By J. Ron Eaker, M.D.
Parenting is a terminal condition. I don’t mean it will kill you…usually. Once you catch parenting, you have it for life, much like herpes.
Years ago researcher Elizabeth Kubler-Ross came out with her five stages of grief and recently I reflected on those stages. I was amazed at how similar those grief stages were to the stages of parenthood. Let’s explore!
Step One: Denial and Isolation
For many new parents their first reaction is, “But why didn’t you tell me your birth control pills ran out last month?” Denial can reach monumental proportions in the female species as they can concoct a Rube Goldberg like explanation as to the obviously aberrant positive pregnancy test result. “I’m late because I’ve been stressed out about global warming!” Denial, not simply a river in Egypt, can take on a pathological aspect when a woman refuses to acknowledge her expanding girth is not simply due to Cheesy Puffs and Miller Lite.
After denial there comes isolation as all non-pregnant couple friends vow to rip out your lungs if you mention your tender breasts one more time. You can find solace in future parent support groups that have speakers on topics like “Easy Second Mortgages to Pay for Baby” and “Why Sex No Longer Matters.”
Stage Two: Anger
Parents curb the market when it comes to anger. We are angry about grades, angry about boyfriends and girlfriends, angry about piercings and tattoos and angry about being angry. The Apostle James once wrote, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” but I can say with confidence that he was single and childless. Righteous indignation is justified by a parent when little Johnny flushes the cat in the toilet for the second time.
Parental anger must be tempered by understanding, maturity and perseverance…otherwise known as wine. I have known parents who have used such techniques as yoga, meditation and quiet contemplation to cope with the anger stage. Don’t bother. These practices 1) are impossible when you have toddlers as there is no quiet time and 2) are impractical because you spend most of the meditation making grocery lists or wondering whether you changed the laundry from the washer to the dryer. The best tool is to simply go out to the garage, punch a hole in the wall, come back in the house, apply bandages and go calmly about your day.
Stage Three: Bargaining
This is perhaps my favorite parenting stage as it is both universal and diverse. Bargaining is a natural reaction to a sense of helplessness that arises at various stages of parenthood. There are times that all parents realize that no matter what you do, things will play out in a predictable fashion. If your daughter falls into the “mean girls” clique (and aren’t they all?) at some point she will fall out and the carnage will be profuse.
Most bargaining consists of if/then propositions. If I do this, then you will do that. This can be effective when bargaining with a deity (see Gideon and the fleece), however, this is a completely ineffective tool when your child is a part of the bargain. Bargaining with a child is like putting a screen door on a submarine—there’s not much use in it.
Stage Four: Depression
If you are clinically depressed you sit around and stare at the wall. If you are in a parental stage of depression, you sit around and stare at the wall with a picture of your child when they were small and controllable. Parents react to depression in a variety of ways. Some compensate by playing 84 holes of golf on a weekend while others charge the equivalent of the gross national product of Zaire at Macys. Either approach is destructive and can only further the depression, so caution is advised. Most therapist don’t recommend medication for this type of depression as they label it “situational,” which is a fancy way of saying it is the kids fault.
Stage Five: Acceptance
There comes a point in every parents life that you accept the fact that you are and will ever be a parent. Acceptance is cognitively realizing that your kids are a product of genetics, luck, discipline, fate and sugar intake. The bottom line is that parenting is indeed terminal, you can’t cure it, and the sooner you reach the stage of acceptance, the sooner you can get on with the important things like organizing the silverware drawer and shaving your back. There are sorry parents who have stellar kids and there are awesome parents who have juvenile delinquents. A key to acceptance is realizing that most outcomes are your spouse’s fault, just be careful to not let them in on this little secret.
Being a parent is a terminal condition, but I can think of nothing else that provides as much happiness, joy, love, tears and angst, except for maybe a Nicolas Sparks novel. Through the years, a parent sees life for what it really is, a game where the winner is determined by how much you love and are loved. And, with every jaunt around the game board, you collect $200, and then turn around and give it directly to the kids.
This article appears in the December – January 2016 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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