By Lindsay Pace
A few years ago I became uncharacteristically hooked on a show called Naked and Afraid. I was reluctant to watch a show with Naked in the title, feeling fed up with the tactics of using sex/sexuality to gain viewers. For whatever reason, I gave it a watch and found it so engaging and surprisingly having little to do with the human body as a sex instrument.
If you aren’t familiar, the premise of the show is that one man and one woman, strangers and survivalists in their own right, arrive in a remote location with only one survival item of choice each, and wearing not one article of clothing. Their challenge is to survive for 21 days
using whatever survival skills they have.
As you can imagine, their first introduction, two naked strangers in a remote location, is quite awkward and cringey, but pretty soon the awareness of their nakedness fades and they become fully focused on obtaining shelter, water, and food. The nakedness becomes the least pressing issue. Attention shifts to what really matters… staying alive.
Some make it the full 21 days. Some don’t. While some leave because they change their mind, and some because they get sick or injured. Mental or physical health deteriorates forces the producers to decide it is time for them to leave.
Why am I sharing all of this with you?
Because I am a mom of a 12 and 9 year old and I find the storyline of naked and afraid quite fitting for the experience of parenting.
I remember entering into this parenting thing with a host of ideas and expectations, feeling strong enough and capable enough, a survivalist in my own right. I was armed with information on how to get a kid to sleep, best practices of feeding, and ways to promote healthy development for a lifetime. Additionally, I had visions of a beautifully decorated and organized home, well dressed and mostly behaved kids, and a successfully crafted system of family dinners and chore charts.
I can’t say it was a rude awakening, but there was most definitely an awakening. Turns out I didn’t sleep a full night’s sleep for a solid 6 years. My oldest was more strong willed than me and I went to counseling to develop better emotional regulation skills and boundaries to prevent me from acting like my five year old. Pretty quickly I had to shift my attention from what I thought was important to what would actually help me, my marriage, and these children survive.
When my youngest was two, I had to put her down for naps and bedtime wearing a one piece bathing suit over her pajamas so that she couldn’t strip naked and possibly play in her poopy diaper. I even had to send her to the YMCA stay-and-play like this so that she wouldn’t go streaking in public. She was often naked. Never afraid.
I dropped all judgment for parents who use human leashes to keep their kids near them in public. Frozen food and drive throughs became a source of happiness. I totally surrendered the need to brush my kid’s hair.
All this was happening while my husband and I were trying to maintain our relationship with both of us working full time and managing all the everyday tasks and stressors of being an adult. Plus, some extra stressors from our early life experiences that bubbled to the surface when we
became parents, catapulting us to deal with “our own stuff.”
Needless to say, pretty quickly we had to shift our focus from how things appeared on the outside and focus on the necessities- shelter, food, water, and emotional connection. I’m just glad that parenting doesn’t require physical nakedness. Although sometimes the internal vulnerability and exposure that parenting brings has left me at times wishing I could actually be physically naked instead.
I’m now in the tween phase of raising kids, I sleep more now than I did when they were little. I don’t get stuck in as many power struggles. We no longer have to dress our youngest with a bathing suit over her clothes. The hair brushing is still questionable. We survived the baby and toddler years. So that I don’t leave anyone feeling too discouraged, we’ve also had periods of thriving.
Parenting is much like being dropped in a remote location. Even if you felt close and connected with your partner before kids, you can still end up feeling like strangers meeting for the first time once you both become responsible for another human life. Unlike the show, there is no time limit on how long you remain in this parenting dynamic. In fact, it’s lifelong. There is no producer coming to tell you that it’s time to exit, no option to tap out.
Some of the survival skills that have been the most helpful to me on my parenting journey so far are:
- community, having others on the parenting journey or ahead of me in the journey who are willing to share, encourage, and commiserate when needed.
- going to counseling because each new phase of parenting has brought its own challenges and because I myself am a therapist and I deeply believe that therapists need therapists too.
- faith, engaging with my Christian faith practices to help me know that I am loved and have value regardless of what kind of parent I am or how my kids turn out.
- reading funny parenting memes and watching Tiktoks on Instagram highlighting the ridiculous and the precious parts of raising kids, letting in the laughter and the tears of parenting.
If you feel like you are on a remote island being asked to do impossible things, being pushed beyond your comfort and limits, yet somehow finding an internal strength/persistence that you didn’t know you had, you are either a contestant on Naked and Afraid or a parent just trying to do the dang thing.
Lindsey lives with her husband and two tween daughters in Winston-Salem. Aside from being a wife and mom she is a therapist and works supporting folks with anxiety. You can find her making light of everyday life on her IG account @lindseypace.