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.

 

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

I Don’t Think My Son Likes Me

MICHAEL CARTER

OKAY, FINE, GOD! I might have lied to you twice in a row now (read all about my lies and my wife’s hatred for me here). The truth is my son looks at me with his dopey, way-too-big-for-his-baby-head blue eyes with all the love in the world and then some…now. This, however, was not always the case. My little boy will be 10 months old in two days’ time and for the last 4 months, he has been gradually warming up to me as a poor and inadequate alternative to his mammy. There is no doubt dads will face many struggles in their pursuit to become the father figure they want their sons to look up to. One of the first hurdles as far as the father-son relationship is concerned is the feeling of not being able to build a bond with their baby.

I was warned of this, but I am a man after all: man big, man strong, man does not need to form an emotional attachment with his baby to feel validated! And yet again, for a second time running, I must admit I was wrong (my wife will love my admitting to being wrong). [Ed. Note: she does]. I feel like as a dad you are surplus to requirements during the first 3 months of your child’s life. Sure, you clean, cook, go to work to provide, etc. However, as far as the little dude is concerned, you might as well be a plant or a goldfish. Things get slightly different when your baby starts to engage with the surrounding environment of which, as a sentient human, you are a part. With our baby becoming more robust, more mobile, and most importantly, developing a little personality, I imagined daddy-baby quality time was just around the corner. I watched my wife captivate my son’s attention for hours at a time; I watched her tickle him into fits of uncontrollable heartmeltingly cute giggles; I watched her calm him down in seconds from a full-blown cry to a sunny smile just by holding him in her arms. It didn’t look hard, but try as I might to replicate my wife’s heroics, I could not.

We would sit in bed on a lazy Sunday morning (definitely not afternoon because who spends the whole day in bed, right? Right?!?) with my son in the best of moods. My wife, god bless her, would take advantage of this rare opportunity to have her weekly shower and leave me with the little dude seemingly happy as a clam. Ten seconds later, he would be screaming the house down. I would try the toys, try to make him laugh, play him his favourite nursery rhymes (Baby Beluga and Snowflake for these interested) and even frantically walk him up and down the bedroom, and I would get nothing, zilch, nada! My son’s scream would inevitably cut my wife’s shower short and rather predictably, his cries would cease almost immediately after being back in mammy’s arms. That was hard, but it was about to get much harder.

Due to complicated legislation concerning driver’s licenses, my American wife had to re-take her driving test in the UK (where we currently live). This meant she had to take lessons in order to get accustomed with the local rules of the road, and I had to mind the baby while she took them. The lessons were 1 to 2 hours long, which meant I had to stomach 1-2 hours of my son’s screams and cries whilst he simultaneously refused to be held by me and amplified his tantrums tenfold when put down. All of this was done whilst listening to Baby Beluga over and over and over again.(The magic that is Snowflake was discovered later on.)  It was soul crushing; it felt like my son hated me. He was most certainly letting me know what he thought of spending any length of time with his dad. Obviously, yet again, the minute my wife got her hands on him, he would stop at a drop of a hat and smile at me over her shoulder as if to prove some twisted point to me. I felt insufficient and a failure.

Now, some 4 months down the line, things have changed. Trust me on this, lads: there is a light at the end of this screaming tunnel. As I sit here writing this piece, my wife is busy doing some college work (she is getting a PhD, don’t you know? #humblebrag #proudhusband) and my son is gleefully attempting to climb DadIMG_9361dy Mountain (I am the mountain). I can now be left alone with him and we quite happily spend a few hours playing with toys and doing the airplane. Most importantly, however, when I tickle him, he laughs; he laughs just with me and he laughs just for me, his dad. It’s obvious that a baby is going to develop a strong bond with its mammy; aside from carrying the baby for 9 months, she is the sole provider of food and comfort early on – you don’t need me to explain this to you. But dads, trust me on this one: somewhere between 6 and 9 months, you will get your moments in the sun and they will become more and more frequent as time passes. Just in case you don’t believe me, please find a picture of my baby bat burrito son taken after one of our showers, which we take together now because we are crusty hippies! Doesn’t he look happy to have his daddy?!?

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Michael Carter is a tall, strapping archaeologist, with a flair for cooking, a green thumb, a great beard, and an adorable infant son who is looking more and more like his mother every day. His wife definitely did not write this bio.

