A fellow mom and I were having lunch last summer. I was venting to this fellow trench-mate; my baby's naps were becoming shorter and less frequent, it was increasingly difficult to find time in the day to get things done with a baby fused to my exoskeleton, blah blah blah. She nodded sympathetically, then said
"Welcome to parenthood!"
It's probably meant as an attempt at inclusion, a "welcome to the club" rite of passage muttered by weary parents who have been beaten down by years of sleepless nights, projectile vomiting and tantrums. But I didn't take it that way, and I'm going to ask all well-meaning (and not-so well-meaning) people who throw out this trite cliché to just stop it.
"Welcome to parenthood" diminishes the parent. It stops the conversation. The subtext is "quit your whining, it's tough all over," which is probably the worst message you can send to a new parent who is struggling. Everyone tells you pre-children to "get your sleep now, because you won't sleep much once the baby arrives!" or "start a savings account now because kids are expensive!" As though sleep, like money, were bankable, a commodity you could stockpile - in case of insomnia, break glass and remove pillow. But nobody can prepare you for the reality. Parenting is hard work. And it doesn't end, ever. I can barely remember the first few months with my first baby - I ate little, slept never and cried constantly. Maternity leave killed our income to the point where we often made decisions about whether it was more important to put gas in the car or food on the table. Parenting is supposed to be hard and I'm allowed to struggle. Instead of "welcoming" me to the club, how about offering to watch the baby for 30 minutes while I peel off my week-old yoga pants and wash the nest of hibernating squirrels out of my hair?
Which brings me to my next point. "WTP" is trumped only by its sister-phrase "Well, you wanted children." If you want to watch me hit bitch-rage (you know, just for fun) then toss out this crowd-pleaser. Yes, I wanted children. There's a chasm of difference between acknowledging the struggle and wishing I had made different choices. Anything worth having in this life is worth working and fighting for. I also wanted to get my my own car but find parallel parking and highway driving to be challenging. I bought my own home but struggle with flooding, a faulty air conditioner and flooring that looks and feels like it was installed by a band of coked-out chimps. Why not share our observations about the journey without getting hit with platitudes? Has anyone ever told you "welcome to driving"?
Last year I visited another friend who had a new baby. I brought her lunch. I brought her chocolate. I brought gifts. I listened while she talked. I watched the baby while she showered, then bathed the baby while she cleaned the nursery. I left so they could both nap. Happy mommy, happy baby. That is how you welcome someone to parenthood.