It was Maya Angelou who said “I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”
The life situation missing from Ms Angelou's short list is the one about "handles parenthood". Perhaps that's why we underestimate the impact that this momentous change in everything about our lives will have on us?!
After all, we spend a good few years working things out: finding our place in school; perhaps studying, getting a job, working out our place in the working world, finding our feet in relationships and getting to a place that society would call 'sorted' or successful or surviving.
Then we think we are ready to have children (or it happens) and so we begin that process.
If we are lucky enough to have those little people arrive in our world, we are sure we are relatively prepared for what it all means. We can look around and say to ourselves "if they managed it, we will be OK". We buy or collect all the necessary (distracting) items required to help us raise our children the “right” way. The marketing tells us that to be good parents we need this and that.
What we are not prepared for is the way in which the experience challenges our previously held ideas about ourselves and our place in the world.
Not only that but the experience of parenting and handling the challenges to our self-view are enough to completely knock us sideways – we were so sure of our place before ... and suddenly we are not. Instead we feel unhinged, disconnected, numb, clouded, and fragmented.
Some of us blame the baby: we feel guilty about that because a baby is so small and defenceless – that guilt makes us feel even worse about ourselves. Some of us turn that blame on our partners: they don't do enough, they don't understand, it's their fault we are swirling around ... if they helped more we wouldn't feel so bad or so out of control or so out of our depth. Our own parent's skills come into question: they did a bad job of preparing us, weren't there for us in this or that way. We blame the lack of money or the country we live in or the neighbours ...
... but ultimately we suspect that WE are the problem. WE are somehow not good enough, not well equipped enough to be a parent. Afterall, WE made the choice to have a baby – a choice that, in our darkest moments, we regret because now we have gone and ruined the calm we had worked so hard to create. To add to matters, that choice we made has changed the relationship we have with our partner.
There is no turning back ... and the inevitable forward motion of life can be terrifying.
All of this conspires to rock our world so convincingly that many of us feel we are going mad. Combine that with messages via media that we are supposed to look and feel a certain way, back that up with comments from friends or other parents about how well they are handling it all – we can end up feeling very isolated, incapable and ultimately not up to the task.
It's no wonder we lose our confidence as parents, no wonder we struggle to remember what we wanted out of life before our children came along, no wonder we lose interest in careers or things that captured our attention before parenting. It's not that we don't have those interests, dreams, desires within us anymore. It's that our priorities have changed or we can no longer connect to the Self from before.
What we are never really told about becoming a parent is that not only will life never be the same again, Self will never be the same again. This loss requires a grieving process ... one we have little time, energy or headspace for when we have young children.
Sooner or later, we need to grieve the loss. If we don't, years, decades, lifetimes can pass without us reconnecting with Self.