My sister-in-law just became a mother. And as I sorted clothes that we could gift to the newest little cousin, my mind wandered to what advice I would give to the latest inductee to the hallowed halls of motherhood.
I didn’t want to tell her the common, expected things that everyone says, like “sleep when the baby sleeps” or “the days are long but the years are short”.
I wanted to tell her perhaps what I had wished I had been told when I was that clueless but optimistic new parent.
But what was that? I spent the rest of the day trying to remember what that past almost 4 years has taught me.
And I realized it was this: I’ll never be enough.
But before you judge my judgey advice, I’ll also say: it’s not my job to be enough. It’s taken me a long time and multiple moves to know this in my heart: children were meant to be raised by a collective of people, related or not.
They were not meant to be tasks to be tackled or projects to be managed or even beings to be loved, by only the people that created them. Children have been nurtured and raised and disciplined and loved, by communities since the dawn of time and for a good reason.
So in today’s world, where we parents are expected to be everything and more at work, at home, in our marriage and in our families, why have we forgotten this fundamental idea?
Because, yes, parenting is hard. Anything worthy often is. It’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
But we make it harder than it should be.
I know I have.
We have somehow decided that it’s weak to lean, to ask, to depend. We have scheduled and listed and outlooked our lives and our spouses lives to within an inch of possibility.
And we wonder why we feel frantic or why our lives are knocked off kilter if one tenuous block teeters or falters out of place. Forget the big things like a sick kid or a nanny on vacation. Just a whiney child and a late nanny is enough to make you feel off your proverbial game.
It’s a simple fact I still struggle to come to terms with: I can’t control everything in my children’s lives. But more than that, even if I could, I shouldn’t. Because it’s not in the best interest of my girls.
Countless studies have been done that show that children raised with more social connections (related or not) turn out to be more resilient in life. That the more loving, supportive people in a child’s life, the more likely that they’re able to weather individual stumbles and shortcomings, be it little things like losing a soccer game or failing a test or the bigger things like death and divorce.
And really, doesn’t that make so much sense?
What if the great sum of the responsibility and burden of my daughters’ lives isn’t just divided into two, to be shouldered by J and I? Instead what if it is split into 5 or 8 or 15 parts, to be shared with others that love these girls like we do.
When I see our neighbors from Seattle, or my brothers or our nanny with my girls, I know that that is the only way I’ve been able to feel like the weight has been lighter. Not because it’s magically disappeared or gotten lesser.
But because the weight is shouldered by many.
It’s been almost 4 years of desperately seeking the answer to why parenthood was such a shock to me. Why for the first time, it was something that didn’t come naturally or easily to me. Why it has continued to defy my logical nature.
It turns out that the answer lies in stopping asking why parenting is so hard or beating ourselves up for not being enough.
Because we’re not meant to be.
What we are supposed to do, I think, is surround our children with a whole community of others that can join us as partners in raising these funny, inventive, inquisitive, capable children.
Or in other words, seek out the help. Accept the help. And then be the help for someone else.
That’s what I want to tell my sister-in-law in these beautiful, precious, sacred days of being a new family.
You’re all your sweet daughter wants. But know that you don’t need to be all that she needs.