I never planned on having kids. I liked kids, loved cooing over babies, was over the moon when friends and family would tell me they were pregnant. But I deeply, deeply resented — and still do — the idea that children were a woman’s “obligation” (whoa, effing screw that), or that they were necessary to complete one’s self (what a terrible burden to place on a child. I’ve said it before — no other person should be expected to “complete” you).
I was also sort of terrified that I’d be a horrible parent.
Part of it was that I was essentially told, from a very young age, that I would be terrible at it. First, it would be amazing if I could attract a man “looking and acting the way [I did],” and then, if somehow I managed that astounding feat, no man would want to stick around because I was selfish, lazy, overly-emotional, and a slob. God, with a ringing endorsement like that — from my own family, no less — is it much of a surprise that I was scared to death of having to take care of a child?
The worst part was, I knew there was some truth to what they said. I know now it’s less about laziness or being overly-emotional as it was about ADHD, Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, and the fact that, frankly, my parents were utter crap at a number of parenting scenarios themselves (i.e., dealing with a kid with an obvious mental illness (chronic anxiety) and neurodivergence) — but still. I lived (and continue to live, a lot of the time) very much inside my own head; I had serious issues with time management, memory, etc. How in God’s name was I going to take care of a kid?
The early months were tough; I spent a lot of time in tears, not sleeping, barely eating. But I kept Bear fed (I nursed; I am incredibly luckily this was a possibility for me, because it took away a lot of steps when it came to getting Bear fed), cuddled him, read to him, kept him dry, and — ok — maybe bathed him a little less frequently than I strictly should have, but hey, he was getting more baths than I was at the time, so I’m not going to feel too guilty about it.
But now he’s four. He walks and talks and uses the potty. He can dress himself, brush his own teeth, get himself simple snacks, pick up toys, help sort laundry and put away silverware, and feed the cat. He says please and thank you, apologizes when he does something wrong (…sometimes with prompting), and wants to be everybody’s friend. He’s learning to read, can count to forty, and can telll you more about the zones of the ocean or the planets (and dwarf planets!) or the solar system than you could hope to know. I think we’re doing just fine.
Here’s a few thoughts:
First of all, screw the pressure put on moms to be hyper-competent. No one was telling my husband every five minutes that he wouldn’t be a good dad because of X, Y, and Z (note: my husband has a Dx., and is also neurodivergent). No one told that to my dad, or my brother-in-law, or any of my male friends. Does it get said? Do men sometimes hear that? Oh, hell, yes, I’m sure it does, and I’m sure they do. But I seriously, seriously doubt it’s with nearly the same frequency. Every time parenting was the topic of conversation, it was always clear from the way people framed it that the assumption was the onus of responsibility was going to be on me — even though my husband was right there. Like — right there.
If you have a partner? Treat them like a partner. Give yourself room to breathe and space to recharge. If you have ADHD, all the mental an emotional weight that all new moms face are going to be ten times worse for you, at least initially.
If you have family, use them for support. If friends ask how they can help, give them concrete, performative tasks to do — you will need emotional support, yes, but you know what else you’ll need? Someone to bring over dinner. Someone to do the laundry. Someone to watch the baby for five minutes while you finally wash your goddamn hair.
Do not read parenting boards. Seriously. Effing stop. If you’re a mom in the throws of the post-partum hormone hellstorm, and you already have ADHD-related RSD on top of that, stay the hell away. I thought, in the weeks after having my son, it would be nice to download some parenting social networking apps on my phone — ugh, yeah. Lo and behold, they were full of some of the nastiest, most judgmental, petty, and catty people, and they made me rage. Like, fully body, physical reaction rage. Don’t do it.
See, the hardest part of early parenting was the emotional stuff — I was hormonal, I was stressed, I was emotionally over-extended, and I already felt judged — and the biggest obstacle I had to overcome was to realize that I wasn’t alone in this journey and that there were things I could do to ease my burden. I could have people bring over food and buy heat and eat meals. I could use disposable plates. I could take shifts with my husband so we could each get some sleep. I could pump so my husband could take feeding shifts. My family used to tell me all the time I’d make a crappy parent because I was “selfish,” but Jesus — what happened to “it takes a village?” I was lucky — and I know not everyone is as lucky, I understand that — to have a network. But I had a network. Why did people act like I would have to do it alone?
The rest was exactly what I’ve been saying in so, so many entries over the last year — scaffolding. Putting systems in place. We baby proofed the house months in advance. I set timers, round the clock, for feedings, and kept a notebook to track which side he latched on at each feeding. I bought a bassinet on wheels so he traveled with me, and I baby-wore as much as I could. Eventually, I eased into it. Eventually — and this is going to sound weird, but seriously — eventually parenting became a habit. And it got easier. And I needed less support, and less scaffolding.
And now, I might actually be a decent mom. I hope.
Time will tell, I guess. But I feel pretty good about it.