The Bittersweet Parenting Journey

The parenting journey is full of so many emotions. I know that is an overly simplified statement, to say the least, but it is an aspect of parenting that even I, someone very familiar with experiencing multiple deeply felt emotions concurrently, have been surprised at. Of course, anyone who has interacted with a child for longer than an hour knows that kids experience all the emotions every day. However, for this post I’m going to focus on the range of emotions I have navigated on the parenting journey.

I have discovered that on any given day, there’s a good chance I will experience all the emotions, there’s just that many facets of parenting. There’s the obvious emotions of happy and excited, and, just as ubiquitous, overwhelmed and frustrated. Parenting is rarely an either-or scenario, but often a journey filled with a sense of “both.” Especially as my kids continue to age before my very eyes, my appreciation has deepened for just how much an “all of the above” option applies to this experience. Recently, as I contemplated the numerous, often conflicting, emotions, it struck me how relevant the concept of bittersweet is to the parenting journey.

There are times when I wish I could bottle up the cuteness, optimism, and spontaneity that often accompany little ones’ perspectives on the world. I could spend hours just snuggling, giggling, and enjoying the company of my kids. They are so much fun to be around.

Of course, that’s just part of the story. The flip side is that some days I’m almost literally pulling my hair out in exasperation over the sassy attitudes, whining, complaining, and perpetual neediness that encompasses the reality of being with kids 24 hours a day. They are exhausting to be around.

Because as much as I want to hold on to every tiny moment with my kids, sometimes I just need space for myself. There are moments I want to stretch out the time between the present day and the inevitable reality that someday they will leave the house; yet there are other times when the freedom of an empty house can’t come soon enough. I love being with my kids as they are now and I can’t wait to watch them grow. The parenting journey is happy and sad. It’s bittersweet.

As I contemplated the bittersweet emotions that accompany parenting, I was drawn to the analogy of winter in Minnesota. Where I live, winter can feel brutal and seemingly indefinite. It’s especially difficult in February, as we’ve long since passed the mark of intrigue for snow and cold for the season, and yet I know that spring is still, literally, months away. It’s not that I mind the cold, I enjoy winter. But, February is a month I often dread as I know the much desired warmer days are not even a blip on the distant seasonal horizon.

However, while I sip my morning coffee, a sunrise through an icy windowpane in my kitchen will catch my eye. And I’ll be overcome with emotion for how beautiful winter can be (even in February). Bittersweet.

Similarly, parenting can be so brutal, like a child asserting their independence, harshly declaring “I don’t want to snuggle and read with you.” Or so beautiful, like a child expressing their appreciation through a simple “I love you.”

Beyond the experiences with kids themselves, personal, societal, and cultural expectations and perceptions of what it means to be a parent also contribute to the bittersweet journey. For example, during a recent dental appointment, the dentist politely made conversation while inspecting my teeth, inquiring, “Do you have the rest of the day off or do you have to go back to work?” I responded, “I work from home, taking care of my kids full time.” She hesitated, uncertain, before replying awkwardly, “Oh, well, I guess that’s something,” before quickly moving to another topic. Contrast her comment with the hygienist who had asked the same question earlier in my appointment and had responded, “Wow, good for you. I’m sure they keep you busy.” Bittersweet.

I’ve received similarly varied reactions when people learn that I’m at home full time with my kids, and I know parents who work full time outside the home receive the full range of responses as well. Honestly, I’m not offended by the comments and typically interpret the awkward responses as well-intentioned or simply misinformed; and yet, despite that, I still find myself internalizing the misgivings. I love the fact that I get to be with my kids all day and usually feel confident in the decision to pursue that route. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to enjoy this aspect of my parenting journey. Of course I believe that caring for kids is indeed a valuable, full time job. However, there are some days, when my kids have fought all day long or I have lost sight of the big picture on the most important aspects of this journey, and the struggle with doubt feels particularly overwhelming. It’s especially on those days that voices in my head, fueled by subtle comments from others, whisper I need to be more than a stay-at-home parent if I’m to be considered a valuable contributor to life. It’s bittersweet.

The whole journey really is bittersweet.

As I worked on this post, I kept thinking of various bittersweet aspects of the day-to-day moments of parenting. For example, as I wrote at my kitchen table I listened to my kids erupt into contagious giggles while making up a silly game in the other room. The sound filled my heart and made me want to hold on to those moments forever. And, as I clung to that joy, I knew that in a few hours we would tackle bedtime and deal with the inevitable fight that accompanies the apparently surprising and unfair reality they have to brush their teeth, change into pjs, and go to bed at the end of every day. The whole journey really is bittersweet.

Of course, I wish parenting was all ups and no downs; that raising kids was exclusively snuggles and giggles. However, that’s just not reality. And while the challenging aspects of parenting are difficult to accept at times, I’m learning that it’s all part of the experience. Certainly, bittersweet is an acquired taste and one that takes awhile to fully embrace, possibly a lifetime. But I’m learning to appreciate the depth of experiences and emotions that weave together to make up the whole of the beautiful parenting journey.

So, with the recent celebration of Mother’s Day and just-around-the-corner Father’s Day, I’d like to offer a toast to all the bittersweet moments of parenting. Cheers to the highs, the lows, and all the varied in-between moments and emotions that encompass the beautiful, at times unexpected, journey of parenting.

Wendi is co-author of The Unexpected Ever Afters blog and enjoys sipping extra hot coffee, sharing a love of reading with her kids, and exploring bike trails.

photo credit: personal photos

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