I am restarting a career after 17 years of raising kids. This is causing some discomfort for me and my family. For me, there is the learning curve of the details and logistics of my practice, the rusty feeling of getting my brain to work in this way again and the juggling of adding something to my plate with a little one still at home. For my family, there is the pain of added responsibility for themselves and each other. Giving up some perks of always having mom there to put their needs and schedules first. Yet, I am not shying away from this discomfort. I am going right through the middle of it! Feeling it all. I am not as afraid of this ‘pain of change’ as I used to be.
Last week, I was sharing this discomfort with colleagues. Yay!! I have colleagues. One of them made a comment that planted a seed of thought. He said something to the effect of having the values to sit with and push through the discomfort.
It took me back to the beginning. 17 years ago when I first became a parent.
This transition from self-sufficient independent person to responsible for another life 24/7 was the most difficult transition I have ever made. Turns out, I learned after the fact, babies cry. They cry when they are hungry, they cry when they are tired, they cry when something hurts, they cry when you put them down, they cry when someone else picks them up, they cry at loud noises…sometimes they just cry. I am sure other parents out there will agree that your own pain pales in comparison with your child’s. This baby crying was unbearable for me. I looked at pain (emotional and/or physical) as bad and on the ‘to be avoided list’… at all costs.
There were a few times the first two weeks of this ‘pain of change’ that I thought I was dying. Turns out, those were just panic attacks. Still thought I was a goner though. My unrealistic romantic view of being the perfect mommy had endured its first crack in the enamel. I didn’t let go though. Oh no. I held on to that illusion and here is how:
Child #1: NEVER let that baby work out frustration on his own. Step in at the first sign of a whimper. Take out anyone, including husband, if perceived to cause said crying. Never let anyone make a sound or breathe when baby is sleeping for fear of waking and causing…crying. It wasn’t pretty.
When Child #1 became a toddler take out anyone on the playground who is perceived as being mean to my child. Other children are not exempt. Haven’t you seen the episode of Modern Family when Cam takes out a kindergartner who was not nice to Lily? This is just good parenting!! Pacifier till he was 5…sure. Family bed…great!
Child #2: This child screamed from the time she was 2 weeks old. She is still screaming. She is screaming right now. She had a lot of tummy aches that I could do nothing to alleviate. I tried. Our bed was starting to get a little on the crowded side. No one was sleeping. I was a wreck. Perfect mommy illusion had gone from being cracked to big gaping hole.
Child #2 became a toddler and entered her ‘challenge authority’ phase. She was the one taking others out on the playground. Other parents not exempt. I was the one not getting asked back to play. I worked hard to outsmart this child. I am pretty sure she taught me more than I taught her. I learned that if you enter into a power struggle with a child, you may win the battle but you WILL lose the war. I learned that if you give in just to get the crying to stop you will pay later. You always do. I learned to never judge other parents harshly, especially in grocery stores. There is a good chance that one day you will BE that parent. I learned that some pain and discomfort is necessary to make progress. I learned that becoming clear about my values could help me find my way through begging, crying, kicking, and screaming.
One day on a grocery trip, there was some begging and threatening for some junky thing that I abhorred. This would cause a prickly sweaty feeling to come over me. The foreshadowing of an embarrassing moment. It was tempting to give in, but I knew that my values were strongly against the treat and the begging/threatening to get it. So I said, ‘no’. This resulted in a VERY LOUD tantrum that I could not even pick her up and leave the store. I had to just sit down in the middle of the narrow crowded aisle and sit it out. There was a lot of staring. Kind of like the morbid curiosity of drivers passing a car wreck. I learned humility. As I was walking out of the store with my tail between my legs and my head hanging pretty low, a woman stopped and praised me for doing the right thing in spite of the embarrassment. I almost kissed her. I have never forgotten her kindness. I learned that I was not perfect and never gonna be. I still thought it was just my failing though. Everybody else seemed to have it figured out. It was just me.
I was learning to deal with discomfort. It hurt a lot. I also learned that it passes. It doesn’t last forever. Especially if you keep your values front and center. Life is full of struggle. Sometimes we have to embrace that struggle to grow.
child#3: This is the child that I decided I would take discomfort by the horns. I was gonna BEAT discomfort. This child ‘cried it out’ in her crib from day one. Ok this might have been a little extreme. The pendulum swinging a little to the right. She seems ok and is my best sleeper, but it was child #4 before I finally got the balance needed. Discomfort is sometimes necessary but with a gentle touch. Our children need to learn to handle discomfort with our kindness and compassion never our anger or rigidity. I think this child #4 got the best deal. Maybe it was because we were a cross between parents and grandparents when he came along. Richard and I both say we were finally grown up enough to have a baby.
Looking back I wonder why I had to learn all this the hard way? It would have been nice to know then what I know now. Why couldn’t I have been more relaxed the first time around? And yet, one of the hardest things about trying to be a family therapist then was not having had all this experience and struggle on the front lines. Hard earned experience through hand to hand combat.
So I am going back to work and we are all uncomfortable in this ‘pain of change’. As with any new discomfort there is that panicky feeling that it won’t pass this time. That we won’t make it through to the other side. Thankfully, I have clarity of my values to help me hang in there. That my children will benefit from more responsibility. That it is good for them to see their mom find meaningful work that is not them. That my marriage will be better with more balance in the roles of caregiver and money maker. I have lots of battle scars to help me keep faith that it will pass. That we will get to the other side where it flows like we have been doing it all along.
And I have my fingers crossed that I am right.