It is really hard to be a patient, engaged, stay-at-home parent when you’re in a bad mood. Or depressed. Or just… I don’t know, not feeling it that day. Like when you have a nasty case of the Mondays.
This might sound shocking, I know. A stay-at-home dad who ‘doesn’t feel it that day?’ Sounds like a horrible parent to me! But change the context. Slot any other occupation in my first sentence other than caregiving and you’d probably understand.
One of my favorite books as a little kid was Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. My son, who wants to close a book at the slightest whiff of sadness, doesn’t like it nearly as much as I did. Viorst’s book lists all of the ways in which Alexander has a crappy day. No one really listens to him or cares whenever he gripes about it, and so he wishes he lived in Australia. Ever moody, I loved this idea as a child, just like as a teenager I loved Holden Caulfield’s extended terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day in JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Dour days happen even to good people, maybe especially to good people, for no reason whatsoever. That’s life.
As a parent, though, feeling “not into it” can be harder to admit, and confront. I love my kid, of course. This should never be in doubt. I don’t think I’ve ever met a parent who doesn’t have a warm fire burning in their heart for their kids. But some days, my son drives me nuts, and not because he’s being especially crazy that day.
In other words: It’s not always him. Sometimes it’s me.
There are days — few and far between — when I begin counting the minutes until the sitter comes on duty before my feet hit the bedroom floor. Days when I’m unhappy because I’ve hardly taken the time to exercise this year, and I feel unfit. When I worry because I have a to-do list of writing work hanging over my head. When the house seems a mess and I have no time to clean. When I want nothing more than to curl up with a book and a cup of coffee and escape into my own daydreams, and not be drawn into my son’s imaginative games.
Today was such a day. Saying goodbye to Mommy as she went to work was traumatic. Our shopping trip took two times as long as usual because he struggled and fought every step of the way. Even playtime went awry, when a command to clean up resulted in an aggressive tantrum. It was one of those days where my son needed me by his side every minute, requiring a near-constant shower of attention, and I had little to give.
This isn’t his fault, entirely. The weather surely plays a part spring seems to have evaporated into a frigid, soaking, sun-sucking mist. And I’m tired from a bad night’s sleep with the little guy. But mostly, it’s personality, I think. I’m an introvert, and sometimes I just need my own space to recharge. Try explaining that to a toddler! Or even an adult. Or myself.
I sometimes feel like a bad parent admitting that a day on the home front has left me feeling unhappy, unfulfilled, and antsy, hungry to get out and do something different. I’m not a negligent, or unkind parent, really. The nature of the time spent with our children, how much they rely on us and require of us, makes it personal work; heart-work. So it can feel like a personal failing to say that you had a bad day at the office, as it were.
But some days are like that. Even, as Alexander would put it, in Australia.