Long Days and Short Years

just trying to pay attention so I don't miss my life

How Having Children Ruined my Life {Now a Series}

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Once upon a time (okay, it was 10 months ago) I wrote a post called How Having Children Ruined my Life.  What I didn’t know then is that a lot of people were thinking this very thing.

The blog-hosting site I use has a ‘stats’ page that shows how many visitors land in my particular corner of the internet and what they read while they are here.  I mostly avoid this information like the plague, as it brings out every junior high insecurity that I thought I shed (ahem) two decades ago.

But there are two stats that I check regularly.  The first is a map of the world showing the number of readers per country.  It is (you may hear my junior high voice here if you like) just so freakin cool to have readers from Australia, Tanzania and Qatar.  The reach of the internet astounds me sometimes.

Number two helpful stat has to do with search engine terms.  Simply put, I can see how people got to my blog, and if they came via a search engine, I can see what it was they googled.  It’s fascinating, though, in the case of my blog, a little depressing.  The vast majority of the search terms say something like “having kids ruined my life”, “my baby ruined my body”, or “my children ruined my marriage.”

You get the theme.  Something very precious to me (life, marriage, body) is now ruined, and I think it began about the time that baby showed up.

Oh, how I get this.

****

For me, the lowest point came early.  She was only five months old, and it was Mother’s Day.  We were staying with friends on the other side of the state.  She was sick, and all she wanted to do was nurse, nurse, nurse.  I was also sick, and wanted sleep more than anything I have ever wanted in my life.  But no.  In five months, she had never slept for more than three hours at a time.

She wasn’t about to start now.

And I felt trapped.  Cornered.  The feeling had been building for months.  Raw memories of her traumatic birth, my failure at birthing,  still gnawed on me.  I couldn’t walk across a room without searing pain.  Every night came with dread and panic.  I was drowning, and the waves went on forever.

Sometimes I fantasized about being so sick that I would be sent to the hospital, just so I could sleep for one night.  But no.  Here I was, sick as a dog, and she was still demanding.  Still screaming.  There was no way out.  It would never end.

The dam burst.

“I HATE being a Mother,” I sobbed, “I hate it, hate it, hate it.  I just want out.  I just want this all to be over.  I’m done, I’m ruined.  Everything is ruined.”

And oh, how I meant it.

****

Ruin: to spoil or destroy something.  

Ruins: the remains of a building, city, etc., that has been destroyed or that is in disrepair or a state of decay; a fallen, wrecked, or decayed condition: The building fell to ruin.

And this image grows in my mind–a row of dilapidated houses, broken windows, crumbling walls.  Lives destroyed.  Marriages in a state of decay.  Long city streets full of vacant houses, waiting to be demolished.

Ruined is a very strong word.  Ruined implies that any good is now past tense.  After all, once the floorboards have rotted and the roof shows sky, can it provide shelter again?  Once a house has been neglected and deserted, can it ever house a family again?

Once a life has been ruined, can it live again?

And the answer, my friends, is a definite maybe.

****

Renovate:  

1.  to restore to good condition; make new or as if new again; repair.

2.  to reinvigorate; refresh; revive.

I live in the midst of both ruin and renovation.  Pittsburgh is a rust belt city, which basically means that the end of our industrial ‘glory days’ left a lot of vacant houses and factories in its wake.  Most of these buildings were built more than a century ago.  Some neighborhoods have recovered more quickly that others; but, as a city, we still have a long way to go.

Each house is a painstaking process.  A century of wear plus decades of neglect cannot be easily overcome.  It would be much easier to just tear them all down and begin again.  Demolition. Sometimes it is the only reasonable way forward.

But sometimes there is another way.  Renovation.  Sometimes if you scrape and paint, and pull up the cracked linoleum, an old house will begin to reveal its treasures.  Sometimes if you strip away the layers, something begins to emerge that we call character, as in ‘Those houses in the city have so much character.’  There is something rich here, something deep, that cannot be recreated without a century of wear and many long weekends of work.

