April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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Feeling All the Feelings

What’s the lie that new parents buy into? I’ll say it out loud: That you will only feel positive things about your new darling, delicious, wonderful child. This narrative has made life much more difficult for parents than it has to be. Before I had my first child, I wanted so desperately to be a wonderful mother. I imagined that I would always be totally in love with my child, enveloping him in a warm cocoon of love, every moment. This is what lots of moms think.

Then reality hit. Let me tell you my story.

I really wanted a child. I was super excited to be pregnant. When he arrived I was madly in love with him and felt incredibly blessed. I had no idea so much love existed in this world. So far so good.

Well, as time wore on I started to have thoughts like, “Am I ever going to sleep again?” This being my first child, I was so nervous that I could not relax for a second. I remember something I read that totally captured the feelings I had. “Whenever my son crawls on the floor I crawl behind him just in case the chandelier falls down.” (I love this anecdote on parenting—it totally applied to me.) I was afraid if I didn’t watch him he would stop breathing. Afraid he would find something I missed and put it in his mouth and choke. I was VIGILANT! If I slept at all, it was with my eyes open and I was on red alert ALL THE TIME. He slept in the crook of my arm (of course).

As the exhaustion became chronic, I began to experience feelings that I never imagined I would feel. I had some pretty unloving thoughts. I felt trapped, resentful, isolated, disappointed. Sometimes I even resented my baby for ruining my life. At least before I had a life. Now I was just a milk machine and a tushy wiper. Sometimes I felt like I even hated him. Without him, I could be free.

Before I had children, I would look at moms and say, “Don’t they own a mirror?” Now if I had a shower, it was the major accomplishment of my day. I was holding on by my fingernails.

I could not admit to myself that I had these thoughts and feelings. In my mind, a good mother only had feelings of love. I did everything I could to cover them up. OMG, what if my child can tell that I have these feelings? He will feel unloved and insecure. I had to bury these feelings even more—I felt so guilty. Then of course to cover up those guilty feelings I had to overcompensate and be a super-duper loving mother. You can imagine how much effort it took to maintain this level of repression. Being a wonderful mother was the most important thing in my life. My insides were getting wound tighter and tighter—and of course my son felt it.

I was lying in bed one night (not sleeping, of course), my beautiful son sleeping in the crook of my arm, and I remembered something I had known before: “What you resist persists.” The more I resisted my painful feelings, the more they stayed around. Lying there, I just let myself feel all the feelings that I was so terrified to feel. I told the truth to myself: Sometimes I hated him. There, I said it out loud. But the amazing thing is that the more I stopped resisting those difficult feelings, the more I could fully and naturally love him. It became “Of course I love him and yes sometimes I feel hate or resentment, or a whole host of unpleasant feelings.” But the more I normalized these feelings, the less they bothered me. The shame over them went away.

I eventually realized that these feelings don’t mean you are a bad mother or an evil witch; they are just part of the human condition. That doesn’t mean you act on these feelings. It just means, “I love my kid and sometimes he or she drives me crazy. And that’s just life.” Every parent has felt that. The more you can tell the truth about having those feelings, even if only to yourself, the freer you will feel and you will have more room for the natural innate love you have for your child to flow. My shame and acute embarrassment over having these painful feelings was keeping my love blocked.

It’s like the Dead Sea: it’s dead because there is no outlet. There is nowhere for the water to go. Feelings and thoughts come and go. The nature of thoughts and feelings is fluid. After I was able to allow myself to experience the feelings I was trying so hard to bury, everything changed. I enjoyed my son so much more. I felt so much freer. I wasn’t afraid to feel ALL my emotions about him and being his mother.

So what’s the truth about parenthood?

The truth is that even after we become parents, we still have every emotion we had before we had a child. We still feel the same emotions as every other human being on the planet. We are still part of the human condition. We are not magically transformed into a cloud of love and light.

The truth is that sometimes we all have feelings about our children and our parenting that are not pleasant. Trust me when I tell you: it’s totally normal. Welcome to the human race.

By Jewel Safran

Jewel Safren, MSW, LSW, LCSW is a parenting educator, specializing in divorce and blended families, with over 35 years of experience. She is recommended by Rabbi Akiva Tatz, Rabbi Paysach Krohn, Rabbi Jonathan Rietti and Rabbi Mordechai Becher. You can contact Jewel at 973 464 8556 or [email protected]

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