Carolyn Hax: Feeling the grind and not the joy of parenthood

Carolyn Hax
Columnist March 16

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My husband and I always wanted children, and six months ago we were blessed with a wonderful, healthy baby girl. I love her to pieces, but whenever someone asks how I am “enjoying” motherhood, I guess the answer is . . . not all that much.

My husband and I had such a great life before this, and now I feel sucked into this vortex of constant, constant care that is mentally and physically draining. Yes, there are moments of joy, but most of the time is just a grind, mixed in with intense bouts of worry.

I do stay home with her full-time and work from home part-time, but my husband is extremely hands-on, and we have family nearby who will happily give us the occasional break. I know how incredibly lucky I am, especially to have a healthy child, but I sometimes fantasize about an alternate life of just my husband and me, traveling, going out to dinner, enjoying life as a couple for the rest of our lives.


(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)

I guess I’m just surprised that actually having a kid isn’t what I expected. Does this change as they get older? What is wrong with me that I don’t seem to be enjoying this?

For what it’s worth, I don’t have postpartum depression and am very loving with my daughter. I just haven’t seen much out there about these types of feelings and wonder if (and hope!) it gets better.

Blindsided

Your feelings are totally normal, and I’m sorry you haven’t found someone you can confide in about the numbing grind of baby care. It’s hard. Harder for some than others, and some babies are harder than others, but there’s little that’s easy about having someone depend on you constantly and completely.

So that’s the first thing I’d suggest — finding a sympathetic ear anywhere from old friends to a new mom’s group, by putting out feelers to see if you can safely talk about this.

You do have to be careful, because your very real feelings have the very real potential to upset, even offend someone who has infertility problems unknown to you, or who lost a baby.

I don’t say this to discourage you from speaking up — the feelings of both parties are valid — just to explain why discretion matters.

As for your other questions:

●Change is guaranteed — and yes, generally for the better. What an infant gives back to you is often very abstract. What a 10-year-old gives you is conversation, belly laughs, a new view of the world (and stinky socks and scares from which you think you’ll never recover, but typically more of the good stuff than bad).

●What is wrong with you? Nothing, most likely. You can’t know for sure till you get there, but you may be among those who vastly prefer older kids to babies. People all along the range of age preferences can be good parents, as long as they remain loving and committed through their non-preferred years.

It’s also possible — long-shot possible — that you misread your desire to be a parent, but the “love her to pieces” says otherwise.

So hang in there. Travel and dinners aren’t dead, they’re just on hiatus. Meantime, take those family-offered breaks, and savor them.

Tomorrow: Readers reminisce.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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