Monday, February 20, 2012

Parenting Myth(o)s: Just You Wait

When I was pregnant I wrote a couple of posts about maintaining the mythos of motherhood. Basically, I noticed that part of the cultural norm surrounding pregnancy seems to be complaining about it a lot. That's not to say that it doesn't suck sometimes (it does), but it just seemed interesting to me how much we were encouraged to point out how much it sucked: encouraged by media, by friends, and--perhaps most of all--other pregnant women.

I think that some of this might to be to combat the potential trivializing of motherhood in general and pregnancy in particular. Pointing out those swollen ankles, annoying doctor's visits, the constant need to pee, etc. ensures that other people will recognize the difficulties of pregnancy. Pregnancy is a physically, emotionally, and culturally taxing job--but it can also be thankless.

I'm no longer pregnant, but I've noticed that this mythos maintenance extends to parenting as well.

Posts like this one from STFU, Parents, this follow-up post on the subject of mothers who expect special treatment, and debates over banning children from restaurants or airplanes all illustrate the problematic intersection between parents' and non-parents' perspectives on the world. Parenting can be all-consuming, and it can make you recognize that the lens of raising children makes you look at the world distinctly differently than those around you--or than you did in the past. Sometimes this is an inspiring and refreshing view; other times it is a frustrating feeling of isolation.

And I think it's that feeling of frustration and isolation that leads us to make sure that we're pointing out the negatives of parenting. It can range from a snarky response on a Facebook post ("You think you're tired now? Just wait til you have a colicky baby!") to a full-blown group rant about the horrors of diaper changes.

I'm not judging, and I'm guilty of it, too. I'm sure it even serves a purpose--community building,  legitimizing our efforts as parents. (For the record, I also don't think this is limited just to parents. Us grad students like to complain about our plight--when my husband gets together with lawyer friends they lament their legal woes. I think that group complaining can play an important role in bonding.)

But this game of one-upmanship can get exhausting. When I was pregnant, the slightest negative comment would often be met with a "just-you-wait." I'd say my back was sore. "Oh, just you wait. Once the baby gets here you'll be so exhausted you'll wish you just had a sore back."

And once my daughter was born, a complaint about--say--her refusal to sleep would be met with another one. "Oh, just you wait until she's mobile!"

Now that she's a toddler, if I say how frustrating it is to try to change her diaper when she's doing jumping jacks on the changing table, "Oh, just you wait until she can talk back."

I can imagine this goes on forever "Just you wait until she's a teenager." "Just you wait until she goes to college." "Just you wait. . ."

I didn't talk about this much at the time, but some of these comments in the early days of my daughter's life sent me into a near panic. She was jaundiced and had to go back to the hospital after her initial release. It was terrifying and overwhelming. There I was, two days postpartum and still recovering physically, sleeping on a hospital cot and watching my tiny new baby squirm under those eerie blue lights. Then, once we got home, she nursed constantly. She nursed for forty-five minutes at a time every two hours. She was physically attached to me almost half of the day--literally. I was exhausted. I missed my job. I felt really alone.

And whenever I tried to talk to someone about it, all I could hear was those "just-you-waits." I'm sure that people said other things. Encouraging things. Lovely things. But those just-you-waits loomed large. They made me feel like if I couldn't hack it now, I was doomed. It only gets harder.

I'm happy to say that isn't the case (or at least it isn't the case for me). For me, parenting a toddler is a lot easier than parenting an infant. It's not a breeze. It takes work. And I still get frustrated and overwhelmed from time to time, but having a mobile kid who can interact with me is way easier than feeling like this tiny, immobile, completely dependent creature is waiting for me to attend to her every whim.

All that to say to anyone who might be feeling overwhelmed at the moment, "Just you wait. Things will change. It will get better."


  1. This echoes another blog post I just read at a Jewish parenting blog, Kveller: . And you're both echoing something I've been keenly aware of while loving being a parent to my first child, now 6 months old: Things are always changing so quickly, that it's important to enjoy what's going on right now, rather than wish it was over. I was expecting to find the first weeks, months, etc, to be such a trial - but instead I find myself loving about 95% of it, and wishing a lot of it would last longer. I agree that so many of the "just you wait!" statements seem now, looking back, to be little more than bitterness and resentment, designed to strip me of my happiness and excitement at what I hoped was coming, and replace it with pre-emptive bitterness and resentment of my own. A bit of "misery loves company". I'll stop rambling now - just wanted to say I totally agree :)

  2. I don't have a child...but the "just you wait"'s irritate the future parent in me, although I can see how a sensitive me would feel as you do. Thanks for saying it! While it's not specifically related, I've found that a bigger picture view always helps me. In leading a well-balanced life, I find I'm better able to counteract those who want to pull me down next to them. That being said, I hope I can remember this when I'm a new mom!