Recently, I was interviewed by a college student who asked me, “What are the best and worst things about being a parent?”
Wow. Huge question. I don’t feel like I even know yet. I’ve been a parent for less than three years. Isn’t this a question for someone with more experience?
So while I’m still learning, still rolling the word “parent” around in my mouth and feeling like it’s a title that belongs to my own mother and father, not me, I’ve been thinking about that question. The best and worst things. And this is what I think so far:
When we make the transition from individuals to parents, we become vulnerable and exposed; our love for our children puts us directly in the path of the potential storms of life saying, “Here I am! Show me what you’ve got!”
Becoming a parent means that now life must be lived with the knowledge that there are always unseen forces out there, forces that could grab us by the throat and hurl us into darkness in an instant.
When you have a child, you love her so much that you wake breathless and frantic in the middle of the night until you remember that she’s sleeping in the bassinet beside you.
You shudder at the thought of another kid hurting her feelings or making her feel bad about herself when she goes to school.
You can’t even voice the greatest fears that you have for your child because your throat tightens and your heart pounds before you can fully form those thoughts.
Now, you love someone else so much that you truly feel like you couldn’t live without her.
Now, you can work your hardest and give all of yourself to nurture her, encourage her, teach her, and protect her, but none of that has any effect on those unpredictable forces in the universe that can sweep in and suck the hope and joy out of life, just like that. So there’s a lot of fear that comes along with becoming a parent, and maybe that’s one of the worst things.
But we do it anyway. We take that leap off the cliff and bring children into this world.
And then, after you’ve taken that enormous risk and in return you’re given the awe-inspiring gift of your children, it’s not like you go around being grateful for them all the time.
Because the truth is that parenting is hard. Really hard.
Lots of jobs are hard; I’m not going to pretend that I think this one is any quantifiable amount harder or easier than anything else. But this one never, ever ends. Since I have become a mother, I am never off duty. There is very little down time, alone time, relaxing time, or getting-important-stuff-done time. There is no boundary between when I’m at work and when I’m at home.
I am well aware that I chose this lifestyle, that of the Stay-at-Home-Mom. I’m glad that I did. But it is exhausting. By the time the kids are in bed at about 8 p.m., I’ve been “at work” for 13 or 14 hours. So needless to say, I look forward to that quiet time with a glass of wine and some much-needed mindless TV watching with desperation and hunger. When I think about that quietness and hanging-with-the-hubs time that comes at the end of each day, I salivate like some creepy old-school cartoon character looking forward to eating a chicken/mouse/other small animal.
So I’m not really at my best when it’s time to put the kids to bed. I just want them to hurry the hell up. But you have to get two two-year-olds upstairs, change their diapers, get them into pajamas, brush their teeth, read them what feels like A THOUSAND books without skipping any parts because they’ve memorized everything, give them special, unique-to-you hugs and kisses, AND THEN change and nurse the baby and put her to bed. All of this after working for 13 hours.
It’s a lot to do at the end of a tiring day.
Once they’re all in bed and I’ve eaten something and gotten a glass of wine into me and I’m curled up on the couch, I realize something.
I miss them.
I don’t mean that I wish they were up and pooping everywhere and yelling about stuff, but I just kind of wish I could be kissing their heads. I start thinking about all the best parts of the day. The cute things the twins said, or the way the baby smiles at me when we make eye contact and her whole body gets charged with sparkly delight just because I looked at her.
I have never in my life had a job that made me feel like this, especially not if I’d been doing it for 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. At the very end of a long exhausting day, when there are no more xylophones being tortured or talking toys jabbering away, I actually have a moment to think clearly. And that’s when I know beyond a doubt that everything – the risk I have taken in becoming a parent, my new state of vulnerability, my helpless devotion to the demands of these little ones – is worth it.
My children are the purest forms of love there could ever be. I belong to them and they belong to me. My heart is so full.
And that’s the best thing.