For the last quarter century, I thought I knew what love was. I loved my husband. I loved my parents, my sisters, my friends. I loved coffee, books, bright Spring days, and walks on the beach. I was even pretty sure I loved the super hip area rug we found on clearance at the Home Depot. It felt good to love. All soft and mushy. Warm and safe. There I was, minding my own business, loving stuff and feeling great when the craziest thing happened…KIDS. Kids happened. And that’s when I learned the truth: Love Hurts.
Loving is heartbreaking.
“I don’t like you, you’re not my mommy anymore!” The first time you hear this, it’s like you’ve been punched in the gut.* While children don’t believe it, it hurts to take away a privilege or tell them no. My oldest daughter declared that she had the Worst. Parents. Ever. because we held our ground after saying no to something that probably wasn’t that big of a deal anyway. But at that point, we were committed and had to follow through, dammit, because that’s what good parents do.
Telling my 5-year-old that her grandmother had passed away, knowing the pain my words would cause her, was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It was the first time I really didn’t think I could handle something. Watching your little tiny baby infant board the school bus on the first day of kindergarten takes your breath away. And not in a good way, like a neon sign that reads, “76 ICE CREAM FLAVORS!”
Seeing your kid cry after a fight with a friend hurts because you hate to see your child upset but also because your spouse actually has to sit on you to keep you from “addressing the situation” with the friend.
Loving is frustrating.
There is nothing more exasperating than seeing your child suffer because of their own choices and an intense case of stubbornness (that they obviously inherited from their father). Frequently, they aren’t quite ready to learn from the consequences of their actions and so will continue to hurt and guess what? You’re the bad guy. “Yeah, I know it’s my fault you can’t go outside and play because you didn’t clean up the mess you made even though I gave you like SEVENTEEN HOURS to do it. Totally my bad.”
Love is scary.
Because of love, the most mundane things you do with your children can become terrifying. Going to a crowded park, for example, is a wonderful way to both raise your blood pressure and induce paranoia. All you have to do is look away for a second and suddenly your child is missing. Now everyone in the park is a potential predator. And you’ve stepped in dog poop.
Being a parent makes you the foremost authority on anything that can go catastrophically wrong. Though you are painfully aware of the risks your child faces, you also don’t want to scare the crap out of them so you find yourself giving lame answers and warnings that they just don’t buy.
- “Don’t climb on there, you’ll fall (and break your head/arm/leg/entire rib cage)!”
- “I know you want to spend the night at your friend’s house but it just won’t work this weekend (because there are five registered sex offenders within two miles of her house).”
- “Yes, you washed your hands a little while ago, but I need you to do it again please (because I watched you touch the bottom of your shoe like 16 times and the flu is going around and have you ever heard of MRSA???).”
Love is overwhelming.
Sure, sometimes the love you feel for your child doesn’t rip out your heart. Like when they want to cuddle or show you the picture they just colored. But even when it feels good, the strength of it can shock you. Like the time I was sharing a plate of nachos with my toddler. The plate almost empty, we both made a grab for the cheesiest remaining nacho. Without thinking, I let her have it. As a longtime connoisseur of nachos, I thought to myself, “Whoa. This love stuff is huge.” I would never have sacrificed the cheesiest nacho to my husband. I have, on occasion, sacrificed cheesy nachos to the area rug, but never intentionally.
Speaking of husbands, mine lets me spend as much money as I want, buys thoughtful gifts, and does dishes several times per week. He even cleans the toilets once or twice a year.** But if I thought for one single second that he would harm my children, I would throw him in front of a bus. This sounds a tad over-the-top but my point is that before having kids, he was my Numero Uno, the most important person in my life. I didn’t think anyone would ever be a bigger deal to me than him. I was wrong. Again. It’s not that I love him any less, in fact I’d say I love him more than ever. But now, instead of arguing about exotic things like where we’re going for dinner, we argue about who the idiot was that let my precious babies go outside to play so freaking close to bedtime on a school night when there is MAP testing in the morning and you know the little one has had a cold, seriously, what the hell is wrong with you. Kids change everything.
Love is worth it…I think.
This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you how all the heartbreak, frustration, and fear are worth it, that with this evolving definition of love, there is also much beauty and wonder, blah, blah, blah. I could quote the Bible and Tennyson and sing about how Love Was Made for Me and You.
While I’m sure all of that is true – Tennyson didn’t seem like the type to lie – I’m not going to do that. The thing is, I’m still too deep in the frustration, heartbreak, and fear to weave together words of comfort or wisdom about it. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE loving my kids. What I feel for them is helping (read: aggressively forcing) me to grow and change in countless ways. It’s making me stronger, smarter, braver, and is seniler a word? I like to think it’s doing that for them too, that all of this hard stuff is the path to raising them into strong, smart, and brave adults (they can get senile on their own time).
I think it is worth all the frustration, fear, and yes, the heartbreak. Or it will be. But right now, love hurts sometimes.
*By the 40th time, you’re pretty much over it so you’ve got that to look forward to.
**He hasn’t put away a single shoe since I met him in 1998, but hey, nobody’s perfect.