The Parenthood Paradox

Parenting is so weird. So freaking weird. One moment, you’re drinking in the blessings, wondering how you got so lucky to have these angelic beings to call your very own. The next, you’re hiding in the closet with empty candy wrappers circling you on the floor because you just couldn’t handle being around them one second longer.

It seems like this is one of those things that people tell us about before we become moms, but that we completely ignore until we experience it ourselves. How absurd, we think. I’d never get burnt out by my own kids.

Ah, the hubris of a not-quite-yet-parent.

Last night, while making dinner for my family, I looked down at the cheeseburgers frying in the pan. I was overwhelmed by such a strong sense of gratitude that it made me weak in the knees. Something about seeing the four burgers sitting there together triggered an almost painful feeling of appreciation for my family and my circumstances.

One burger for me. I have food in my belly. I am not hungry.

One burger for my husband. Someone who loves me and takes care of me.

One burger for my son. The rainbow baby who came after a loss that almost broke me.

And one burger for my daughter. Whose birth brought a sense of peace within me. My family was complete.

What a gift. What a strange feeling brought on by a few burgers popping in grease.

I went to bed still reveling in the warmth of gratitude for the life I’ve been given. The life my husband and I are creating. I slept with peaceful dreams.

But those warm and fuzzy feelings were abruptly snatched away when the kids woke up this morning. They were instantly loud, impossibly high-strung for people who literally just got out of bed. I exited my bedroom and descended directly into chaos. The kids opened the YouTube app on our television and began watching a video of some famous YouTube gamers playing Roblox. Every gamer was screaming a blood-curdling scream for no apparent reason. Amidst all that noise, my kids were sorting through their gem collection and arguing over whose gems were whose. My husband and I couldn’t find clean socks for anyone. My daughter insisted on picking her own outfit and chose something horribly mismatched. She also wouldn’t sit still while I did her hair, so I’m pretty sure that poor girl arrived at school today looking like nobody loves her. My son turned his head too fast while sitting on my husband’s lap and brushed his cheek against my husband’s glasses? Which, of course, sent him into an emotional spiral because clearly he had been traumatized by the pain.

The cherry on top of our chaotic morning was my kids seeing yesterday’s lunch boxes sitting on the counter, waiting to be cleaned, and insisting that I had forgotten to put their lunches in their backpacks. I explained, as calmly as I could, that those were yesterday’s lunches and that today’s lunches are tucked away safely in their backpacks. Not to trust anyone too easily, my kids insisted on removing their backpacks and seeing for themselves. This, as you might have guessed, triggered an investigation into what exactly had been packed for lunch. And, of course, the compulsory argument that they didn’t like any of the things in their lunch (they do, in fact, like all the things I packed for them). This unnecessary exchange made us late heading out for school, which stressed me out. I’m in my pajamas. I am, of course, not wearing a bra. And I didn’t wash my face last night. I basically look like a drunk raccoon. There is absolutely no way I’m going to let us be late and have to walk these children into school myself looking like this. That’s where I draw the line.

By the time I finally got the kids to school (somehow in time for car line, by the way!) I had to force myself to not do a rolling stop while shoving them out of the car and tossing their backpacks on the sidewalk behind them.

I drove home screaming into my steering wheel.

I wish I understood why parenthood is like this. I’d rather not ride this emotional roller coaster, thank you very much. But, I’m realizing that this just may be what it’s like. Parenthood is messy, beautiful, chaotic, and sweet. It is filled with breathtaking highs and abysmal lows. It seems that the only way to navigate it is to embrace the paradox of it all. The sweet and the suck. The ability to love and appreciate your kids, and to, at the same time, desperately need a break.

It’s normal, babes.

I’m doing fine. You’re doing fine.

It’ll all be okay.


Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

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