The Suffering Olympics.

A few months ago, I was introduced to the “Suffering Olympics,” a term which both refers to the compulsion to compare miseries to see who has it worse and describes the last two years of my relationship with my husband. My introduction to this phrase occurred in a Facebook mom group, which is fitting, considering our collective obsession with social media allows us to project our personal lives into the universe, helping us compete in the Suffering Olympics not only with those physically around us (like our partners), but also with others all over the world.

After spending some time having deep thoughts about this, I am convinced that it is from the Suffering Olympics that Mommy Wars are born.

Being a new parent requires doing really hard work and making difficult decisions all the time. You do the work because you have no choice, but you parent certain ways because you have specific opinions. We are all forced into constant, thankless toil when we become parents, which should equalize us and make us more empathetic, but because we become wedded to specific philosophies through the trauma of implementing them, we spend far more time trying to prove that we’ve done it the right way than attempting to treat each other like human beings. No one wants to think that the parenting choices they’ve made are wrong, especially when these choices (inevitably) result in insane amounts of physical and emotional labor.

I’m working on a PhD in Social Statistics right now, so let me explain with an equation:

Hard work + strong opinions = competition + desire to win

For example, I like to think that the two full years I spent cosleeping with and nursing my son are the best decisions I (or anyone) could have possibly made for him because 1) I did those things because I thought they were important and 2) they were so punishing to me that I have to justify them to myself as worth it. I have spent a lot of time feeling really smug about how challenging my parenting choices were. If there was a Suffering Olympics, I was definitely a gold medaler across the board.

That is, until recently, when I realized in a light bulb moment that while being an accidental attachment parent is certainly super intense and autonomy-crushing, no parent escapes feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and Never Alone. Every mother I know has been disillusioned with her style of parenting, in one form or another. The lack of independence that I felt was specific to my circumstances was also an issue for breastfeeding friends starved by limited diets, working friends swamped by deadlines, and by-the-book friends burdened by the weight of strict schedules. All of us make decisions that come back to haunt us.

Imagine for a moment that we were able to see beyond our own limited experiences, allowing us to acknowledge the choices of others as valid in their own unique circumstances. (I know, I know. Suspend your disbelief for a second.) If we were able to see the parents around us as equally underwater in this raising children business, the Suffering Olympics would cease to exist, because, in parenting at least, suffering is everywhere and struggles are relative.

Parenting is hard for everyone, no matter how you choose to do it. We all have to make a bed. It doesn’t make sense for us tear each other apart for laying in it.

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Sarah Carter is a PhD student, blogger, wife, expat, and new mom crazy person. She’s currently focused on writing up her third PhD paper and taking care of her baby, but if you’re into snooping and terrible photos, check her out on Instagram.

 

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Eight Things Every New Mom Will Hear: A Primer.

 

Congratulations on your new baby! Prepare yourself for hearing these things on repeat for the next several years of your life!

Is he sleeping through the night?

People will obsess over this, which will make you obsess over this. There are entire industries devoted to ensuring brand new babies Sleep Through The Night (STTN), and as a new mom, you will feel the full force of these industries. The great trick here is that babies do not sleep through the night. Sure, some may sleep better and more consistently than others, and yes, there are babies who sleep 12 hours from the night they are born, but in general, sleep is ever evolving and no child (or human being, for that matter) sleeps through the night every night for their entire lives. This is especially true for infants and toddlers, who are experiencing physical, mental, and emotional growth at astronomical rates, with little ability to communicate their needs or control their lives. Insisting that we use STTN as a barometer of parenting success holds new, overwhelmed parents and their unsuspecting bubs to impossible standards, and of all the unnecessary things you get showered with when you’re a new mom, Impossible Standards are the things you want the least.

Are you still ______?

Yes, yes you are. Or: no, no you’re not. And you know who cares? Everyone. Everyone cares, which is strange because you won’t see everyone up with you at 3am while you’re covered in vomit and changing baby pajamas for the fourth time in five hours. You will do what you need to do to survive, and the only person you need to clear that with is yourself (and maybe your partner, if you’re nicer than I am).

It goes by so fast.

Despite what people tell you, it will not go by too quickly, at least not in the first few months (or up to a year, if you’re lucky like me). In fact, chances are you will be awake for more hours than you’ve ever been before, so you’ll experience more of that first year of parenting than you ever imagined. The things that will really go by too quickly are the few hours you’re able to sleep or the rare moments you get to eat chocolate by yourself.

I’m well aware that time does fly (there’s nothing like being Facebook friends with your youngest cousin, who is now in college, to make you feel like a decrepit scarecrow), and I know there will be a time when I miss having a snuggly, fuzzy-headed tornado ripping through my life 24/7, but when you’re in the trenches, when the seconds slow and warp and stretch out ahead of you like an endless gauntlet of poo, tears, and laundry, time will not feel like it is whipping by. You are not contractually obligated to

Enjoy every minute.

You won’t. And that’s okay. You’re a mom now, but you’re still a person, so you won’t love being pulled on, barfed on, whined at, yelled at, headbutted, and humiliated in public, and you will miss being able to poop on your own and look your age.

You should find some time for yourself.

This is excellent, sage, well-meaning advice, but in my experience, it is also totally infuriating. All I wanted as a brand new mom was time to myself and the only thing that was absolutely certain was that I wasn’t going to get it. Having people tell me that a massage or a night out would cure all my frustrations only served to underline how far away I was from feeling better. I can’t leave to get a massage, you jerks. Who else is gonna nurse this child every 45 minutes? If someone is telling you you need time to yourself, they need to facilitate that by taking your baby noodle off your literal hands for a little while.

You’re spoiling him.

Unless your newborn baby is a soft cheese and you’ve just set him on a sunny windowsill, you are not spoiling your baby.

Sleep when the baby sleeps.

Sometimes, you will. I spent a good four months going to sleep right after my son went to bed at 7:30pm. However, most of the time, you won’t sleep when the baby sleeps. In my experience, the sleep deprivation that comes with having a baby isn’t confined to the bleary, cozy, ethereal, not-at-all-real-life first couple weeks. When life starts creeping back to normal for everyone else, and you’re still not sleeping, ultimately it isn’t feasible to sleep whenever the baby sleeps. Either you’ll have food to cook or floors to clean, or you’ll want to take advantage of your baby’s nap and, I don’t know, be your own person for five seconds. You’ll want to watch TV or read a book or eat a salad with a fork instead of your hands. Eventually, you will be a person who stays up all night and then chooses delighting in the autonomy of eating with utensils over taking a nap. Trust me.

Are you having another?

You’d think that creating a new human being would be enough effort for a little while, but instead, having one baby simply proves to other people that you are physically capable of having even more babies. Fifteen minutes after my son was born, while we were all still covered in goo and there was blood all over the floor, a midwife, inspired by my “easy” delivery, asked me when I was having another baby. At the time, having just expelled a human being from my body and too weak to stand up to take a shower, I said, “Absolutely never.” As I write this nearly two years later, parenting a toddler who is cutting his second molars, the answer is still, “Absolutely never.”

Your answers may be different from mine, but better have them prepped now. Think about the entire future of your family right this instant and get your story straight. Enquiring minds (in the supermarket, your living room, and the delivery suite) will want to know. #nopressure