I was joking with someone the other day about how all parents are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. I stopped laughing abruptly when I realized how depressingly true it can be some days. There are some similarities between children and kidnappers, and the experience of new parents has a lot of things in common with being kidnapped. Based on the extensive research I've done on this condition (which consisted of half-reading a wikipedia entry while my kids threw cereal on the floor, and thinking about it while I was in the shower), I think I'm on to something really interesting.
Stockholm syndrome, according to what popular culture has led me to believe, is a condition that causes hostages (parents) to develop strong emotional ties with their kidnappers (children) as a strategy to survive in a captive situation.
Before you scoff and get back to reading frighting news stories about the state of our democracy, hear me out:
WE CANT LEAVE
Sometimes at night, when the kids are FINALLY asleep and I get a moment to have a complete thought the isn't interrupted by some sort of fuckery, I think, "maybe I'll run out to the store!" Then I remember I can't. Not only can I not leave the children alone in the house legally, my psyche would never allow me to do so regardless of the law. Even if I forced myself to get in the car and pull it out of the garage, my brain would immediately put a stop to my adventure by triggering visions of house fires, home invasions, or bad dreams that result in lifelong feelings of abandonment. So I end up folding some laundry instead.
WE ARE ABUSED
I'm not trying to make light of abuse here, but I don't know what else to call some of the shit parents endure on a daily basis. I've been punched, kicked, slapped, bitten (on the back of my legs no less), not to mention all the hair that has been yanked out over the years. My oldest routinely takes away all my love points when I "don't listen" so that by the end of the day "no one loves me and I'm only on the first love level." He's already practicing for the emotional abuse he will inflict when he's a teen. My youngest thinks its funny to throw wooden blocks at my head when I'm not paying attention. He also routinely takes the wallet out of my diaper back and throws in the trash, which I'm pretty sure is symbolic of his feelings on my worth as a human being.
OUR ACTIONS ARE CONFUSING TO OUTSIDERS
Talk to anyone who doesn't have kids yet or doesn't want them, and they will be incredulous at the shit parents put up with. How can we still love these little monsters that wake us up in the middle of the night to scream in our faces for the first year? I never have a good answer to those questions because, honestly, it defies all logic. I usually say something like "its different when its your own kid and not some random child throwing a tantrum in the mall." Which is true, but not the whole story. Evolution has ensured that the bond parents feel for their children (however they become "yours") is so strong that it overrides any sort of self-preservation instinct or ego. Not only does it ensure the survival of the offspring in your care, but also helps the parents to survive the indignities and suffering that are necessary to the process of successfully raising a human. Without that bond, I would have run screaming into the abyss long ago, and I doubt I'm alone in that sentiment.
PARENTHOOD IS TRAUMATIC
If Stockholm Syndrome is at its root a reaction to trauma, then it certainly applies here. Giving birth is equal parts suffering, pain and joy (and that's if everything goes according to plan, and when does that happen?). Whether you get the drugs or not (I've done it both ways) there are scary things happening to your body. I haven't had a cesarean but I can imagine that for some that experience is haunting and I do not envy that recovery in the least. Some women long to experience birth but are unable to do so, which may be the greatest trauma of all. Any way you "do" birth, there is going to be pain and fear that doesn't end when you finally get to hold the strange little creature that has been living inside you (or inside someone else). I always worried so much about labor and delivery, but it was the aftermath that shook me to my core.
So what do we, the afflicted, do about our mutual psychological condition? Not much. We can't change our circumstances, nor would we want to. All we can do is find likeminded parents who can commiserate and remind us that this shit IS crazy. That not everything about raising young children is fun or rewarding or interesting (although it can and will be all those things at times). Sometimes we get screamed at or psychically assaulted and by Goddess we love those little tyrants even more when they finally calm down and offer us a half-eaten banana covered in hair as an apology. I embrace any mechanism my brain can come up with to keep me sane and happy through these years when the phrase "me time" make me cackle with bitter glee.
No matter what, eventually our kidnappers will grow up and we will become those elderly people at Target that tell stressed out new parents "cherish every moment" and "you'll never be so loved." Those people annoy me to no end but I've decided that if I get through the next ten years in one piece I will have earned my right to terrorize the next generation of sleep deprived captives. So watch out, haggard looking woman trying to grocery shop in peace with her ill-behaving brood 50 years from now, I'm coming for ya.
And for those of you also in the thick of your captivity, try to figure out which walls are real and which ones are only imagined. Some limitations of parenthood are real and necessary, but some are constructed with the bricks of guilt and the mortar of anxiety. Take that vacation without the kids. Hire the babysitter you feel guilty spending money on. Take that nap. Don't stop until you've forgotten why you felt claustrophobic in the first place.