This wasn’t supposed to happen, yet it has been happening for a while. And it scares you—terrifies you—yet you feel powerless in the face of it: you’re not sure you like your child anymore.
Of course you love him. Nothing could change that. You will continue to fix his pasta before your own no matter how hungry you are. You’ll wake up in the night to comfort him even when you’re exhausted. You’ll cuddle him and read him stories and whisper “I love you” at night—and you’ll mean it. But the spark is gone, and the love no longer feels easy.
Everything he does grates, seems designed to drive you crazy. Maybe it’s the early mornings—the feeling that he can spin out of control before you’ve even had a chance to pour your coffee. Maybe it’s the repeated request, “Mama, where is my milk?!” when you’re in the middle of pouring it. Or maybe it’s the fact that you can’t have a conversation with your husband without an interruption. This child suddenly can’t be pulled out of a bad mood no matter how hard you try. And you absolutely cannot reason with him. In the face of his stubbornness, you find yourself giving up, going through the motions.
You feel exhausted and depleted. You feel resentful. And when you finally yell or cry, you feel like a total failure. What is going on? What happened to that sweet relationship between a mama and her baby?
No one told you how similar loving your new baby would be to falling in love. But as you waltz with your newborn at midnight, you hear the same Frank Sinatra songs in your head that you heard when you fell in love with his father years before. You are completely content to spend all day with this baby. Other people—and the real aspects of ordinary life—become a hazy blur. You feel remade stronger, like a new, better version of yourself. And no matter how much effort it takes from you, this new relationship is so beautiful, so life-giving, that you’ll cheerfully give it your all.
What they also didn’t tell you is that the honeymoon fades a bit—of course it has to so you can float down from your bubble to interact properly with the world again. You don’t want your face to freeze in that smile, and you need to stop talking about your baby constantly.
But this is worse than that little glow that wears off a new romantic relationship. There are times you really do get nothing back from this baby. And there’s no reasoning with him, no point in saying, “Honey, I’ve felt a little exhausted lately by your sudden tantrums. Do you think you could work on it?” (Although you may have tried saying it once or twice).
It may have been a new baby that turned your first child into a tyrant who can stand and scream in the bathroom for almost an hour because you can’t carry him. Or maybe the magic faded when you just couldn’t function on those broken bits of sleep anymore. Or maybe your child seemed so fascinating and fun until he developed opinions about everything. No matter when or how it happens, there may be a day—or even a season—you don’t really like your child.
Some of the magic is bound to wear off as ordinary life takes over, as your child shows you that he is not perfect and does not fully reciprocate every one of your gestures. But this doesn’t mean you are powerless.
Just like with marriage—sometimes you have to remind yourself why you fell in love in the first place.
So you look back at baby pictures and read your old blog posts. You'll call him by the nicknames you gave him as a baby. You spend time with people who adore your child—who help you see the side of him you’ve been missing and reassure you that he is normal. You look into his eyes. You watch his once-chubby fingers knead Play-doh or see him laugh with delight when you spin him around. You listen to each word as he talks. You start to watch his face—and your own words—more carefully.
You learn to speak truth when the resentment bubbles up—the feeling that you give everything and get nothing back. You hold him and read him stories. You remind him (and yourself) of how special he is. You get more sleep (and give yourself a little more grace and give him a little more tv when you need it). You go out alone. You read parenting books and develop realistic expectations.
And perhaps most importantly, you remind yourself that you can’t always fix everything or cheer him up. His moods are not a reflection of a bad home life or poor mothering.
You stop feeling guilty on days when you just don’t like him. Because that’s normal, too. After all, there are days you aren't all that likeable either.