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The emotional dichotomy of parenting

Tori Bowman Johnson

Tori Bowman Johnson

Tori, a freelance writer, has worked in production, talent management & branding since her agency role at Vivien’s Model Management in Melbourne in 2011. Tori has recently launched, The First Word; a conversational podcast for women, particularly those who juggle young children & paid work. Tori is also a very proud mum of two little boys.
Created on Apr 15, 2024 · 6 mins read
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Many of you have probably seen or read extracts of a recent Lily Allen podcast interview with The Radio Times Podcast, where Allen was quoted saying, “having kids ruined my career."  


Quite the stark statement.

Without delving too deeply into this statement- seeing as the internet is already laden in commentary – I will say two things:

  1. Allen’s quote was republished without any context. A strategy to fuel juicy clickbait and kudos, because it certainly worked. 
  2. Allen is allowed to speak her truth, just as we all are. In a perfect world, she should be able to do so without judgment or amendments to her Wikipedia page. 

The wonderfully witty writer Jade Fox, author of the Substack ‘Dear Dilate’, put it perfectly in a recent March post where she wrote;

‘In Allen’s case I believe having kids was a choice and with that choice came the disruption to the life she use to lead. Her kids may have “ruined” one moment in her career, but by the sounds of things, having kids is also what has ultimately saved her.’

To appreciate the ‘saving’ aspect of the above, you’ll need to read further into Allen’s story (I can highly recommend her 2019 memoir My Thoughts Exactly) but for now, I admired Fox’s sentiment here. While parenthood expands our heart and provides a new sense of daily purpose, parenthood also pressurizes challenge and change. With challenge and change comes an entangled wave of heightened emotions. Without any choice in the matter, parents are forced to manage opposing feelings, most of which rise to the surface simultaneously.

  • We are devoted to our children from the moment they’re born. Such devotion is nearly always accompanied by unfathomable fatigue. 
  • We are proud of their achievements. The journey to which can bring frustration and impatience. 
  • We are excited by what’s ahead, but not unfazed by a sense of trepidation.
  • We feel privileged to raise them. We can pine for the career we’ve put on hold.
  • We are lucky. We grapple with resentment. 
  • We are happy. We are challenged by rage.
  • We are content. But we can feel lost and isolated.

 

A state of existing with a full heart but the occasional hollow moment caused by an opportunity cost (for lack of a better term). Each moment dedicated to your child can detract from a moment that used to be for you. It’s okay to miss this freedom from time to time. Many of us do.

Time for a classic example to lighten the piece? I thought so too.

The pool time that went wrong


Last week I had a creative project humming away and I was so excited to get busy with it. It also happened to be a beautifully sunny week inviting lots of outside play for the boys.

I had a few hours before I was required to put my ‘paid work hat on’ to meet a deadline, so I took the boys to the local pool. Our happy place. An hour swim, an icepole, and a splash under the sprinklers to cleanse their post-icepole sticky bodies. Perfect. 

And it was. Purely delightful, and then time to go home. Or so I thought.

Almost 15 minutes later, I was still trying to put my toddler’s left shoe on. As I was carrying a million bags, floaties, and pool noodles, I needed his little feet to carry him to the door – preferably dressed in shoes to avoid burning his feet. We can all appreciate that shoes and children under 5 are like a critic crossword. Tricky business.

Finally, the left shoe was on. Hooray! 

Until he had a better idea. I watched him quickly take both shoes off, waddle (at super-speed) over to the water’s edge, and throw them both in. Fabulous mate.

 While finding a nearby swimmer to kindly fish them out for me, my 4-year-old was suddenly busting to wee. The urgency was wild. ‘Mum, I need to wee NOW!’ Given that it was an utter emergency, the boys and I had to abort the shoe mission and run to the bathrooms. 

“Hmm maybe not this one mum? It looks small.”

“This one is too white. It has both a wide bottom and a white lid? Not for me.”

“I think this one looks ok? Mum, you think? Oh wait. Hang on, no. It’s too far away from the sink.”

Deep breaths I told myself. Deep breaths.

While I was proud of my son for not wetting his jocks, I was becoming impatient. 

“Just Pick A Toilet Mate.”

“Ok. This one is good mum. I’ll do my wee here.”

Great! We were back on the clock and it was almost time for me to sink into my creative work. We just had to wash our hands, collect the shoes from the pool, and find the car. Easy.

Think again.

“I think I’ll just have a warm shower mum. It’s cold and I don’t want to get freezing.”

It was 34 degrees outside. Mid Feb. That’s all I’ll say.

More deep breaths. 

“Ok mate.” 

I could have rushed him out at this point, but parenting is all about picking your battles. This was one battle I was not willing to fight. It was simply too hot. 

Almost an hour later than anticipated, we finally got to the car. We were all warm (schvitzing) and wearing shoes; both left and right. While we (the family) had a great time at the pool, I was now running late for my deadline, meaning I’d be working late. 


Feeling the dichotomy in full force


How did I feel in this moment? 

I felt annoyed. I was excited to work! 

I felt irritated. If that pack-up didn’t take so long I could have found a pocket of joy. 

I felt proud. My boy didn’t wet his pants. Good on the lad. 

I felt giggly. My toddler the prankster is turning into his dad, my adored husband. 

I felt lucky. How beautiful to spend time with my kids.

I felt guilty. Guilty for feeling annoyed and irritated when I should have savoured the pride, the giggles, and the luck.

 



The dichotomy of parenting hits hard even during the most mundane of Thursday mornings. While we are in love with our parenting role, some of us feel a sense of heartbreak knowing that our careers may change. Using the word ‘ruined’ was a brash choice by Lily Allen but I truly get what she was trying to say – it’s hard to have your cake and eat it too. But it’s ok to want both.

It is okay to feel happy and sad in one breath. It is ok to feel luck and loss at the same time. It’s ok (and so common) to feel a sense of trepidation in regards to experiencing conflicting feelings and emotions.

The dichotomy of parenthood is a quandary … but a quandary we, parents, are actually very lucky to experience.

Life is ebs and flows; light and shade.

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