I’ve been annoyed by a thing! Now I respond. Shauna Anderson wrote an article, which insisted:
“Being a mum is not hard.”
Oh ho ho. Good one. Pull the other leg, it’s got bells on.
“We wear it like talisman. This burden of motherhood. This badge of honour.”
Of course we do. We take pride in a difficult thing done well (or on some days, just done at all.)
“It certainly isn’t a constant dance on a mountain of happiness. But it isn’t hard.”
Well, I beg to differ.
There are things about parenthood (particularly for those of us who, like me, are able to stay home by choice) that are of course infinitely easier and more enjoyable than working in traditional employment. I can do my job in my pyjamas if I haven’t the energy or inclination to wear real clothes. I can go to the beach or the museum or a friend’s house on a whim, and still be doing my job. Parts of it are gleefully, wonderfully, exhilaratingly fantastic and relaxing and wonderful. But parts of it are hard.
There are myriad ways in which a person might find parenthood hard. Pregnancy and birth can change your body into one you don’t recognise, swollen and stretched and scarred. Infertility can shake your world and turn your plans upside down. IVF and fostering and adoption all have particular struggles. Newborns, toddlers, teenagers, adult children, each stage has its own raft of hurdles and challenges and rewards. Moving from a job where your tasks are clear and your rewards tangible to one where the goalposts move constantly and the rewards are sticky, nonexistent, or made out of toilet paper rolls challenges your ideas about what constitutes ‘success’. Being excluded from conversations about parenthood because you are a father, or transgender, or a foster parent, because so often these conversations are made to be about ‘mothers’ (hint hint, Anderson) to the exclusion of other parents. These are all hard things. And so are the daily chores of keeping small humans alive, fed, and relatively clean. Sometimes we need to talk about the poo explosions and fatigue.
Anderson calls this an apparently constant “game of baby-vomit-and-sleepless-nights one-upmanship.” In one breath she decries this competitiveness, and in the next participates in it. She admits that parenting is demanding and relentless and exhausting and overwhelming, and continues to point out how not hard it is. Parenthood isn’t hard for me, so of course it isn’t hard for you. This isn’t hard. You know what’s hard? Being a working mother refugee textile worker with cancer is hard!
Well, hard is relative. Having twins is hard. Not sleeping is hard. Working outside (or inside) the home is hard. Having a chronically ill kid is hard. Having to touch poo is hard. Parenting while dealing with mental illness is hard.
But we’re not being awarded points. No-one wins Hardest Life Of The Year trophy. After all, if they did, they wouldn’t have the hardest life of the year anymore, because they would have achieved something
If a fellow parent is finding life hard, the helpful and kind thing to do is offer sympathy, support, and a glass of wine if required. Not to point out how much harder things COULD be, like trying to tell a person with depression that they don’t have the right to be sad on account of all the much sadder things that exist in the world (for the record, this is a real thing people do, which does not work.) We don’t talk about the hard parts in order to demean our role or imply it’s unenjoyable or undesirable. We talk about it so that we can be reassured that it’s not just us. That we’re not the only one with doubts and fears, terrified we’re not cut out for the epic challenge and staggering responsibility, not the only one who has gone a whole day without noticing a Winnie The Pooh sticker stuck to the back of our head. Not the only one struggling as they learn how to raise a person, be a diplomat, advocate for special needs, ask for help.
Stop telling parents their lives aren’t hard. You don’t get to tell them how to feel. Try listening. Try helping.
Or just do whatever. I’m not the boss of you.