There is something to this concept of renovation that makes ‘ruined’, in hindsight, an important chapter in a meaningful story.  But renovation is not automatic.  The path of least resistance is always decay; renovation is a purposeful, continual choice.

Eight years ago I married both my husband and his century-old house.  Since then, I have learned more than I knew there was to learn about sill boards, leaking chimneys, and copper plumbing.  Then we had two babies in two years, and the wear and tear on our house (literally and figuratively) increased a hundredfold.

Sometimes I think that it may just fall down.

But there are tools of renovation, and when I use them (or submit to them), there is hope for this weary mother who no longer hates her life.  I will list three tools I know well.  They shape me even as I sit here and type.

One)  Find people who are for you.  As in, not against you, but for you.  On your team.  Cheering you along.  Helping you back up when you fall down.  And here’s the real trick…  some of them must be physically present in your everyday life.  Not on facebook, not across town.  If you can get them to move in up the street, do that.  Because the isolated nuclear family model is absolutely toxic.  You cannot do this on your own.  You need a cheering squad, a pit crew, and someone who owns a pickup truck.  As a minimum.  Call them now and set up coffee.  I’ll wait here.

Two)  Make time and space to do the things you love to do.  Grow in the things that give you life.  You.  Not your kids, not your spouse, not your mother.  You.  The person who is not just a parent but is also an artist, a musician, an athlete, a _________________ .

You’ll have to fight for this one, and perhaps you will find that the biggest battle comes from the inside.  As a good friend of mine used to say, “We love the misery we know more than the mystery we don’t know.”  It’s scary and constant, but do it anyway.  If you don’t find a way to be poured into, you will be a dry well, fulfilling your obligations and enduring each day.  Please don’t do this to yourself and the people around you.  You have things, unique to you, that give you life.  Pursue them, and overflow.

Three)  Pray, and if you don’t know how, ask someone to do it for you.  I am aware that I may lose some of you at this point, but as I reflected on what I had to share, I just couldn’t ignore this.  Praying, real praying, is not pious or polite or carefully constructed.  It’s more like finally getting it out, getting it all out with snot and stuttering to that friend who is listening as you cry.  It’s like screaming at your ceiling, “Are you even listening to me?!?  I can’t take this much longer!” or grinning at the sky, “You really think you’re funny, don’t you?”  It’s like whispering “thank you” or “help, please, help” when you can’t think of anything else to say.

When I was in the middle of that horrible first year, I had a hard time praying.  Simply put, I was mad at God and didn’t want to talk to him or her.   So I fell apart at church, and someone prayed for me.  I told people that I was struggling, and they put their hands on my back.  Healing, peace, love, joy… they just kept asking, for me, when I couldn’t get the words out.  And slowly, softly, things began to change inside and outside of me.

Slowly, softly, I was being renovated, and it goes on today.  

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15 thoughts on “How Having Children Ruined my Life {Now a Series}

  1. I think people really love your honesty Jen. I know I do. Yes children are a joy, yadda yadda. But true joy only happens through a great struggle I think…not by hiding the mess behind carefully placed facades of “having it all together.” God seems to be using all of that to bring you even closer: closer to Him, closer to your gifts, closer to others who love and care for you. If only we will be receptive to that teaching. (I say this for myself too of course!) We are all still great renovation works in progress. 🙂 What a great metaphor!

    I couldn’t help but think of my boyfriend Tom in this when you were talking about renovating houses (since that’s what he does for a living!). I thought of walking through his current project: a massive 8 bedroom house that was formerly a hoarder’s house. It was quite a mess and still far from the thing of beauty it will become. He and his mentor were going through each room and speaking of how they would transform that particular room…they got excited, feeding off of each other’s vision of what is not yet in existence. I could imagine it too, in my mind’s eye and felt the excitement in my own heart.

    I think that’s what God and our supporters do with us. They see us as we could be…even more, as we are: Beloved, in spite of the mess. We have to lean into those words and the vision of what we could be…which is far better than what we could imagine with our own limited, world-weary eyes.