I Think My Wife Hates Me

MICHAEL CARTER

Okay, you’ve got me; my wife does not in fact hate me (I think). I even suspect she might love me a small bit (admit it Sarah, you lub me!). There is, however, no denying the fact that since we had our son, the nature of our love has changed. I am not talking here about the cliché of her pouring all of her love onto our little boy without any of it spilling onto me. No, I am talking about the seemingly more trivial reality that she wants to scratch my eyes out every time I get a half decent night sleep or that her eyes go green with envy when I have not one but TWO hands to cook HER dinner with. I am also pretty sure she is developing a nervous tick from seeing me be able to pee without having to hold a screaming newborn baby on my lap. (Just to clarify here, unlike the previous sentence suggests, my wife does not in fact watch me pee…very often, at least.)

We all know having a baby is hard on the mother, but what about the dad? The mums have to be ready night or day to answer the call of a baby, and they have their bodies somewhat decimated not only by the birth itself but also by the subsequent slow bleeding of nutrients thanks to breastfeeding. Even with family and support, they can feel isolated, desperate, and very lonely. As a soon-to-be dad, I knew all this. I read the books and very early on decided I would be the rock upon which my wife could rest her weary head. I was adamant I would cook meals for my wife and freeze them so that she could pluck them out of the deep freezer when needs be and treat herself to a nutritious home cooked meal. Every weekend when back from work, I did the dishes, cleaned the bathroom, and did a lot of the laundry. I also made sure to look after her sanity by constantly telling her I love her and that she was doing an amazing job, and I always tried to keep her even-keeled when she was obsessing over small baby issues. I did all this diligently and I did more. I thought to myself, “With this level of support, we will sail through this easy.”

I was wrong.

I repeat, I WAS WRONG. My error was a critical one, although it was not one I can be blamed for making. I was not wrong in doing house chores and telling my wife I loved her (this stuff needs doing lads, so if you are not on it, GET ON IT). No, I was wrong in thinking that these things would matter to my wife’s sanity. For a long time, I did not understand this. I would stay up all night wondering what exactly I had done so wrong whilst my wife wept quietly to herself. Most of the time, I don’t think she knew I could hear her, but I did, and it kept chipping away at my heart. You see, lads, being a mother is not hard because you can’t get on efficiently enough with your daily chores. It’s hard because the baby is all-consuming, it’s all-impacting, and it just never ends. The meals I so lovingly prepped for my wife are still in the freezer not because she didn’t like them, but because the simple tasks of removing them from it and cooking them required a pair of extra hands and more cognitive ability than her sleep deprived brain could muster. My telling her ‘I love you’ or ‘You are doing an amazing job’ meant nothing in the face of her not being able to poop without a crying 4 month old on her lap. The gleaming shower that I spent 30 minutes scrubbing was nothing but a sparkly reminder of the unattainable bliss of a hot shower that lasted longer than 30 seconds. Having a child has eaten away at almost every fibre of my wife as an individual human being, and she became a quasi-hybrid of sorts, doomed to live out months and years as a shell of her former self.

I love my wife, shell and all, but I wish someone had warned me about this feeling of absolute powerlessness. We lads are wired in a certain way: if there is a problem, we ask what it is and try and fix it. It becomes very frustrating when your partner does not communicate the issue to you and you are left with something you can’t fix because you simply do not know what it is. Equally, it is heartbreaking to see your wife struggle or hear her cry in the dead of the night. To watch the love of my life break down as a human being was the hardest thing I ever did in my life, and is the crux of what makes being a dad tough. I have no advice for you in terms of how to deal with this. In fact, I don’t think there is a successful means of making this any easier on your partner. What I do know is that no matter how hard things seem for you as a father, they are infinitely harder for your partner.

Having that in mind, next time you want to say something to your wife about how she doesn’t appreciate what you do or how incredibly frustrating it is when she does not allow you to help with some emotional issues, just bite your tongue and get yourself a small beer from the fridge to settle your nerves. However, you’ll want to make sure she doesn’t see you drink it as she just might take your head clean off.

Michael Carter 13055498_10105487983414066_5138437718247450025_nis a tall, strapping archaeologist, with a flair for cooking, a green thumb, a great beard, and an adorable infant son who is looking more and more like his mother every day. His wife definitely did not write this bio.