I had an inkling this was true, but it didn't truly hit me until the other day when I was looking back in the blog to posts from when Jacob was just a little baby. By all accounts, I was a happier parent back then. I never would have known it considering the sleep deprivation and multitude of worries that go along with having a tiny baby, but the way I was posting pretty much confirmed my suspicions. In general, when I wasn't having moments of total panic, I was just head over heels in love with my baby boy.
Please understand that that does not mean that my love for him is any less now. It's just different. Let me explain...
I'd venture to say that love for your child isn't far off from the progression of a romantic relationship...at least to a point. When you're first with a person during the "honeymoon phase", you are totally into them. You could spend every waking moment with them and probably never be bored, never be annoyed, and never feel the need for alone time. However, any little chink in the relationship's armor is probably blown way out of proportion...most likely because any issues are a major shock to a system that's been nothing short of obsessed with this other person. In addition, you have no idea how the relationship will weather the storm. Basically, panic ensues because you get into uncharted territory. As a whole, good or bad, everything is new.
But as the relationship deepens, things even out a bit. And while your love for them never wavers, it doesn't necessarily hit the highest highs as often. It's deep and stronger than ever, but finding that giddy excitement you once had seems almost impossible to recapture. It's not, mind you, but I believe that it takes a truly special situation to get there--say, a romantic getaway, enough alone time to make the heart grow fonder, or an exceptional achievement that makes you glow with pride. At the other end of the spectrum, the lows may not be quite as dramatic, but they're probably even harder to manage because you have invested so much and hate to see anything jeopardize that.
When Jacob first arrived, I remember the insane hormonal craziness, but I remember thinking at the time that it was all worth it. It was so amazing to see this little baby that we had created, holding him, feeding him, and watching him grow. It was downright euphoric. We cheered for every little milestone--first smile, first laugh, first crawl, first steps--and marveled as he got bigger, moved to the next room at daycare, and started to learn so many things. I know that there were so many scary, frustrating and even awful moments in those early days, too, which is why having a baby is beyond hard. But the miracle of this little child just outshone everything else.
And then the discipline era started. As Jacob grew, he was able to get into things. Then he started to get strong-willed. Bad combo. Prior to that, any behavior that didn't conform to what we'd have liked was most likely involuntary. Crying at 4am? Well, it's not fun, but he's probably not feeling good. Throwing food? Well, he's probably just exploring his world and doesn't understand that Mommy doesn't like the mess. But after a while you know they're wisening up and you know that they're starting to grasp their power. They learn to take action and press buttons, and honestly, that's when the honeymoon phase starts to end. Again, you don't love your baby any less, but it becomes brutally obvious that they're not the perfect, angelic, never-done-wrong child that they were for those first few months.
Perhaps the issue is that all of the effort seems worth it early on. You see a helpless baby grow and thrive, and because they were helpless, it's clear you made an impact. But as they grow older and become more independent, all that effort sometimes seems wasted. Parenthood can be a thankless job, and it's much more obvious when you know your child is capable of thanking you, but doesn't. A cute smile is no longer payment enough. They ignore what you say, break free from your grasp, and generally find ways to render you useless at any given moment. It's a far cry from the early days.
Home is much the same. Whether it's time to get dressed, go potty, eat dinner, pick up toys, or anything else that he's supposed to be doing, he's always doing something else. During the course of putting on a single pair of pajamas, I probably have to yell at him to get back to actually putting them on at least half a dozen times. At least. And that's not counting the prodding to get him to go potty, get his teeth brushed, or pick out books.
He pokes me with stuff, tries to wrestle, hangs on my legs then won't stand up, and throws things. First thing this morning I walked in and he threw one of his animals at me, full force. I didn't even get "Good Morning" out, so I can't imagine what provoked that. I've always made a point to not laugh at certain behaviors at risk of him wanting to recreate the performance repeatedly, but no amount of straight faces or stern voices seem to communicate that it's not nice, not acceptable, and not okay.
I could go on and on (even more), but long story short, it's exhausting to try to keep Jacob on track and battle through. And all that exhaustion makes it so hard for that pure, simple love to come through. I used to be so excited to go home and spend time with him, but now I know I'm facing an evening of yelling and bargaining and it's hard to get excited about that. I'm so wrapped up in dealing with my stubborn little boy that there just aren't many moments where I can see the face of my sweet, innocent baby come through. Once in a while he'll be so genuinely sweet, or adorably excited about something, and I instantly have that awesome high where parenthood is the most fulfilling thing ever and my heart practically explodes. But where I used to be so fulfilled by parenthood, now I just feel a bit overwhelmed.
I love Jacob so much and would be lost without him. He's the center of my universe and I only want what's best for him. Yet after so many attempts at discipline and doing what we can to encourage his interests, I'm left not knowing what is best. I should just find ways to enjoy him, but instead I find myself withdrawing at times, as an attempt at self-preservation or a sub-conscious action motivated by fear of failure.
Maybe the key point is this--When Jacob was a newborn, I knew how to love him. There was no wrong way. Nowadays I still love him so much, but I'm not sure how to love him best. He now needs more than lots of hugs and kisses and prompt meals and diaper changes. He needs direction and discipline, to listen and learn...and yes, he needs those meals, hugs and kisses (and periodic assistance with his pants), too. The stakes are bigger now, and the fear and frustration are, too. I'm doing the best I can, but I never know if it's good enough...for him or me. The joy is missing and I hope I find it again one of these days. Let's hope it's just hiding under the couch with everything else.