    • I also had to add for sake of keeping in line with my full theology: Restore means that you are bringing it back to it’s “intended” state. So, we are created to be beautiful, the frenzy of our broken life runs us down…we listen to the lies it tells about us. But we believe that we will be brought back to the place we were meant to be. The bones of the big house show the story that it once was an amazing house…it will be once again. Having the eyes of the Restorer is to have eyes to see the beauty that was, is and will be.

    • Oh Tricia, you made me tear up this morning. Well said.

      (And it also makes me smile because my kindergartner (you know who) still talks about “Mr. Tom’s yucky and scary house.” She was not impressed… guess that we have to grow into this ‘renovation imagination’)

  2. I get so excited when I see that you have posted again on Long Days and Short Years. I hope you know that God is working through you with this gift of writing. Keep it up and I’ll be looking forward to the next post! Also thanks for your honesty. It takes courage to share in this way.
    Love you!

  3. “The path of least resistance is always decay; renovation is a purposeful, continual choice.” That is simply an amazing, wonderful insight! Thank you so much for sharing! And it is so encouraging that if we’re to see that ‘character’ in ourselves that is shown with renovating these old homes, how much more so we must be willing, purposeful, and continual to renovate our lives to see the character that is created underneath those layers of struggle and pain. So, so inspiring and encouraging to me to keep pressing on in this business of renovating my life! THANK YOU!

  4. Just reading this today at lunch, Jen, and wow! So beautifully put and so poignantly true. Honored to trudge through the muck and find the joy of green, soft grass alongside you and yours…

  5. I have to say that without a doubt the greatest benefit to humanity offered by the phenomenon of the internet is realized when a desperate soul types into a search engine such a hopeless phrase as, “children ruining my life” and is led to such inspired insight. Thank you, from a deeper more sincere place in my heart than I can communicate. Today has been hard. With infant twin boys and a two year old boy, I am reeling today from my final decision, made yesterday, that my fledgling small business will be closing its doors in favor of a job with stable pay and good health insurance, which I now must find. I’m chalking up the loss to the unfortunate coinciding timelines of our family’s growth and our nation’s health care crisis. The bills! Oh, the bills! Nevertheless, I know exactly the feeling you describe when you write about the quiet moments with your daughter, and I do my best to remember that feeling when I plummet into moods of despair, depression, and yes, resentment.

    It gives me hope and much needed perspective to think of our situation as a renovation of sorts. Our life is in such ruin now that the former me would never believe it possible! Thank you, again, for the courage to write what so many, if not all, parents feel and never express. So much sacrifice is required to pass on the torch of humanity, and how often it is made light of by vague euphemisms like, “Your life will never be the same.” Having heard that phrase so many times from so many people, it’s only now clear the depth of its implications. Yet, there is no choice but to adapt, and we will strive to renovate and reinvent ourselves! Your writing has helped me survive the day, emotionally speaking, and sometimes that’s enough.

  6. I certainly appreciate the comment from Adam about a “desperate soul type” typing into a search engine a “hopeless phrase.” I’m the “desperate soul type” here and I typed in the “hopeless phrase” of “having kids ruined my marriage.” But there’s a twist—my children are now 31 and 27 years of age, I’ve been widowed for almost sixteen years, and, though there was a rough five years in raising the kids, I know that my children didn’t ruin my marriage—I was simply the victim of a tragedy in that my husband died young. What drove me to type that phrase into the search engine is what my daughter and son-in-law are experiencing right now. They have a seven-week-old son and things are very hard right now. My son-in-law was the only child of parents who hadn’t wanted children to begin with, he was always expected to behave like a little adult, and he was sent to private schools with very small classes, thus, he’s had no experience of children. He believed before meeting my daughter that he never wanted children. My daughter has two sons from a previous relationship, five and four years old, but they live with their father and paternal grandparents and she has them only on weekends, though that will probably change in about a year.

    Anyway, she is experiencing severe post-partum depression and the demands of caring for the baby have created strain in her relationship with my son-in-law, causing fights and arguments that weren’t happening before. The baby at one point had a milk allergy, causing him to cry a lot, but since this has been diagnosed and he has been switched to a different formula he has settled down a lot. He is not the most difficult of babies, but still, this experience has caused some major upheaval. Lots of crying on the part of my daughter. I have taken an emergency leave from work to stay with her but I can’t do this for too long. She has a doctor’s appointment in two days and I’m going with her to make sure the doctor knows of everything that is going on. Sh is already on a anti-depressant but I think something more is needed.

