Parenthood Is a War Between Old Habits and New Pleasures

The battle isn't with responsibilities or restraints. It's with ideas of who you are and how you are in the world that are no longer true.

by Ivana Ivanovic

There are myriad metaphors for new parenthood. You walk on clouds. You find new chambers of your heart. You thaw. You melt. But the most common metaphor, the ubiquitous implied metaphor that twists our language, is this: You go to war. Parents battle fatigue. Living rooms become war zones. Sleeplessness becomes torture. A child’s joy becomes — if you mind the language — an insurgency.

So, who is the enemy?

Before I had my first child, I was type A, a tiny bit OCD, and anxious to get every detail of work and home projects covered. It was probably for the best that I had a baby in my forties. I had learned to chill out some. But, on the other hand, the birth followed two decades during which I had the luxury of time. I’d had opportunities for both hedonism and perfectionism.

Then, no more.

The adjustment was incredibly difficult. I became, for example, fixated on the idea that our compost bin — you know, the little one on the countertop with food scraps — was filthy. So there I was, having barely slept much less showered, scrubbing at the bin as though it would make a difference. It was a bizarre use of time. I was obsessively scrubbing a compost bin that wasn’t, to be honest, outrageously dirty or concerning. Why? I hadn’t let go of my old priorities.

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My old self was telling my new self that this had to be done.

That old self my new enemy. I wasn’t at war with the child — I loved the child — I was at war with habit and self-conception.

The old self, of course, wanted to do a bit of reading before sleep. The old self wanted to scrub. The old self was not willing to be reasonable or compromise. So we battled it out, task by task, hour by hour, day by day,

Old Self: Laundry must be separated into whites and coloreds and air-dried.

New Self: Laundry can be piled on the dryer.

Old Self: Boundaries are important.

New Self: As long as you are willing to hold the child and try to help, do whatever you want.

Old Self: Morning coffee. Mid-day workout. Evening glass of wine.

New Self: Baby smiles. Sleep. Moments of clarity.

Old Self: Planner.

New Self: In the moment.

My new self is far from perfect. But I am more forgiving, flexible, and mindful of my tone and reactions than I was before — both in my interactions with my child and my husband. Parenthood has been one battle after the next. It’s been a war. But the conflict was never with the people I love. It is my old self.