When you think about how many parents are in the world, it seems a little wild that the passage of parenthood feels so isolating. We collectively experience this shift in identity and are juggling more than ever before, and yet we are all collectively doing it alone.
What we go through, what we think, what we feel … it's all swept under the rug in the name of “Keep on Keepin’ on.” Like hamsters on a wheel, we sometimes don’t even realize that we are spinning until we implode (experience anxiety and depression) or explode (take out our overwhelm on those closest to us). And sometimes we are scared to show our struggle because we want to appear to be a “good” parent and we think the qualifications to get there include having it all together. But the truth is, it is okay not to be okay. The truth is, no one has it all together.
Our sacrifices are romanticized when in reality, parenting is hard. Some of us are struggling. Some of us are really, really struggling. And feeling alone when we are beings wired for attachment and connection feels like a threat to our nervous system.
10 Feelings You May Be Feeling As A Parent
Here are 10 feelings you may be feeling as a parent. There’s a good chance you aren’t talking about these feelings because they are the unpleasant, challenging ones. They are the ones we fear others will judge us for, and they are the feelings we criticize ourselves for. It is when we notice and call out what we are feeling, and share it with another, that we begin to find our way back to ourselves.
Parenthood is a lonely hood. About 56% of parents with children under five say they feel lonely and about 23% feel isolated. And here’s the thing about loneliness: Our brain registers it as a threat and it sends us into a protective response, which means we become reactive or we shut down, isolating us even more. We are constantly striving to do and be more, and it has shifted us away from relationships and meaningful socialization. We are all looking for our village, whether it be family or a like-minded parent group. Yet, we feel the sting of old relationships sloughing off. We feel distant from our partners. And we feel disconnected from ourselves as we attempt to organize the disjointed pieces of who we once were and who we are now. The more isolated we feel, the less likely we are to reach out for help or connection.
They say our children are mirrors, often reflecting back the wounded parts of us - the parts we had to suppress, deny, or dismiss in our childhood. And when we see these same traits and emotions in our children, it triggers the unconscious coded parts of us. The past is brought to the present and we respond now as we had to back then. Additionally, because anger is often a secondary emotion, it masks many other things. Our sadness, jealousy, discomfort, hurt, and fear (among other emotions) may present themselves as anger. Automatic anger outbursts are what happens when the words and tools don’t come to express what is underneath.
It seems like everything is laden with guilt when you become a parent. We feel guilty for staying home because we don’t feel like we are “providing” for our family or we feel guilty for working and being away from our children during their most critical years. We feel guilty for the decisions we made, and those we didn’t. We feel guilty every time we go out with our friends or date our husbands and we feel guilty when we turn down invitations to stay home with our kids. We feel guilty every time we are sharp with our children or don’t take the time to play. Guilt is always there to greet us.
From the moment we realize we are going to be parents and every step along the way, we debate our worthiness to guide our children. Am I good enough for the job? Most of us, under the insurmountable pressure to get it right (as if there is some benchmark of rightness), feel deeply insecure that we aren’t qualified. Because of the way the world currently spins, social media is saturated with distorted portrayals of what it means to “parent well.” This perpetuates a cycle of feeling insecure, causing us to set unrealistic goals of perfection, and thus leads to more feelings of inadequacy.
It is an incredible blow to the ego when you realize that, as a parent, you don’t control nearly as much as you think you do, and certainly not as much as you would like to. We control our thoughts, feelings, words, and actions, but not our children’s. We influence and guide what happens in our home, and yet once they step out of the door and into their day, they shift outside of our jurisdiction, so to speak. We can’t control what someone else says or does in front of them or to them (and good news, we don’t have to because our connection has a “bubble-wrap” effect for protective factors). And as our children begin to find their independence, especially as they move into teens and young adults, we realize that our primary role is a sideline coach. Parenting is the ultimate contradiction of holding on and letting go.
Did you know that parental anxiety is a thing … like a real, relevant thing? That explains why I am constantly in my head replaying scenarios and/or imagining scenarios that haven’t even occurred, all in the name of protecting and loving my child. In our worry, we sometimes attempt to shield our children or we may engage in avoidance behaviors, removing our children from those experiences we fear most. As funny as it sounds, our brain is comforted when we think up every worst-case scenario and then worry about them. It is like if we worry enough then maybe we can control things and they will all go the way we desire them to go. Deep down, though, we know otherwise. The best way to decipher if you are parenting from fact over fear is to ask yourself if there is any evidence of what you are worried about. If there is evidence, ask yourself if worrying will change the outcome or be helpful to you and your child. The answer to that last one is always no.
Nothing drains you nor fills you quite like being a parent. Our sense of self shifts and we become enmeshed with this other human’s needs and wants. It makes sense as they depend on us to survive, and yet we cannot deny that we move further down the priority list to the point that our basic necessities go unmet. Things like peeing when we have to pee, relaxing when we need to revive, eating when we are hungry, and connecting when we need to connect. Add to that, our senses are overloaded more than ever before, and because our systems are drained, our threshold shifts. This leads to a sense of overwhelm. If you are looking to understand your overwhelm, read here.
I think this one is self-explanatory. There is a reason sleep deprivation is a form of torture. And us parents are expected not only to thrive but to keep our cool and play and do all the things from an empty tank. We are exhausted by the multiple mid-night wakeups … by the never-ending to-do list … by wearing all the hats … by the need to be “on” all the time. If you’re wondering where all of that leads to, jump up one heading to “overwhelmed.” It all makes sense.
Maybe you feel resentment toward your kids. Maybe your partner or your friends or someone in your family. I have read that resentment is a source of self-abandonment. Self-abandonment is the way we keep ourselves safe and control our external environments. One way we do this is by saying yes to all things in an attempt to people please. Instead, ask yourself, “Do I want to be held accountable for this?” This will guide your yes and no responses so that you speak from a more authentic space, which ultimately decreases your level of resentment.
If you have ever done or said something you regret, welcome to the Parent Club. We all mess up, it is part of our human experience. Yet sometimes we become stuck in these loops of regret. One of the most profound things you can do to curb your regret is to apologize. Forgiving yourself and others, and offering space for others to forgive you is liberating.
If you are feeling any, or all, of these emotions, you are not alone. These emotions are data. Listen to their wisdom. They will tell you about where you are and what you want.
We are a community of parents figuring it out together. There is space for all of us, in all of our feelings, and we all deserve to feel seen, heard, and loved.