The Dichotomy of Parenting

Mothering Heights - Claire Smith

Mothering Heights - Claire Smith - Credit: Archant

I’M A WEEK back from the five days away from my children. You know, the break that I so desperately needed, yet spent missing them. Now I’m home and around the kids 24/7, I have come to realise something - parenting is a dichotomy. It is split into two parts, a constant contrast of mutually exclusive, opposing feelings.

I’ll explain better.

Even though we love our children more than anything in the world, we also look for opportunities to have some time out from them. I’m pretty sure it’s the reason that parents are so tired. Feeling two entirely opposite emotions at the same time can be exhausting, because as a parent you can be weary, frustrated and complaining about your kids but still love them, and your life.

It starts at their birth and I’m not sure it ever goes away. Each developmental stage brings a conflict of feeling - you want something so badly then actually need it to go away for a while. Parenting is full of contradictory forces.

With a new-born, we’re so desperate for them to sleep yet are anxious when they actually do sleep. To a point where we check to see if they’re still breathing, only to often wake them up in the process, then desire that they go back to sleep.


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We’re eager to bring on their speech then wish they would just shut up for a minute. Because, really, how many times can you answer the question “Why?”.

We encourage our toddlers to be on the move then will them to just stay still for a bit so we can get stuff done.

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Our family lives in domestic bliss, but we’re at our most dysfunctional when we’re all together.

We love them so much but please, just go away and play now.

It appears that unconditional love can, in fact, have conditions. My love for them is so overwhelming that sometimes I need a rest from it because I’m so fatigued. I can say that on top of feeding, comforting, dressing, entertaining, teaching and loving my children, the remaining hours of parenting is trying not to swear at them. Never have I felt so much love and dislike in a day.

I’m at my very best as a parent when they are asleep. But if they wake, my desire to watch TV is conflicted with my need to comfort my child. You can have a nightmare but only if it is within the space of a commercial break.

Being around my kids this week has also made me realise that children have a little dichotomy of their own going on. Yesterday I was coughing badly from a piece of food caught in my throat and my daughter said “Are you okay now, Mummy, I’m worried. Can you get me some juice?” Okay, I’ll just grab you that drink then perform a tracheotomy.

The kids whinge and whine to have friends over, then either gang up against them or just simply ignore them for the hours that they’re here.

They can’t stand to be around their siblings but when one is out of the mix, the others spend the whole time asking when he/she is home.

It is true to say that there is also a dichotomy going on in the actual parenting of these children. The parenting styles between my husband and me can be dissimilar. Often we’re on the same page but often we’re conflicting. A certain amount of dichotomy in parenting isn’t a bad thing because each parent relates to the child in a different way. Of course the danger lies in the way that the child relates to the parent – that one is strict and the other is lenient. Fun Daddy vs Draconian Mummy, as is often the case here at bedtime.

Yet it is these very dichotomies that keep us going. Parenting is the hardest job you’ll ever love. I think most parents wouldn’t trade anything for their experiences with their kids but they also have a concurrent longing for a responsibility-free life style.

In fact, the ultimate dichotomy is that once your child turns 18 and moves away, they’ve finally become a human being you actually want to be around.

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