wars Day? Purple Day? Rainbow Day? Merunicorn day? (Do you even KNOW what a merunicorn is? It’s a half-mermaid half-unicorn. Duh. Keep up, will you?)
These celebrations are “for the kids” but really, they’ve given me some joy and some anchor points in all this mess. Selfishly, I loved having a thing to “plan for” even if it’s completely made up and silly. Had this happened pre-kids, I like to think that I still would have found joys to celebrate, “parties” to set up, but again, knowing myself, I’m not sure that I would have.
4. I’ve found different parts of work to love
Two of the non-family aspects of my life that I really enjoy are running and my job. My favorite part of running is the races and my favorite part of my job is speaking at large events and the pandemic took both of those away. At first, I was devastated that these two huge parts of my identity would be on hold indefinitely, but I was forced to find joy in other components of these things. In running, I can honestly say for the first time I actually enjoy running. Not the feeling I get when it’s done, not the feeling of accomplishment, but the physical act of putting one foot in front of the other, the sensation of being alone with my thoughts and the scenery.
In terms of work, I’ve realized how much I love putting good content together. Yes, speaking is my favorite part for sure, but I also really like the thrill of WRITING the content, of making it engaging, of researching and recombining it in a way that makes sense, of finding humor in things that aren’t funny, of finding the relatable parts of a tough situation and making people feel less alone. I can’t wait to get back to speaking to an audience face to face, but I hope that when I do, I’m also able to remember the joy in the creation, not just the performance.
The Toxic Optimism Weighing on Parents
Finally, I want to address the one phrase parents have heard a million times in the past 11 weeks:
“I’m so glad you’re enjoying the togetherness time!”
OK, look. I HAVE enjoyed the togetherness time but….I’ve also hated it.
There is a fine line between making the best of and finding the silver linings in a bad situation, and trying to pretend a bad situation is actually good. For all the good I’ve found this spring, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t stressful. For every party, there was a lot of yelling. For every engaging fun family activity, there was a lot of screen time. For every enlightened personal breakthrough, there was crushing doubt and worry.
I would have preferred my kids got to stay in school.
I would have preferred to travel to the conferences I was scheduled for.
I’m allowed to love my family but also wish I had time by myself.
I’m allowed to embrace the positive while also wishing this had never happened.
You can feel sad and happy, you can feel stressed and grateful. I’m allowed to feel more than one feeling at the same time. Daniel Tiger LITERALLY has a song about it. Look it up.
So thanks friends for listening. I hope you’ve been able to find the joy amidst the chaos. And if you haven’t yet today, that’s alright. There is always tomorrow.
Let’s connect! Follow me on social media to see how we’ve spent our spring (including the silly parenting/Disney/parody videos and songs I’ve bribed my children to participate in…)