Entering into the world of baby making, I kept my ears open for all comments related to babies. Like when someone tells you about the water drip from the faucet that you didn’t hear before, I started hearing every little thing and couldn’t shut it off. Of course, it wasn’t tortuous like the dripping faucet. I wanted to know what people were saying.
When women talk about having babies, there’s a lot of, “No one ever tells you this, but…” And it’s true. I’ve heard a lot of details about labor, delivery and having kids that I never heard before. I’m sure this is partly because I’m paying attention, and partly because women who have gone through the experience want to divulge as much as they comfortably can about the experience. Yet, there are things that moms often don’t talk about unless they feel they can trust the listener not to judge.
What keeps subjects like how raising a puppy is good training for raising a child or the difficulties of parenting taboo? My guess is that people don’t want to hear comparisons between animals and babies, and more seriously, that mothers feel that sharing the challenges of parenting would disappoint people or reveal that they are not the perfect mom.
I’ve heard that having a puppy is good training for having a baby, and then simultaneously been told that this would be a good idea to keep quiet about. My guess is that some people don’t want to hear that raising an animal can teach you something about raising a child. Though it might make some uncomfortable, I can say with resolve that I have learned a lot about what the dynamics of J and my conflict are like by trying to raise a puppy.
The first challenge has been agreeing on how to train. We spent the first month and a half of puppy raising completely exasperated, worried and exhausted by puppiness. Both J and I recognized that we needed training, and eventually we found the right person to help us. Yet during that time, it was easy to snap at each other. Having a baby will just exacerbate the issue, I’m sure. Sleeplessness coupled with cluelessness and learning the necessary caring for baby skills will push us to our limits. The puppy taught me a lot about how I might respond, however.
Another thing that I have learned through our puppy training is that it is very hard for me to let go of my idea of how things should be done. I realize that happy baby, happy parents and growing together as a couple is going to take some major letting go. The source of many a problem has come from my need to see things happen in the way that I want them to. I know that if that’s an issue with the puppy, it’s only going to be harder with the baby. Yikes!
More seriously, though, there is the problem of talking about how hard parenting is. In the first chapter of her book, Becoming a Calm Mom, Deborah Roth Ledley, PhD, discusses why new moms are not calm moms. After doing an informal but extensive survey, she asked women about their greatest sources of stress during their first year of motherhood and then shared the compiled results with the people who had participated. She received many many comments of surprise. The basic sense she got from these comments was, “Wow, I had those experiences too. I never knew anyone else felt that way.” Mothers weren’t even talking to each other about their struggles!
With her background in psychology specifically dealing with stress management, Ledley realized that people “don’t want to acknowledge to themselves that they have negative thoughts, and they most certainly don’t want to share these thoughts with others. So they go to great pains to push them away.” Ledley discusses how not sharing the negative thoughts and working through them creates a more stressful situation.
I want to add something here. When I was a new teacher, I had an experience similar to what I think happens with moms. On a day to day level, teaching was a huge challenge. However, I felt that if I brought up the issues with my co-workers, I would be judged as unfit for teaching. And I wondered, “Who wanted to hear these kinds of problems?” I spent the first year and a half of teaching keeping my classroom difficulties hidden behind my classroom doors. Eventually I found a way to start talking about the problems, but it took me a long while to find someone I trusted enough to confide in.
I would add to Ledley’s explanation that many mothers fear the judgment of others, both other mothers and society as a whole, like I feared the judgment of other teachers.
The funny thing is, just after I started reading this book, I was listening to a podcast called The Parenting Experiment. Teresa Strasser, who worked on TLC’s While You Were Out then as a radio personality on The Adam Carolla Show, and Adam Carolla’s wife, Lynette Carolla, have gotten together to talk weekly about issues surrounding parenthood. J and I have listened to a few episodes of their podcast together. They weave humor and reality, and often discuss the challenges of being a parent. I have a feeling that for many mothers, the podcast is a breath of fresh air, especially if what Ledley says is true. Women need to know that they aren’t the only ones struggling, and that it’s okay to not have it all together.
On the other hand, a reader of eyesofmyeyes.wordpress.com pointed out that many mommy blogs eventually turn to complaining after the baby is born. There’s a lot to be said for not complaining too much. What is the difference between bitching and talking realistically about the difficulties of raising a child? I’m not 100% sure, but I want to acknowledge that there is a very important distinction there somewhere. My guess is that it’s a little like the difference between gossiping about a co-worker and trying to figure out how to deal with a difficult person situation at work. The former is purely griping while the latter is trying to work something out.
In my life, I have learned that it is important to find a place to share the difficulties. Ignoring them does not work. Yet our culture does not do a very good job at helping us distinguish between complaining and working things out.
I hope to find a place where I can share honestly about the difficulties, with the balance of rejoicing in the beauty of having a child. The fact is that this is the challenge of life! We all struggle to stop and smell the roses while recognizing that the roses, albeit beautiful, have thorns.