They say hindsight is 20/20, meaning that after an event has occurred, you see it with a sense of clarity that you may not have had while it was happening.
I’d like to suggest that in parenting, hindsight can also be forgiving. Merciful, even. It has a tendency to gloss over the details, making us a little blasé about the stages we’ve already passed through. On the other hand, maybe it’s the lack of REM sleep that makes our memories foggy.
Recently, I got a crystal-clear glimpse into my parenting past when I stumbled on to a letter I’d written to myself exactly four years earlier, when my kids were two and six. I don’t recall my motivation at the time, but it’s apparent in the letter that I was feeling ineffective and downtrodden. Reading it now, I see that I was caught up in a sort of Bermuda Triangle of motherhood, where the three points were fatigue, guilt and worry. Here are some excerpts from the letter, in each category.
Four years ago, here’s what I wrote to myself about my younger son’s less-than-desirable sleep routine:
“He still wakes up for a bottle, every night, about 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. This week, you are trying to transition him to a big-kid bed, and it isn’t going smoothly. He wakes up, isn’t able to settle himself back down, and calls out for you (“Mom? Where are you?”). It’s hard. Plus it makes you so tired all the time because you haven’t gotten an uninterrupted night’s sleep in over two years.”
The ongoing exhaustion certainly contributed to my guilty feelings about the challenge of getting my older son to kindergarten on time:
“We often arrive late to school. This is a hot-button issue for you, not just because you’re a former teacher, but because you want to be a responsible parent, be organized, and teach the life skill of being on time for things. But it is not going well. You can’t get up earlier because you’re already sleep deprived and clinging to every last minute of rest you can get. Sometimes the baby sleeps late, or poops just when you need to be leaving. The whole thing ends up being very frustrating and stressful.”
Adapting the morning routine yielded even worse feelings:
“Some days, you make a conscious decision to avoid rushing, telling yourself that it’s worth it to be five minutes late if it’s a positive experience and everyone remains calm and starts the day in a good way. Still, you beat yourself up about it and feel embarrassed when signing in at the main office. It feels like a lame, half-assed way to run your day. But something has to give, and right now, it’s the first 30 minutes of kindergarten.”
I’m a worrier by nature anyway, but becoming a parent sent me into overdrive:
“Some days you feel happy and good, but other days it seems like everything is an ordeal or a huge task. You try to stay positive and appreciate this special time in the boys’ lives. You wonder if it will in fact get easier from here. Right now, you’re consumed with how often to use time-outs as a behaviour modification strategy and when to start toilet training. That’s a flaw of yours – getting ahead of yourself with worry. You’ve got plenty on your plate to cope with right now.”
In a rare moment of lucidity, the letter ends with:
“You just have to tell yourself you’re doing a great job, and remember you’re so lucky to be here with these two healthy and wonderful kids. You have to keep following your instincts and believe that they will turn out fine. I wanted to put some details in this letter so you’ll be able to look back accurately on this stage in your life. Who knows, maybe hindsight will be able to show you that these things weren’t such a big deal after all.”
At the time, stuck in my self-imposed Mom Bermuda Triangle, I doubt that I believed my own encouraging words or had any confidence that I knew what I was talking about. Four years later, I can see that I was doing just fine, and maybe I still am. Thanks, hindsight.