I’m further aware that what readership I generally do have – I have a decent number of subscribers and a good number of friends who follow me on various social media outlets – these folks will fluctuate in how consistently they read my posts. I love Jon Stewart, but I just don’t have the time or energy to watch his show four nights a week. I am fully aware that even my most loyal readers are bound to get busy and miss a post or two. There’s a lot in the world demanding our attention, and I wholeheartedly accept that my solipsistic ramblings rank rather negligibly in everyone else’s universe.
Given all these caveats of humility and self-deprecation, I have to admit that it surprised me that my last post provoked absolutely no conversation. I mean none. No comments on the page; no comments or shares in the social media sphere; not even a single “like” on Facebook. Sometimes my posts are boring and don’t really deserve attention. But given that I began last week’s post with the sentence “Earlier this week, I considered murdering my child,” I sort of considered it one of my more provocative posts. So either I just posted it during a week when my usual readers were more interested in reading about the government shutdown, or else I struck a nerve.
It’s an act of serious transgression in our culture to express negative feelings towards our children. Indeed, it feels unacceptable to express negative feelings towards parenthood in general. Couples who don’t have children are often made to feel inferior or unproductive. The narratives that go along with parenting are expected to be positive, uplifting, and beatific. It’s okay to get tired, it’s okay for our children to be occasionally exhausting, or for them to “wear us out.” But to openly express resentment, bitterness, regret, or hatred towards our children or the experience of having children is viewed as just as bad or worse as drinking alcohol while you’re pregnant. I admit I expressed these things a bit extremely last week; when I shared those sentiments with my spouse, she said, “Do we need to call somebody?” But extreme or not, I felt surprised – and strangely exposed and isolated – that no one seemed to join me. At least when Rachel Held Evans says something people don’t like, they troll her comments page.
I guess I get it. I get wanting to buy into the collective myth that parenting is the greatest experience humans can partake in. That having children is an ecstatic, life-changing spiritual transformation that edify parents to an extent rivaled only by attaining nirvanic enlightenment or communing in the light-infused presence of the risen Christ. I want to believe that being a parent is like that. In fact, some moments it really is like that. I can say that I am a better, deeper, more empathic and thoughtful human being because of my experiences as a parent. But a lot of moments aren’t like that at all. In fact, a lot of moments are the opposite of those things. Sometimes, being a parent makes me a worse human being. It can make me impatient and angry and irritable and downright hateful. It’s frightening how quickly my child can evoke both the absolute best and worst in me.
The scary possibilities for wrath and violence towards a child were a subject in my very first post; it’s where the title of my blog comes from. I suppose there is something that instinctively seeks to protect children from these darker impulses within us, and I believe that’s probably a good and right thing. But I wonder if we do a disservice to ourselves (and our children) when we conflate protecting our children from these dark impulses with protecting ourselves from these dark impulses. I know absolutely that I am not alone in feeling and thinking scary, destructive things about being a parent. I know this because friends have admitted as much to me in person. Perhaps it feels safer to whisper these things quietly in passing than it does to, well, post it permanently in cyberspace.
I also think there’s a deeper fear that keeps us from speaking these things out loud, and it’s not about our children. It’s what I’ve been experiencing all week: the insidious shame of isolation. I’ll be the first to admit that I posted what I posted last week in the hopes that someone would say, “You’re not alone; I’ve felt that too.” Maybe we don’t speak our darkness out loud for the fear that we will be left completely alone, that others will look at us with horror and back away from us because we really are despicable and disgusting.
I don’t know exactly what circumstances conspired to make my post last week the most conspicuously ignored of anything I’ve posted in recent memory. (As of yesterday, a year-old post on potty-training had as many hits as last week’s post.) Maybe I’m making way too much of this. But deep down, I find myself feeling as if the lack of reaction of any kind, even disagreement, is confirmation of what a terrible person I am for the feelings and thoughts I had in the middle of that terrible bedtime meltdown. My gut response has been to want to scrub the internet, and my life, from having ever felt that way – delete that post, erase all links to it, and post something hyper-saccharine this week that would strongly signal my desire to identify with the socially acceptable narratives of the rapturous bliss of parenthood. I’ve been wanting to promise myself never to speak out loud such feelings ever again. And the easiest way to do that is to never admit to myself again that I even have those feelings in the first place.
I know, however, that suppression and sublimation are not wise strategies. Neither are they values I express to myself, my students and patients, or even my own child. “Use your words,” I tell her when she’s upset, precisely so she will be able to express her darkness in ways that aren’t destructive. Also so I can join her and let her know she isn’t alone.
There may be plenty of reasons no one joined me in my darkness last week that have nothing to do with me. I admit that this post has a stink of narcissism on it. I’ll risk that, though, because one of the main reasons I started this blog was to carve out a little niche on the web of hopefully constructive conversation among other parents seeking support. As I said last week, I have to believe in a good prognosis, and using our words to give voice to our frustrations, sufferings, doubts, and failings is what keeps them from taking us prisoner. So if you ever need to voice your darkness, you can count on this crazy guy to join you.