Drudgery and Delight
January 25th, 2012

If you were on Facebook at all last week (and if any of your friends are of the Mommy set), chances are good that someone you know posted a link to this article about cherishing every moment of parenthood.  It’s worth a quick read, but to summarize, author Glennon Melton states that while she is out in public wrangling her three kids she is often told to “cherish this moment” by older women whose children are grown.  She posits that this well-intentioned advice actually has an adverse effect on her, leading her to live in a state of constant paranoia that she isn’t savoring her role as a mother enough because parenting small children is an incredible amount of work.

As I read the article Melton’s words rang true to me – so much so that my response was something along the lines of, “Well, of course it’s hard!  Doesn’t everyone already know this?”  As I watched the Internet explode with re-postings of her piece what struck me most was that the article was causing such an uproar.  (It garnered more the 1,500 comments on The Huffington Post.)  Any parent will tell you that parenting is hard.  Any parent will tell you that there are days when everything seems to go wrong and all you want is for the sun to set and your kids to go to bed.  Any parent will tell you that there are moments when the only way to get even 30 seconds of peace and quiet is to go to the bathroom.  This is not novel information.  So why all the kerfuffle?

I think it’s due to a serious lack of both honesty and understanding.

The honesty problems belong to us parents.  As parents (especially as mothers) we feel compelled to address our children’s behavioral imperfections in one of two ways.  1) Don’t really talk about them at all.  Or 2) Talk about them with a self-deprecating humor that suggests we aren’t ever actually driven to our limits.  But this isn’t true, is it?  IEP (whom I love to the ends of the earth) can make me crazy faster than anyone else I know.  In a couple of years SSP (whom I also love to the ends of the earth) will fit that bill as well.  And I would wager that this is true for all parents.  So why can’t we say so?  I don’t know the answer to that question, but the mere fact that Melton’s piece created the dust storm that it did indicates to me that not enough of us are.

The understanding problems belong to the people who question us.  Just because our children can run us ragged doesn’t mean that we are in over our heads or that having them in the first place was a mistake.  In her article Melton likens parenting to climbing Mount Everest.  People don’t climb Mount Everest because it is easy or relaxing or enjoyable.  They do it because it is an unparalleled challenge, the completion of which is enormously satisfying.  This isn’t to say that parenting is merely one grueling step after another or that there is only a single, fleeting moment of accomplishment when they graduate high school.  Obviously there’s more to it than that or we wouldn’t do it.  Even climbing Mount Everest doesn’t take 18 years.

For me, though, the biggest take-away from this whole thing is that we each parent in our own way.  We each enjoy different things about parenting.  What one parent sees as drudgery another parent may see as a delight, and there is incredible freedom in that.  No one can (or at least no one should) tell us which aspects of child-rearing ought to be enjoyable to us.  For Melton navigating three kids through an afternoon’s worth of grocery shopping and other errands might be a chore.  For another parent it might be an adventure.  And that’s okay.

We can wish away the moments of the things we find maddening.  And we can relish in the moments that we love.  And we should never have to justify any of it.

3 Responses to “Drudgery and Delight”

  1. BigLittleWolf Says:

    I particularly love your conclusion in this piece, Gale – that some moments are maddening and others, to be relished. And we must each make our own way.

    And yet…

    While I recognize that hindsight is 20-20, and I’m the first to admit that I’ve worried myself sick over my children on more than one occasion, I’m reconsidering some of my own (excessive?) hands-on parenting decisions, as I recognize that we cannot protect them from everything, that some lessons they must learn on their own, that when we sacrifice too much on their behalf, we may not be doing them any favors.

    (I mused on this earlier today, after reading an article on the way French women handle their mothering duties.)

    Circumstances – which are also individual to each of us – frequently dictate what we feel we must do, or not. But I wonder if in our blissful awareness of the joys of motherhood, we haven’t allowed ourselves to travel too far?

  2. Lindsey Says:

    AMEN. I know I’m one of those people who has always heard the exhortation to “enjoy it” because it “goes so fast” and responded with vague panic. It feels like pressure to me, though I know those who say it mean well. And of course now I add my own voice to the chorus, commenting constantly on how fast it flies. But I love what you say about how there are things that enchant us as well as things that make us insane, and it’s just part of the deal. Maybe we should all just let ourselves off the hook a little bit about the things that make us unhappy. They don’t (at least for me) take away from the delight. In fact, they may add to it, don’t you think?

  3. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    I think five different people sent me the link to Melton’s post and I liked it very much. And I love what you have to say here. Drudgery and delight. That’s what parenthood is; there’s no way around it. So glad you are back in the blogging “saddle” as you say!