IN THIS POST: Parenting isn’t easy for a lot of reasons – and many of them specific to each parent. But, we should expect that. After all, it’s not just a baby who is becoming a new person.
(I wrote this essay in the midst of navigating early parenthood after the arrival of our first daughter. I left the timeline to reflect that reality. As of this posting, our newborn is now almost twelve!)
Before Children: How Hard Can It Be?
By the time my husband and I announced our pregnancy, we had accumulated thirty years of clichés about parenthood. “Time goes by so fast when you have kids,” “Every baby is beautiful,” and “Every child is a miracle.” Our favorite one to ignore though was “It’s the hardest job you’ll ever have.”
Confident that our combined IQ’s would outrank a child, assured of our ability to pick up menial tasks quickly, and overall proud of the fine, responsible, young adults that we had become, we snickered behind closed doors: “How hard can it be to take care of a kid? Feed ’em, change diapers, cuddle, repeat, right?”
How hard indeed. If you’re a parent, ease the cramp in your side that will come from laughing at our naiveté. If you’re a soon-to-be-parent thinking similar secret thoughts, consider this fair warning.
After Children: Oh.
For me, it wasn’t the loads of laundry, dirty dishes, perpetual dust bunnies, jeans-and-t-shirt “momiform,” lack of contact with adults, trimming tiny fingernails, having chunks vomited on me, or cleaning blowout diapers that shot slime poop to her armpits that overwhelmed me in the beginning.
What overwhelmed me was scratchy-throated nights trying to warble a lullaby only to realize I couldn’t remember any of the lyrics and every single stinkin’ melody had a note (or two) just out of range;
trying to breastfeed for the first time with a nurse yanking my boob and casually tossing about my new little one who had wires attached to her head and chest;
the debilitating shock that despite books, conversations, and classes about how to parent with ease, our child had not read, conversed, or attended any of them with us, nor did she care;
realizing with certainty that Starbucks doesn’t have enough caffeine in the store to support a mother’s exhaustion — because a mother’s exhaustion is not just physical;
it was threatening to pound to a pulp whichever person dared to sneeze, stomp, or laugh when the baby was sleeping because I wasn’t sure what it was that would cause her to wake up, but I was convinced that I could physically harm the person who did it;
forgetting which day of the week it was and realizing that it didn’t really matter because weekends no longer existed;
and, crying uncontrollably when my husband gave me the best birthday present I have ever received — staying home from work on my birthday so I could have an extra set of hands with our 6-month-old and a coffee date with me and Quiet.
Parenting Isn’t Easy for Other Reasons
Parenting isn’t easy because everything I had ever been taught about independence went right out the door with my vacation days. The independent person I had become was now responsible for a dependent combination of genes, body fluid, soul, organs, and skin.
Just like that, I was stripped of my independence — something I had been taught to this point was the mark of a mature adult — and left in an odd identity void that mixed dependence, independence, caffeine, and co-dependence in an uncomfortable reality.
Parenting isn’t easy because everything that you have come to value in yourself to this point — independence, stability, knowledge, flexibility, and spontaneity — is yanked from your control. It is the hardest job in the world because you are becoming a completely different person.
Parenting is a makeover. Never before have I had to so completely, fully, and irrevocably alter my habits, my thoughts, my activities, my concerns, and my priorities. In no other experience has my physical, mental, and emotional state been so wrecked simultaneously for such an extended period of time.
The Parenthood Cycle – Infant to Toddler and Repeat
Just as we were figuring out how to appreciate our infant, she became a toddler and the game changed. The hardest job got easier and harder in a cycle that will continue for the rest of parenthood.
It was easier because we had learned a couple lessons from her infancy. It was harder because the toddler stage changed the game.
No one particular thing will overwhelm a parent caught between the physical exhaustion of a newborn and the emotional turmoil of a toddler.
In that time a parent will be torn apart by a thousand pricks on their state of normalcy and stability.
Thousands of decisions will be made about eating and discipline and encouragement and cartoons and friends and doctor visits.
In that time new parents will have cleared hundreds of odd hurdles just as the new child raises another challenge. And this will repeat on to perpetuity.
Developmental Milestones: Leveling Up in Parenting
It was exciting when she started talking. We thought we might finally understand what she was communicating without twenty minutes of frustrated crying. And then we realized that we were largely responsible for putting context to her world.
We talked about colors, directions, shapes, nouns, verbs, numbers, letters, names, places, tastes, smells, feelings, faith, relatives, animals, manners, food, houses, schools, church, grocery stores, gyms, toys, sports, multiplication tables, continents, politics, adjectives, books, bodily functions, and textures. All. The. Time.
It meant that our conversational techniques were drastically changed to omit yes/no questions because “no” was always the standard answer. There were no exceptions.
Then she started walking. We quickly realized what our neighbors had meant when they said, “Everything changes when they start walking.” What they meant was, “She will not sit down and will expect the same from you.”
From “Good Morning!” to “Sleep Tight” we run, jump, skip, dance, tickle, kick, twirl, flip, bounce, march, squat (Oh the squats!), launch, throw, kneel, stand, toss, roll, wiggle, squirm, bend, clap, shake, push, pull, swing, lift, hug, kiss, pat, squeeze, smoosh, crawl, waddle, scoot, and fly. Every thirty minutes.
We kept our personal belongings on a high shelf and far away from any furniture that could be climbed. We agreed to live without toilet paper on the roll dispenser. Instead it stayed on the back of the toilet or sink — reaching distance to a squatter but not a toddler.
We grappled with how to teach skills that we had but didn’t know how we had learned. I made a mental note to thank my mom for teaching me how to use a spoon. My effort to break down the process for my ten-month-old who had a vocabulary of ten words failed spectacularly.
Staying Alive in the World
Combine the toddler’s fascination with everything and the attention span of a gnat and you wonder, “How do I teach a child to be aware of herself and her surroundings?”
You wonder that question every time you shout an apology to a biker or runner who had to make a wide circle around your toddler who was swerving for no apparent reason while pointing and exclaiming “Oh!”;
you wonder when your child almost walks into a lamppost because her head is turned in curiosity looking at something behind her;
and you wonder every time she flattens another child on the playground because she’s going 100-mph while looking at her feet moving so fast in her snazzy shoes.
Parenting Isn’t Easy – Transformation Never Is
Parenthood requires you to be physically, mentally, and emotionally present 100% of the time, hundreds of days in a row. No weekends, no vacations, no sick days, no excuses.
You sacrifice privacy and sleep and control. Creativity is demanded daily for entertainment, discipline, and development. You perform with heightened sensitivity to sharp corners, household toxins, and nagging knowledge of too much bad in the world. Teaching is constant, but to do so you must learn. And then you hope that you can learn faster than you need to teach. You fail daily.
The hardest part is learning something new every day and often contrary to what you thought you already knew.
Parenthood reminds you constantly that you don’t know everything, even if to this point you were considered fairly educated. It is all quite humbling, really.
You will encounter a few boo-boos, need an occasional reality-check, and touch something you don’t want to in the process. Accept that when an adult and a child are becoming new people, it’s bound to create chaos.
And then, when your infant has been screaming for an hour so that you can no longer hear anything or your toddler has gone two feet in forty minutes because she’s stopping to examine everything, zone out for a second to remember that the person they are becoming, and that you are becoming, is exciting and amazing and wonderfully made.
Parenthood teaches you what a new child discovers instinctively. It teaches that being open to the unexpected will rock your world, change your life, and transform your identity. But no one said anything about parenting being easy.
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