“It’s the hardest thing you’re ever going to do.”
Every parent recognizes this phrase because it’s all you hear before you have a child. Some people follow with “…but it’s worth it,” while most just immediately change the topic because, I imagine, they just don’t want to think about it.
Like many phrases that people throw out without really thinking about them (case in point, I was completely unaware of where “drink the Kool-Aid” came from), I can say that there is much truth to the phrase, it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but why?
What is it specifically about parenting that makes it so hard? Many people throw out the lack of sleep, but for most parents that doesn’t last very long and for me it really wasn’t an issue since I really don’t sleep that much. There’s the constant worrying. Having to deal with other parents or for some perhaps they didn’t realize just how physical a job being a parent is.
I’ve thought about it a lot and I believe that parenting is hard because it’s “priced to perfection.” Ok, what in the world does he mean? If you work at a public company or follow the stock market, you’ll often hear that a stock is “priced to perfection.” In my own layman terms, this means that the stock is perceived (stress: perceived) to be at its ceiling with limited or no upside, however, one small issue/mistake and the stock is going to go down sharply. In other words there’s no room for error – the stock has got nothing else to give. Think Apple at $700.
Parenting is hard because it’s a constant battle for energy – your own. The physical and mental wear and tear can be debilitating. You’re constantly at your energy ceiling with no place to go but down. It’s especially the mental part that drains me – am I reading enough to him? Is he developing ok? How come other kids can put on their clothes themselves? Why can’t he use a spoon? Does it matter? What if he never uses a spoon? Is Angry Birds ok because he’s learning physics? I can go on, it’s every minute or every day and it’s completely unrelenting and unpredictable. And, if you’re lucky enough to get a break, all you do is feel guilty for getting the break (well, not all the time).
Parents reading this should understand. If you don’t, let me say it a different way, being a parent is like Luke fighting Vader the first time, it’s Andy Dufresne crawling through 500 yards of shit smelling foulness, it’s Rocky v. Creed, it’s William Wallace with blue face paint, it’s Sgt. Elias running through the jungle, it’s the Apollo 13 crew in the lunar module, it’s General Maximus in the colosseum, it’s DEFCON 1 and the computer is playing tic-tack-toe, it’s Carrie Bradshaw trying to find her favorite Manolos.
Which leads me back to energy. I find myself now trying to eat differently (not working but thinking about it), trying to work out more (sort of working) and just generally thinking about my energy level a lot more. And I have it relatively easy, people with demanding full time jobs (like my wife) are totally screwed. They have so little time to build up their reserves. It’s go go go, all day long. Not a day goes by when my wife doesn’t say “I just need 5 minutes, just 5 minutes by myself” after a long day at work only to come home to be smothered by her husband and child.
And at bedtime, when I’m running on sludge, teeth have been brushed, pajamas have been changed, “Wheels on the Bus” has been read five times, my legs burning, my eyes half closed, my words starting to slur, I realize that I forgot to bring up his water, put the laundry in the dryer, unload the dishwasher, pay the bills. I’m completely sapped of all energy, I’m priced to perfection. I have nothing left to give.
Perhaps it’s at this very moment that I should think about my mom who has boundless energy, who if I called at this moment (it would be 1am) would pick up the phone before the second ring as if she was “on call” and tell me not to worry…”this too shall pass” or “just give it a few days, I’m sure it’s nothing.” But no, I summon another hero, Rocky Balboa’s own yoda, Mickey, and his ever-present words, “GET UP YOU SON-OF-A-BITCH, cause (Alex) loves ya” and my night continues…
If the above clip is too long for you, check out this from Rocky Balboa instead for a little inspiration.
Oh, and by the way, if it’s not completely obvious, being a parent is absolutely and completely worth it – every minute (even when Alex pooped in a public pool and shut it down for the day)
NCPhoto courtesy of Flickr/MyEyeSees Photo courtesy of Flickr/Damon Green
Blog Postscript – and a MUST read. My mom (4 kids, 7 grandchildren) read this post and offered the following words of wisdom to me. She gave me permission to share with all of you. And remember not to poke a hamster with a pencil.
1: Although being a parent is the most difficult job you will ever have, you should not consider it a job. You should consider it a labor of love. This will change your perspective as to what you think you should be accomplishing in the course of a day. There will be days when you conquer the world, and days when inertia takes over totally. No big deal. No one is going to give you a pink slip except yourself.
2. It doesn’t matter if you do not do all the chores before you go to sleep. They are all going to be waiting for you in the morning. In the morning you will be bright eyed and bushytailed and not catatonic. So if you fall asleep with Alex, before Alex falls asleep, it is no big deal if there are things left undone (as long as Alex doesn’t decide to leave home while you are sleeping).
3. Don’t worry what other children do or accomplish. It is more important for a child to learn not to poke a hamster with a pencil because it will hurt the hamster, than to learn that hamster begins with the letter “h”. In other words, at this point the only really important thing you can impart to your child is a sense of right and wrong, compassion and sensitivity to other living things and honesty. Cognitive learning comes sooner or later to every child in some degree. Values tend to skip a few kids.