    I am worried sick but I just keep telling myself that it is something that will pass, as everyone adjusts and the baby gets older, starts interacting and smiling, and sleeping through the night. Such a tough time, I just keep telling myself that if I live through the death of my husband I can live through this too. And it will pass, it has to. Thanks to anyone who reads this, I need someone to talk to and typing this has helped.

    Oh, and I love my two older grandsons more than words can say. They were once young babies who demanded and didn’t show much personality yet, I know how this love develops as time goes on. In spite of everything, I welcome the existence of my youngest grandson. He will be a blessing in the long run. I have faith in that.

  7. I’m not trying to e insulting, because you have a well written blog. But I would guess deep down you DO feel like becoming a parent ruined your life. You miss all the things you used to do, the way you used to feel. But you feel the societal pressure to try to spin it positive. I’ve read a couple of these types of blogs. They all talk about how horrible their lives have become but in between horror those five minutes a week make it all worth while. Baloney! You know you’d rather be walking on the beach on a romantic getaway and an expensive dinner with you husband in Hawaij or something.

    Traumatic birth! How about not having kids in the first place. Then when you walk it’s not painful! Why people choose to do this to themselves I’ll never understand. Maybe years ago when a man could work Irtysh hours a week and afford a wife two kids a house and a car, it worked better. But our country isn’t like that anymore.

    • Ah, the irony. I have been trying to reply to your comment, but my kids have been especially demanding this morning. 🙂

      But now that I have snuck away, I want to thank you for your honesty. I’m not insulted at all… this is a complex reality and I’m still trying to find words for it. It’s so complex that I’m still not sure how to respond. Did having kids in actuality ruin my life, and now I’m just trying to say (and believe) the socially acceptable thing? Do the small moments really make up for the massive cost of this whole operation?

      My gut is still that somehow this has been (and is) worth it in the big picture, but it’s really hard to say why. I probably need to ‘show my cards’ here, and say that I really believe (as an article of faith -not sight- many days) that our fullest lives are lived in service to other people. I don’t have 100% proof of this statement… there is also the pesky reality of co-dependency and needing-to-be-needed which can eat us (and those we “serve”) up from the inside-out. But still. As much as I dream of expensive dinners and vacations with my husband (maybe with a little community service thrown in on the odd weekend), I deeply, honestly sense that the ‘ruining’ of my more self-centered life (and maybe I was just more self-centered than the average person) brought about a fuller life than I could have put together without the sacrifice and suffering. My life before was easier, my life now is somehow richer.

      There are other factors at work here. I am surrounded by a fantastic community of people who have supported and healed me along the way. They pray for me, and things that I don’t understand happen. They watch my kids for me so that I can find space for my own growth. And (most importantly?), the friends who have kids are pretty honest about how hard-as-hell this can be for them too. We’re doing this together. And my kids themselves… I don’t know, they can be little dictators sometimes, but somehow I can also see the beauty in them. They surprise me. They make me laugh. And loving them through lovable and unlovable moments has changed me. This has made the sacrifices worth it… somehow… for me. I get that this isn’t true for everyone.

  8. My husband and I are leaning towards not having children. We have our many reasons. We also have social pressures of what is expected of us. I am also truly open to what the Lord has for our lives- and don’t want to be influenced by what is socially acceptable (Our culture revolves around material gain, living beyond your means/debt, and the idea that it is “selfish” to not have kids). Your statement, “our fullest lives are lived in service to other people” hit a chord with me. I feel most fulfilled when I am caring for and helping others. This includes my husband, coworkers, showing kindness to those I interact with daily including strangers. I especially feel fulfilled when I am able to protect or help vulnerable populations, including the elderly, children, and disabled. This provides meaning to my life- and feels like the Lord’s work.

    I also wanted to say that your honesty on the hardship of parenting is very refreshing. Thank you.

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