Never Say This to a New Parent
Dear Experienced Parents;
When an overwhelmed new parent is hopeful there’s some child-rearing relief in the near future, please don’t ever say:
“It doesn’t get easier!”
I know, I know… you think you’re being straightforward. It’s better they know the truth, right? But the truth is, you don’t actually remember the true struggle new parents have. If you did, you would realize how discouraging this little remark can be. And it’s quite ill-considered given how many new parents suffer from depression.
If you’ve already run the gauntlet of rearing newborns, toddlers and pre-schoolers, your brain has since reconstructed those early years. It’s romanticized them into a series of Kodak/Instagram/Pinterest-worthy moments. It’s left the gruelling, anxiety-filled days and sleepless nights on the editing room floor. What remains in your brain is a polished reel of endearing memories and nostalgic cliches. Maybe this selective memory phenomenon is a safeguard that ensures humans continue to reproduce.
First things first: let’s all stop assuming that we fully understand another parent’s situation – just because we both have kids. Or that any problems new parents are experiencing must be because they’re doing something wrong. We’re talking about complex little human beings here, so your handy anecdotes rarely apply. Maybe you didn’t have a baby with colic or an infant with inexplicable sleep issues. Maybe you had a toddler who took three-hour naps daily and whose tantrums were fairly moderate. Add to that an infinite number of variables that make each parental situation more complicated. Maybe you didn’t have many financial worries. Maybe you had more help from your partner. Maybe you had relief in the form of a nanny, daycare services or had two sets of helpful grandparents.
You see, dear parents of older children, you’re no longer dealing with non-stop cries from a baby or mind-boggling toddler meltdowns. You’re no longer changing diapers or potty training. Your kids can do things for themselves, like, maybe wipe their own bums! And by now you’re probably even wiping your own bum in completely privacy, without worrying if your infant’s life is at risk while you dash off to the washroom alone. Now here’s a game-changer: you’ve even got a little time for yourself. You’re no longer a slave to nap schedules, early bedtimes and premature morning wake-ups. There’s probably some true me-time in your life, like regular appointments to get your hair cut. You’ve probably started to enjoy a variety of foods again and your diet has improved. Dining out as a family may actually be an enjoyable experience. You’re getting along well with your partner again and you’ve probably had sex recently! You’re even able to have full, adult conversations. Some of those conversations might happen in the car because there’s no baby suffering an unconsolable fit during a long road trip. You’ve started to rekindle some friendships that were lost in the shuffle of new parenthood. You’ve likely reintegrated yourself back into social functions that transpire past 10pm. You can move freely throughout your own home, it’s no longer an obstacle course of baby gates, latches and makeshift safety measures. You don’t have to lug diaper bags, strollers and snacks everywhere you go. And when it’s time to leave the house your kids can put on their own shoes and coats and everyone simply just walks out the door!
By the way… following up your “It doesn’t get easier” comment with “…there are just different challenges” doesn’t make it sound more helpful at all. I know you experienced parents have been crafting an internal list of, “Yeah, but you don’t have to deal with…” after you finished reading the last paragraph. I’m absolutely sure your list is full of valid points. For every struggle we propose, you will likely have your own challenging situation to counter-balance.
However, here are two irrefutable points to consider, smarty-pants:
A) Your kid(s) are in school for six hours a day. That’s almost half of their awake time in a given day. That’s six hours of relief a new parent just doesn’t get. I’m pretty sure subtracting six hours from a tough job makes it an easier job.
B) You almost always get full, uninterrupted, quality sleep at night. That adds up to mental clarity that a new parent doesn’t have. I’m pretty sure being well-rested for a tough job also makes it an easier job.
So are you starting to agree that, perhaps, just maybe, things did get a little easier as your kids got older? Just a teeny, tiny bit?
You don’t have to admit it out loud.
Just blink if you agree.
Look, I know I’m being cheeky. It’s because I’m writing this post from the perspective of a new parent. One who has battled through some dark weeks and months, only to be told by random parents via internet comments sections (who were likely enjoying one of many quiet moments to themselves with their devices) that things don’t get easier.
Instead of telling someone else the current stormy climate of their life is permanent, dig deep and string together some of that forgotten footage from the editing room floor. We’ve all struggled royally as new parents so let’s show some compassion for this stage and offer encouragement. “It gets better!” is a phrase that’s hopeful and true.
Maybe you’re trying to say parenting never gets easy? Sure, agreed. Don’t worry, we’re not expecting to coast through life with kids. We know we’ll never have the freedom we once did. We’ve already learned that parenting brings new stresses with every new stage. We’re just looking for a light at the end of the new-parent tunnel. We need some reassurance that one day these little humans will be able to do things for themselves. So give us that faith, please!
I’m an at-home dad to a three-year-old and one-year-old. I’ve been with my kids around-the-clock since the moment they were born. Yet I can’t fully relate to an at home mom, because I never had to cope with physical side effects of giving birth or being tied to my child at the boob. But I saw my wife struggle with these aspects and and be dismayed by the suggestion that it doesn’t get easier.
I accept that I’m still a newbie with only a fraction of knowledge regarding the full scope of parenting. At the same time, I’ve already witnessed my three-year-old making things easier for us. His behaviour now, compared to a year ago, has vastly improved. And he’s now potty-trained. Plus, he’ll be starting school in 8 months, 3 days and 14 minutes from…now!
Here’s another way to look at it: new parents are grieving. They grieve the loss of the life and freedom they knew only a short while ago. There’s a massive contrast between their lives then versus now. They’re losing parts of themselves, their partners and their friends in the hustle and bustle of new parenthood. “It doesn’t get easier” is basically like telling someone who just lost a loved one that their despairing feelings are permanent. They aren’t.
It gets better.*
All New Parents
P.S. If you don’t believe me about the phenomenon of forgetfulness, here’s a beautifully written piece, Before I Forget: What Nobody Remembers About New Motherhood.
*Until they’re teenagers.