What the Parenting Books Don't Tell You: It's OK to Feel Ambivalent About Your Kid
I know. You spend months and months pregnant, waiting for your baby to arrive. Maybe it even took you like three years of fertility treatments to conceive, and you had five miscarriages. Or hey, maybe you paid your life savings to adopt a child from another country and then you also had to wade through a bunch of international bureaucratic bullshit just to do the one thing you wanted to do most: become a parent.
You’re supposed to fall in love with your child, right? At first sight? There’s supposed to be lots of bonding and happy gooey feelings. Except sometimes there’s not. You may feel ambivalent about your child and your role as his or her parent.
And that is totally fine, even if you went through a lot of heartbreak of the emotional and/or financial kind to become a parent. Many parents do not immediately fall in love with their children, and some of them even kind of resent them at times. Surprise!
Not bonding immediately with your kid is totally normal. You know what else is normal? Wishing you were still pregnant instead of dealing with this baby who seems to cry every 90 minutes for no apparent reason. Wanting your own mom to swoop in and make everything better when your baby cries. Having “what was I thinking” moments. Not being sure if you like this whole mom thing. Missing your grown-up time before it became all-baby-all-the-time.
Look at it this way: You brought a total stranger into your home, and even if that stranger is an adorable little helpless baby, it’s going to take some time to adjust. Not only do you have to take some time to get to know each other, but bringing a new person into the mix changes the dynamic of your home.
Babies can change the way you relate to the other adults, children, and pets in your house. It’s new energy. Maybe everything will blend together seamlessly, or maybe you will wonder why you thought you wanted to do this parenting thing.
My friends had their second child a few years ago, and I still remember their response when I asked them what it was like having two children: “Pure hell.” That is an actual quote, and they were completely serious, too, in a refreshingly honest way.
There was no sugar coating it, like Oh well, we’re tired but we just love our little family soooo much that it more than makes up for the lack of sleep! No, they said how they felt -- and they felt like they were in hell. I mean, of course they loved their kids, but also having two of them was hell.
What I’m saying is, there is a wide range of normal in parental/child/family relationships, and if you’re worried that you don’t love your new baby enough or you aren’t bonding as fast as you should, don’t worry. Give it time, and it will all fall into place.
So when exactly does it fall into place? Someday. I know that “someday” is not at all helpful and in fact may be a really annoying answer, but I’m not you so I can’t tell you when you will feel things or not. Some people immediately bond with their kids, and for some people the process can take years (I’m not joking).
For me, I felt completely lost right after I had Oliver, and I wanted nothing more than to go back to just being pregnant again, because being pregnant was easy and happy, and being a parent was a harsher reality. But I also loved nothing more than just holding my baby in my arms and looking at him.
And then for a long time, what felt like months, I kind of didn’t know how I felt about this new phase of my life. Or him. I had moments where I felt like I loved him so much I could burst, and other moments where I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. I even imagined what my life would be like if I had NOT had a child -- and yes, sometimes I wished that I hadn’t. And yet at the same time I loved him so much I couldn't breathe when I thought about how much I loved him.
I feel silly saying that now, because of course my kid is the best human being I’ve ever met and I wouldn’t trade him for anything. I love being his mom and I am certain he is the reason I was put on this planet. But it took some time and patience with myself to get this point. And here's another mind-blowing thing: Not all parents feel this way about their kids (and that's OK, too).
So tell me: did you go through a phase of ambivalence after you became a parent? Are you feeling unsure or conflicted about the whole thing right this minute? Do you have an older child and still have moments where you wonder what the hell you've done to yourself? Also, do you want a series of “What the Parenting Books Don’t Tell You” posts? I have oodles of stuff I would love to share with you guys.
Somer is on Twitter: @somersherwood