Emotional Investment: The Unseen Tolls of Parenting

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May 24, 2016

Not too long ago, I tried to explain to my husband–who works Monday through Friday out of town–why the last year of parenting my daughter had sucked the life out of me. She does homework more or less on her own and follows direction as well as any tween might. Plus, lucky for me, she’s pretty sure having a crush on a guy makes you dumb.

Easy, right? No.

At this age, girls struggle to define who they are and how they want to be. She had already battled being a severely introverted personality in a highly extroverted world in elementary school. But in middle school her emotions swung like a leaf in the wind and she needed me to anchor her. Every hurt, joy, confusion, or decision came through me. I didn’t see until we’d started to move to a more balanced state, just how much anchoring her took out of me.

General opinion holds that newborns and toddlers take the most energy to raise. In many ways, this is true. Newborns have so many needs and cannot contribute one iota of effort to fulfilling them. Toddlers move constantly, question everything, and test boundaries without any of the wisdom of years that tells us something is a bad idea. We all would probably agree that the first few years of our kids’ lives demand an intense amount of effort.

I love than now when I ask my kids to go brush their hair and put their shoes on, it (generally) happens. We’ve come so far from the days of supporting their heads and locking up the utensil drawer. My kids do dishes, sweep, and take out the trash. It’s great!

But still, there’s a part of me that is surprised by just how hard this stage of life is. On top of all the business of life, the sports and classes, the friends and obligations that come with growing up, there can be an unseen emotional toll on parents that only others that have been through it will understand.

A week ago, I asked a dad how he was doing. He just sighed. His daughter is bright, vivacious, and social but all of a sudden, struggling with panic attacks at school. After a moment of shared nodding, he said, “Tell me this. How can forgetting a jacket at home become so crucial it leads to a full blown meltdown?” Neither of us had answers. We left the conversation with the conclusion, parenting is hard.

Then, only days after that, I met a friend for lunch. She needed to talk because her oldest daughter has made several decisions that put her in potential danger. Because she’s 18, there’s nothing that can be done. My friend told me that so much of her life and memories are filtered through the struggles of her daughter. When her husband says, “Just let it go. She’s going to do what she wants to do,” he doesn’t understand the investment she’s already made.

The emotional toll on a parent as they lead their kids through life cannot be measured. There are no answers to make it easier or words to explain it to someone who hasn’t had the experience. But to those of you have, I’m with you, Friend. I understand just how much the day–to-day can take out of you. Take a deep breath and give yourself permission to feel exhausted.

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