I’ve been thinking lately (which usually gets me into all sorts of trouble). What I’ve been wondering as I spend probably more time in thought than I should (maybe I need a hobby), is whether or not being a parent is all it’s cracked up to be.
Every day, it seems like a hundred new parenting blogs emerge, all celebrating the joys of parenting and how wonderful being an engaged parent can be, complete with pictures of cheery families amid faux sunshine-induced lens flare, frolicking through meadows while holding each other’s hands. Gosh, that looks swell. I then wonder if those are staged ad campaigns for a household cleaner, because parenting, for the most part, is ugly.
The misery begins before the child is even born: emotional, physical, and psychological torture that strains relationships to their breaking point for nine full months.
It continues through infancy. Parental panic becomes a thing that we never knew existed, making us do things like wake up in the middle of the night, just to check if our children are still breathing, and why? We do this because, in the backs of our minds is parked a frightening and sobering fact: 4000 infants die before their first birthday each year, and that’s JUST in the U.S.
But wait — it gets worse! Those cute little bundles of joy transform into tiny terrors once they learn how to move their appendages, and suddenly, we’re thinking about things like installing outlet covers to prevent electric shock (though statistically, only 1 in 5 million people will die as a result of consumer-related electrocution), buying special pillows to prevent suffocation at night, surrounding a crib with pillows in the off-chance they make a daring escape attempt, keeping the floor clear of anything small enough to swallow, or worst of all, worrying about deaths caused by inflatable amusements (yes, that’s really a thing).
Just when we start growing used to this new life of constant checking and double-checking, parenthood throws us another curve: communication. Despite our best efforts to prevent injuries, the little monsters throw us for a loop as they begin speaking. Oh sure, it’s cute at first, as we try teaching them new words every day and posting our adorable videos on Facebook of toddlers stringing together curiously odd sentences out of words they probably shouldn’t be repeating, but with speech communication eventually comes the epic tantrum. At first, we stay strong in our resolve, but like the proverbial water wearing away the stone, drip by laborious drop, the tantrums wear on us until we all sound like Mr. Salt in Willy Wonka’s factory: “All right, Veruca, all right. I’ll get you one before the day is out.”
The years pass and as a parent, we wear out. We feel like giving up. We learn to choose our battles, for the field of war when it comes to parenting is brutal. Once again, we find that balance and grow comfortable. Our daughters look up to us like we could bring them the moon in a pretty pink box, tied up with a little red ribbon and bow. Our sons think we are the strongest people to have ever walked the Earth, as we hoist them onto our shoulders for a better view. We eventually let our guard down.
That’s when puberty hits.
The teenage years become a surreal, hormone-fueled nightmare, where Mrs./Mr. Hyde takes over for Dr. Jekyll, and we begin wondering if the moon has somehow been made permanently full in our universe. Boundaries are tested daily, arguments ensue (and even those arguments are argued about), and we begin wondering if we were even cut out for parenting to begin with. If we don’t have grey hair by this time, it’s for one of three reasons: 1) we dye it, 2) we’re blessed with highly resilient genes, or 3) we’ve resorted to shaving our heads so we can stop pulling our hair out every time we get frustrated, like I do.
Why, after looking at this progression of self-inflicted agony and torment, would any sane person intentionally choose to become a parent? Should we believe that our biological urges are powerful enough to override our well-evolved sense of logic and reason that looks at what is to come (and is inevitable, no matter what the self-help parenting books try to convince us otherwise)?
The reason cannot be spoken; only felt.
The overarching and all-powerful motivator comes to us in little, quiet moments such as these:
It happens on a freezing Chicago morning, as you witness your oldest son take first steps of another kind, as he emerges from a trial by fire, transformed into a man you can be proud to announce, “This is my son!”
It happens on a beach, as you notice suddenly that the little girl who used to ask you to put butterfly clips in her hair has become a young woman whose beauty is enough to eclipse the Hawaiian sunset behind her.
It happens on an otherwise nondescript day, as you suddenly realize that your daughter is growing into a young woman, so full of promise and grace, while seeing in her the very same qualities you fell in love with years ago, when you proposed to her mother.
It hits you on a hot summer day, as your son takes a break from the action in the driveway, just so he can sit close and share an Otter Pop. Without words, you sit together in the silence, quenching a thirst of a different kind as you take in the splendor of such a simple, touching moment.
So, I ask you, is parenting really worth it? My answer is this: absolutely worth every tear, every stress, every shouting match, every broken heart, and every skinned knee kissed all better. The key to arriving at this conclusion, though, is being present enough for these little moments, because they are fleeting and subtle. If you don’t look around once in a while, you might just miss them, at which point, your answer may be different.