Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
I’m not sure if I have ever been happier to see a Friday roll around. This has been one of those weeks where I started to wonder if I was part of some secret experiment to see how 34-year-old women react to hours of physically and mentally exhausting work after being exposed to extreme sleep deprivation and constant noise.
Yesterday, at the same time my Will-To-Live-O-Meter dipped down near zero, I came across a picture taken shortly before we had kids. I was standing on a bridge on a summer day, smiling. I didn’t seem to be barely holding myself up under the weight of crushing exhaustion, and there probably weren’t any short people pulling at my pantleg and screaming. As I thought about the time when that photo was taken, I expected to be overcome with the wish to crawl into the picture and go back to that carefree existence. But I really didn’t. Even after a week like this, my life today is infinitely better than it was before. It’s crazy and noisy and unbelievably busy, but it’s full of life and deeply fulfilling. I even feel younger in some ways. But there is, without a doubt, one thing that I miss about my life before children:
Having this whole parenting thing all figured out.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I stopped taking new clients for my business so that I could just focus on learning about this whole baby thing. I met other likeminded pregnant women through Bradley childbirth classes and through my midwives, and boy did we form some opinions about parenthood! After enough book reading, online forum reading and in-person discussions with fellow first-time moms, I became a sort of one-stop shop for all answers as to the “right” way to parent.
In a way, my immense knowledge was burdensome, because it was hard to constantly run into parents who had no idea what they were doing! I met an acquaintance at a birthday party who mentioned that she’d wanted to breastfeed her baby, but gave up after a couple weeks because of low milk supply issues. While she listed off example after example of everything she’d tried to get nursing to work, all I could think was, Sounds like somebody’s not dedicated to breastfeeding! I hadn’t yet heard her specifically mention La Leche League, or drop the name of the most respected lactation consultant in town, or say that the pump she tried was hospital-grade, so I could not help but think that maybe she just wasn’t really trying.
Then there was my neighbor who frequently mentioned that she spent a lot of time cleaning up after her two-year-old, who had a penchant for pulling things out of draws and cabinets. How unnecessary! Every time I heard a story like this, I thought something along the lines of, Just get control of your kid! Simply teach him that he’s not supposed to do that and offer him alternative ways to amuse himself. Parroting something I’d read in some parenting book, I added, It’s all about setting consequences, making them clear, and enforcing them consistently!
Now that I’d dealt with the errors of that woman’s mothering, Old Jen Who Had it All Figured Out moved on to friends who let their kids watch TV. Had they not read the research? I wondered how to inform them politely that it is not ideal for young children to watch television, even for just an hour a day. “Instead of taking the easy way out and plopping your kids in front of the television,” I imagined myself saying to my unenlightened friends, “find some classic toys for them to play with—perhaps wooden blocks, or a wagon—or, better yet, read a book with your children to nurture their growing minds!”
All of those thoughts came flooding back as I looked at that old picture yesterday afternoon. Then a crashing sound caught my attention, and I turned around in time to see two of my kids dump out a box of books and begin throwing them at one another. My oldest child shouted from upstairs that he wanted to know if, theoretically, puddles of black ink are hard to get out of carpets. Then the baby started crying. I gathered the middle kids, put on an hour-long episode of Dora the Explorer, and implored them to LOOK AT THE NICE GLOWING SCREEN, ignoring their protests that they’d already seen it twice today. Then I tossed some formula into a bottle and popped it in the baby’s mouth, since even five lactation consultants had not been enough to help me to figure out breastfeeding.
When I flopped onto the couch with the baby, I saw that old picture on the table next to me. I realized then exactly what I miss about my pre-kid days: having all the answers. I’d like to have Old Jen Who Had it All Figured Out back. Because Current Jen Who Is Evidently Not Equipped to Parent Anything Other than a Chia Pet has learned many a hard lesson that she really, really does not have this whole motherhood thing all figured out.