Will parenting ever be fun again?

by Mick Rhodes | editor@claremont-courier.com

I’m wondering when parenting will be fun again.

I see parents in films and on television basking in the loving warmth of a close-knit but quirky family, experiencing hijinks, facing obstacles, overcoming them through some sort of life- and love-affirming process, and in the third act laughing and dancing in slow motion at a beachside barbecue while wearing matching white clothes.

When is my third act coming? Is the ugly truth that it’s all just heartbreaking, all the time, then you die?

I’m beginning to wonder.

I’ll never give up, but I’m starting to have doubts about whether I’ll ever see that beachside barbeque.

It’s a good thing I have thousands of wonderful, uncomplicated memories from 13 years of raising my kids as a stay-at-home dad.

I remember when my kids started being born the joke among my friends who’d also taken the plunge was something along the lines of how our parents and friends had lied to us, or at least withheld the truth, about parenthood. It turned out raising babies was physically difficult and mentally challenging, and there was stuff we just had to give up for a while, like sleep.

Ultimately parenthood exposes the shortcomings in our character and uncomfortable truths about how we ourselves were raised. It was certainly eye opening for me.

But babies are fun. Really fun. And once I adjusted to the reality of my new life and my new job as a primary caregiver, I came to love it. And truth be told I got really good at it. I became a diaper changing ninja, a snack expert; I reveled in mastering naps, baths, stories, bedtime, doctor’s appointments, school, and volunteering in their classrooms. All of it was a dream, a privilege. I didn’t miss much of anything from my old life because I was having so much fun and felt so vital, so necessary.

But things got squirrelly when my kids started hitting adolescence. I wasn’t surprised, and thought I was prepared. But then my wife and I split, which was followed by a needlessly protracted, contentious divorce, and things began to swirl out of control.

My son was so young he was the least impacted in some ways, in others, the most. All three of my kids from my second marriage carry the scars from that divorce to this day, and the repercussions continue to erupt. Just when things get quiet and smooth for a few months, the next awful thing occurs. It’s as if the universe is saying there will just never be peace again.

And that’s where I am right now.

What’s the secret to a happy family? I’ve tried just about everything. My kids and I have been therapized ad nauseum, I’ve tried hugging it out and tough love, talking through the various and sundry crises and the silent treatment, family meetings and one-on-ones, and have shed many, many tears throughout this now 10 year process.

And after all that I feel like we’re still in the same spot.

Is there a magic potion? A book? A drug? I am open to anything at this point.

When will this be fun again?

I know once our children are born we worry 24/7 about each of them until our last breath. I’m cool with that. I feel that every day. But will there come a time when the heightened chaos subsides, and conventional worrying about school, career, relationships, and health begins? It seems there’s always a crisis around the corner. It’s exhausting.

Checking out is not an option. But there does come a time when boundaries are necessary. And that’s where I am with one of my kids. It’s heart-wrenching. I sometimes feel like a failure as a father. But just like with oxygen masks on an airplane, I have to be sure I can breathe before I can be any good to anyone else.

Boundaries work. I have peace. But it’s naturally created more distance, and I’m not sure that chasm will ever close. I hope so, but it’s not up to me. And because I know I have no control over anyone in this world except myself, I wait.

Getting older adds a subtle layer of panic: what if I never again enjoy a close relationship with my child? These are the thoughts that fuel my anxiety dreams. I’m confident and able to make sense of and understand all of it in my waking hours. But my unconscious mind does not play nice; it taps into and exploits my latent fears and self-doubt.

I’m not writing this column to fish for advice or sympathy, and I know I’m likely to annoy or even anger some readers. I’m writing it because I’m comforted by sharing this ambivalence about the myth of parenting as some eternally joyful, rewarding experience. That’s just not true; it’s damn difficult for many, and for some, it’s a heartbreaking journey.

I hope my own journey gets back on track someday. I remember years of fun, uncomplicated, easy times, and the safe, reassuring feeling of seeing my children bubbly and joyful. It’s locked in my heart. I’ll never forget it.

For now, I’ll keep marching up the hill. I hope one day to reach the summit. I must be getting close.


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