You’ve probably heard some variation of the cliché a hundred times: “Parenting is hard, but it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve done.”
I’ve never liked it.
Not because it’s not true (necessarily). It just doesn’t really tell you anything useful about the experience of parenting.
My first issue is with the claim that parenting is “hard.” It’s way too vague. How is it hard? Is it actually physically straining? Is it difficult to figure out, like a complicated math equation?
Moreover, I’ve always had a problem with people describing any normal life experience as “hard.”(In fact, I’ve written several posts critiquing the claim that “marriage is hard”). Because the question naturally arises: compared to what?
Is marriage harder than single life? (I submit that it is not.)
Is life as a parent harder than . . . I don’t know . . . monastery life? Life as an Olympic diver? Life as an aging, single woman working for minimum wage at a mushroom farm? Life as an infertile couple? How can anyone judge?
Life is hard, whether you get married or stay single; whether you have kids or you don’t. So to say that “parenting is hard” is meaningless at best and deceptive at worst.
And then there’s the idea that parenting is “rewarding.” What does that mean? Is that referring to the sense of pride you feel when your child accomplishes something amazing? What if your child ends up in prison? Is it still rewarding?
Or is the “reward” of parenting simply that incomparable, heart-stopping love you get to feel towards another human being?
Personally, I’m uncomfortable attaching reward/punishment language to the experience of love between human souls, as if it were an economic exchange.
And my last problem with the cliché is this: people say that parenting is “hard but rewarding” as if to say that there are good aspects to parenting despite the fact that it’s hard. But in my experience, parenting is satisfying exactly because it’s hard. That’s one of the great lessons. Parenting is not for the faint-hearted.
Parenting is challenging, invigorating, stretching. I feel I’ve been growing by leaps and bounds ever since I had a child. Thanks to my daughter, I’m now twice the woman I was before I was given charge over her. I’ve discovered that there’s so much more to me than I ever could have imagined before I became a parent.
So to resolve some of my discomfort with the ubiquitous cliché, I’m offering some of my own adjectives of parenting.
(Of course, keep in mind that my personal experience with parenting is extremely limited – only to the last 18 months, and with only one healthy, neurotypical child. I have no experience parenting older children, teenagers, or adults; I have no experience parenting a chronically ill or disabled child, or a child who’s not related to me biologically. Those experiences might all be very different.)
Parenting is INCONVENIENT.
Lord have mercy, there is nothing I can think of more inconvenient than having a child.
A child means constant interruption. Of your thoughts, your sleep, your work. In the early years, at least, there is never an end to the interruptions. I have hardly been able to put two thoughts together since my daughter was born. (Except when she’s at Grandma’s. Like right now.)
When you have a kid, you can never just do what you want, when you want to. You always have to account for them, making sure their needs are being met. In the early years, you can’t even take a wee without thinking about what you’ll do about your kid. You can’t just go see a movie or run to the store to grab milk. You have to arrange everything.
Children never stop making messes or needing you in some way.
Parenting is EXHAUSTING.
Again, especially in the early years, you almost never get a break. Except on the rare occasions when you arrange for babysitting, you are on constant call, 24 hours a day.
For me, the greatest hardship — by far – has been the loss of alone time. I just can’t think when my kid is in the room . . . and she’s almost always in the room. I’ll just start to have a thought when she’ll spill her water or cry out or start climbing onto my lap. Then she’ll need a snack or the potty or a diaper change. Then she’ll beg me to read her a book or ask me to wrap her baby in a blanket or start shaking salt on the floor.
And all this before 8 am.
Parenting is CONFUSING.
This is probably only very true of parenting today. There is just so much conflicting advice about how to best care for your child – to ensure that she’s well-fed, well-rested, sufficiently-stimulated, and feels loved. It’s so hard to know what’s right for your child.
I have felt crushingly overwhelmed at times – do I try to enforce a routine, or focus on listening to her cues? Should I try harder with pushing vegetables, or focus on getting enough fats in her? Should I try harder to wean, or is it best to follow her lead?
Parenting is FUN!
I never realized how funny and interesting kids are until I had one of my own. My kid is hilarious. She is goofy and original and SO DANG CUTE. I love to dance with her, laugh with her, and take her along to parks and zoos. Ben and I can’t get enough of her most nights. (Except when we’re sick to death of her. See EXHAUSTING, above.)
Parenting is ENRICHING.
I find that my daughter makes almost every experience so much richer and more interesting because of her unique perspective. She notices things we adults don’t, and draws our attention to things we would otherwise overlook. All of a sudden, it’s the most interesting thing in the world that we can see the moon out the front window. Her complete lack of self-consciousness is charming and entertaining. Her excitement and enthusiasm for life are energizing.
And as I said above, the experience of caring for a child has stretched me and challenged me in ways I never would have imagined, shaping me into a wiser, more compassionate, more patient person.
Parenting has made me a better human being.
How about you? What words would you use to describe parenting?