The Winters of Parenting

The first snow has fallen. Today, down on the ground, parents shuffled to school under rain soaked hoods, their eyes trained on a dozen rubber boots running by: ladybugs, frogs, spidermen, assorted bogs with new fall designs. Nobody was looking up, only down. Perhaps wondering if this sort of weather justified splurging on a really expensive coffee. But later in the day, when the clouds lifted, there it was: a snow line down to the Bear’s Den. There can be no doubt what lies ahead: winter.

If you have young children, or you don’t ski, winter can seem interminably long. The endless hunting for mitts that are dry, getting up in what seems like the dead of night to scrape off the car. And all for what, in 30 minutes the mitts are soaked, the kids have snow down their boots, and everyone, including yourself, is cold and in tears. With 11 hours to go before bedtime. If you have older children who do ski, winter can seem interminably expensive. The idea of retirement a far off oasis and in the end will turn out to be only a mirage.

A six year old I know recently made a deal with her Dad: she wouldn’t respond with the words “I know that” and, in return, he would refrain from swearing. She explained the contract to her younger brother who listened attentively.

“So I am NOT going to tell Daddy: “I know that already” anymore. Never. Then we won’t have to listen to him saying “F***” anymore either. Won’t that be nice?” Perhaps her brother wondered exactly what would work his father into the necessary frenzy. Any parent knows the possibilities are endless.

To everything there is a season, and parenting too has its winters of discontent.

Parenting isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s hard work, the pay puts it on par with slavery, you can’t resign, and there is only so much you can delegate, providing you can afford to delegate your parental obligations. It can be all consuming, making the hours of the worst surgical residency seem easy. The words attributed to Bill Gates (but is actually from the book: Dumbing Down our Kids) probably had it right: “Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes, and listening to you talk about how cool you are.”

There are enormous rewards to having your very own kids as accompaniment to your otherwise tranquil existence. (Too bad you didn’t realize how tranquil it really was until after you had kids.) And now that they have arrived, most of us couldn’t imagine our life without our children - but this article is not about that. It’s about the metaphorical winter of parenting. It’s about admitting that, because of our children, there are moments when we feel overwhelmed by the most underwhelming behaviours. There are moments when, if it were possible to be single, surfing on a beach in the Caribbean, that is exactly where we would like to be.

When you get to feeling this way, when your inner Eeyore looms large in your consciousness, gratitude is the attitude. In this life where some people find themselves unable to have children, have lost children, or whose children are sick, we are inclined to rightfully acknowledge that we have nothing to complain about. All this is true. You should be grateful. But there is a reason Eeyore, wet blanket and miserable company that he is, graces the pages of Winnie the Pooh. We all have our Eeyore days. And if we can just keep it clear in our mind that winter inevitably gives way to Spring, and sunshine always follows rain, and tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes, then maybe it would be okay to respond to the inevitable inquiry into how we are with the truth: I am NOT well, and I HATE being a parent. Caution is advised in choosing to whom to divulge the ultimate truth. A response of: “I’m fine thank you” as they walk out the door is unlikely to improve your mood. Especially if, coffee in hand, they are walking into a veritable snow squall because standing on the sidewalk in a storm is a superior alternative to sitting beside you in a cozy coffee shop. You can guess what they are thinking: Whew, that person needs to ski more. This is also true: skiing and snowboarding are great cures for winter, of both literal and metaphorical variety.

Are you feeling better yet? Good, ‘cause next month we are back at it with Unleashing your inner super hero: 3 steps to parental enlightenment. (It used to be 10 steps but it’s a short article.)