As the great and wise philosopher Natalie Imbruglia once said:
Nothing’s fine, I’m torn
I’m all out of faith
This is how I feel, I’m cold and I am shamed
Lying naked on the floor.
Illusion never changed
Into something real
Wide awake and I can see the perfect sky is torn.
If that isn’t an accurate description of motherhood, I don’t know what is!
OK, I’m rarely naked on the floor, because this is, after all, Sheffield, and it’s a bit nippy – but I’ve been down there sobbing in my dressing gown for sure.
I’ve lost faith – in myself, in my ability to cope, in the system, in the Sleep Gods.
I’ve had my pre-kid illusions shattered a billion times.
I’ve been so tired I can’t tell what’s real anymore.
And I’ve been wide awake at dawn helplessly watching the day inevitably rip through the night.
Frankly, if you don’t recognise any of this in your own experience of parenting I think you might have been doing it wrong.
The thing that resonates most for me in this 90s classic, though, (and yes, I do know it’s not a Natalie Imbruglia original – I also don’t care) is that feeling of being torn.
Torn is pretty much the average state of your average parent. And I’m not just talking about work-life balance and spreading yourself thin by being a slightly failing mother/employee/spouse/friend/person. (Also note, the other side of slightly failing is MOSTLY ROCKING).
I’m talking about the kind of torn that’s soul deep – I’m talking about the Parent Paradox.
The Parent Paradox is the phenomenon where (through the medium of children) you suddenly feel so many conflicting and contrasting things all at once. And you can’t tell or trust which one is true because they all are, and they all aren’t.
Where you are so very happy and so very in love with your baby, but so deep-down tired and miserable and lost and afraid at the same time.
Where you are surrounded by people big and small, but still feel lonely and isolated.
Where you crave time alone but ache for your children when you’re apart.
Where you’re desperate to have your pre-kid life back, but wouldn’t change a thing.
Where you want them to stay in the right now and not grow up too fast, but love it when they hit each new developmental milestone.
Where you long to squeeze them but don’t want anyone to touch you back. (Possibly ever again).
Where you love them so much is stops your heart, but they make you SO UNBELIEVABLY ANGRY it kind of scares you, too. (Just put the fricking shoes on!!!!!)
Where you can be so busy all day, and yet have achieved nothing by the end of it.
Where you love to spend time with them, but are also are bored to tears by the hell that is imaginative play within 10 long, long minutes.
Where your heart is full but you’re running on empty.
Where the hours until bedtime tick by so slowly, but they grow up way too fast.
Where the poo is disgusting, but the nappy bums are so damn cute.
See what I mean?
You are living in the a state of constant duality and it is incredibly, astoundingly disorientating.
I have often seen the Parent Paradox as something which must be endured, until your vision, decision-making capacity, emotions and hormones return to some sort of rational, predictable normality.
But in retrospect, maybe it’s not a curse that’s rocked you off your axis, but a gift.
A gift that comes free with your first baby and lets you see the world in a whole new light – split into hundreds of twisting kaleidoscope parts.
By being in two (or more) minds, by not being certain, or sedate, or grounded; you get to see every side of your own story and your own heart in glorious technicolour.
It’s like going from two-dimensional black and white to suddenly being able to see the Magic Eye pictures hiding in your life – a new multi-dimensional, multi-faceted perspective.
The only thing you can really do is to sit back and let the colours flow over you.
Maybe the perfect sky IS torn.
And maybe it’s not a tear, but an opening.
Maybe, just by having looked through that dazzling, confounding, refracting lense – you get to go into the rest of your life with new eyes and new empathy.
And maybe, just maybe, that’s actually making you a better parent.
(But not for convincing me I could pull off that elfin haircut from the video – I couldn’t).