In my going-on-seven years of parenting, I’ve discovered some things – seemingly universally experienced by parents – from all “sides” of the parenting spectrum: stay at home parents, working out of the home parents, homeschooling parents, attachment parents, etc. – that no one bothered to tell me, prior to having children. Of course, when you want children, you don’t listen to anyone else anyhow because your pregnancy will be super-awesome, your birth will be a breeze, and your baby will be all sweetness and light, right? Right. So, without further ado, nine things:
(Me... A mere ten days before my world completely changed)
1) There is no off switch on children. Volume? Always on, and usually set to high. Movement? Always on the go unless sleeping (& oftimes not even then). Needs/requests? Always present; never ending. Certainly many needs ease a bit as children age, and all but the most urgent can usually be delayed a bit. But, especially when they're young, the urgent needs (see #2) of children really don't let up. The fact of the matter is, in spite of what you might see in pictures or hear from great-grandma’s memories, children aren’t typically quiet, they aren’t usually calm; they aren’t mini adults. They are always on, and expect you will be as well. The good part about this is that you learn how patient you can be. Patience, as they say, is a virtue.
2) Taking care of sick kids is really quite challenging. It pushes the limits of your empathy and innate care-taking qualities (for details, see #3). Most especially when you also are sick (& when you're not sleeping because you're up with sick kids, and being exposed to all manner of germs picked up from every possible play surface in the universe even some that you don’t consider play surfaces but your children certainly do, like grocery store aisle floors – you likely will be), and would rather be in bed, having someone care for YOU. But, there must be a light at the end of the tunnel. I think there are two: First, I keep in mind that through illness, children are building their immune systems one cold at a time – getting stronger and healthier. And two, I remember my childhood illnesses with an odd fondness – being home with my mom all day while being allowed to draw and watch as much television as I wanted – I don’t much recall the illness as much as the special attention.
3) Cleaning throw up out of the car stinks. Literally. As does cleaning throw up out of the bed in the middle of the night, or off of yourself, at any time of day. There's just no good time for puking, really, but it's particularly unappealing when it isn't yours and it's on your stuff, your person, and/or you've had about 2 hours of sleep when said cleaning is required. Trying to think of an upside to this… if there is one, please feel free to chime in.
4) Appreciation for all you do as a parent is not readily forthcoming. Whether you work another job in addition to parenting or raising your kids is your sole vocation, no one really says thank you – not specifically, anyway. And why not? Because parenting is not really considered a job, and, big sigh, its commonplace: nearly anyone can become a parent; nearly everyone is. Thanking someone for being a parent is like thanking someone for clipping their own toenails: Great job, keep on being human, you. And children don’t know to thank you because… well, because they’re children and, you’re just doing what you’re supposed to be doing – taking care of them. Thanks, Mom, pass the granola, and can you take me to the playground, please?
And though it’s arguably one of the most important jobs on the planet – the maintaining of new, and hopefully functional, kind, and creative humans – it’s just a particularly thankless, underappreciated job.
Yet, there are some periodic bonuses: sweet chubby cheeked kisses, toddler snuggles, lovely drawings with MOM scrawled across the top, spousal recognitions of job well done, strangers’ comments on how "well behaved" your children are, watching your kids achieve their own independence or success – it's enough to keep going at it each day.
(Appreciation from my 6yo - note that it says love-together-peace-life. Man, she's awesome!)
5) Parenting can be boring. Like glassy-eyed staring at the ceiling (or the clock counting the hours ‘til bedtime) oh my goodness when will the repetition end kind of boring. Babies are incredibly adorable, and… they don’t do anything (but they sure need a lot) – thankfully they have the big eyes and chubby thighs going for them. Toddlers are sweet as pie, and… they want to read the same book. Over. And over. It’s kind of like that knock knock joke your preschooler memorized that was really funny the first time, but not so funny the eleventy-billionth time she told it. Boredom is just part of the deal. On the upside, this has made me more creative – both in my kid-and-adult-centered-activity-planning (i.e. finding things that can be interesting to both me AND my kids) and in my clandestine escapism (i.e. learning to tweet whilst doing the dishes), AND more able to slow down & appreciate the boring... because my children's childhood goes far too quickly.
6) Parenting makes you tired. Bone tired. To the core. No matter that your kids are sleeping through the night or not – by that time your ability to sleep normally yourself has been so altered that you can’t sleep anyhow. No matter if your kids are older – then you’re staying up to make sure they come back home safely at night. Parenting is synonymous with exhaustion. When you go to bed at night you fall into bed. It’s a tired more deep than a day’s hike with a heavy backpack or International travel. Of course, you learn to live with it, you adjust, your kids start sleeping better, you start sleeping better… but the sleep of the parent is never the same as the sleep of the non-parent. Perhaps the good from this is how amazing a morning to myself is – sleeping in while Adam makes breakfast and plays with the children – those two extra hours of sleep never felt so good.
7) Parenting is huge. Even when you don’t want it to be; it is everything. You are in charge – whether you want to be or not and whether your children “fail” or “succeed” – you are to blame. You make the choices, you carry the burdens. You select your children’s method of birth (or sometimes it selects you, no matter how much you prepared), your children’s method of feeding, schooling, discipline, experiences, etc. etc., and however it works out – or doesn’t – falls on you. The responsibility (as unfair as it may be since we all know nurture – or is it nature? – isn’t everything in how a child turns out. ) can be overwhelming. It can also be liberating – realizing, as much as we want our children to be a certain way – as much as we try and succeed, or fail – our children are going to be who they are; they are resilient and amazing, in spite of us.
Of course, the unspoken rules of parenting aren’t all negatives. There are some positives that I wasn’t told, either. Like:
8) Watching your child figure something out is awe-inspiring. Whether it be learning to speak, crawl, walk, stack blocks, multiply, write in cursive, ride a bike… Just observing your child learn, and develop skills – particularly ones that you weren’t even directly involved in teaching – is absolutely and endlessly fascinating.
9) You will feel more love than you've ever felt or ever know what to do with. If you thought you loved your spouse, or your dog, or your mother... you didn't really know how deep love could be until you held a tiny baby, drifting off to sleep, who’s clutching tight to your finger in the silence of the middle of the night in the rocking chair. The smell of your baby's head is the most delicious aroma you've ever experienced and stirs a fondness so strong and lasting and bonding… the love of a parent for a child is infinite.
So, did I leave anything out? What’s the most amazing – or challenging – thing you’ve discovered about parenting?