But What Happens When We Speak Our Dark Parenting Truths Out Loud?

So apparently I have a post over at mom.me that’s going “viral.” Or at least that’s what my editor called it.

My husband asked me last night if this means that my piece is getting millions of pageviews. I said, probably not. Probably more like, I don’t know, dozens of thousands. Or something.

Whatever the case, the piece is getting many of the reader-reactions that I had been expecting from the moment I finished writing it. A mix of “Oh yes, this speaks such a bold and brave truth!” to “This woman is terrible and she needs a therapist and her kids would probably do better with a different mother.”

All I did was give voice to ten of my deep, dark parenting truths.

I write about regret. Liking children less after having children of my own. Feeling unfulfilled by parenting. Experiencing blinding rage toward my children. Having my heart broken each and every day by my love for them.

Even in some of the less hand-wringy comments on my piece–and yes, I do try to avoid the comments on anything I write, but no, I don’t always succeed–people have wondered what might happen if our children were to stumble upon any our darker truths. What would happen if they discovered that we don’t always like being their parent? That we had to give up pieces of ourselves in order to raise them? That having an inconsolable baby can make us understand, for the briefest of moments, how some people shake babies? Wouldn’t our children become wracked with guilt or disappointment in us?

I don’t know what would happen if your children discovered your own dark parenting truths. But I do know how I reacted when my mother revealed her dark truths to me.

I remember, back when I was a teenager, the first time she told me the story about how, in the throes of my infant colic, she took a neighbor’s advice and set me down in my crib, walked away, poured herself a glass of wine, and sat on the porch for ten minutes while I screamed alone in my room.

“Why?” I’d asked her.

“So I wouldn’t shake you,” she’d told me.

There were future conversations where my mother discussed her flaws, the mistakes she thought she’d made as a parent. She told me that she often had no idea what she was doing as a parent–that many times, she was just winging it. She told me that she didn’t always love being a parent. She told me that, especially when my siblings and I were little, there were times that she locked herself in our bathroom to cry.

She had her own dark truths.

Instead of frightening me, these revelations often made my mother more three-dimensional and real to me. It was as if, each time she opened up, she blossomed from a two-dimensional paper doll of a mother who constrained me with her rules and annoyed me with her platitudes, into a fully-realized, flawed and wonderful human being of a mother.

She always delivered these messages with kindness and not resentment. This is crucial, I think. But she also never glossed over her real, gritty, and dark feelings.

Some day, when my kids are ready, when I’m in a moment where I’m feeling more kindness than resentment, I’ll reveal my own dark truths to them, too. In some ways, I’ve already begun these dark and honest revelations.

And I’m pretty sure that, when the time comes, the kids will be fine.

With a some luck, they’ll even find me to be a little more real, and a little more human.

dark parenting truths



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  1. Cindy Pierce says:

    This rings so true. It is a relief for kids to hear that their parents have a range of emotions around parenting. Keeping the bar low in all realms takes the pressure off our kids. The sloppiness of life, including parenting is part of it. I am a righteous imperfectionist as a person, especially in the mom realm – always reliable but truthful. They will be kinder to themselves as they grow up finding their own way through a sloppy but excellent life because they can embrace the missteps and the joy. My mom once said to me, “The most important relationship in the family is between your dad and me. It is the first priority so we can be strong, loving parents.” I was so insulted at first, but then it made sense looking through a new lens. The united front was required to wrangle 7 kids and all our tweaks through childhood and into adulthood.

    • Kristen Oganowski says:

      I can so relate to your mom’s message. I think on an even further level, it helps to have a strengthened relationship between parents so that, when the kids are all out of the house, they still have a deep bond to sustain their own relationship. (At least if you’re in a two-parent relationship where you actually WANT to be together after the kids leave the house…;))

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