If you have ever been pregnant, chances are you’ve received some overly zealous warning about parenting (“Just you wait!”) or some “jokey” advice about the impending end of your life (“You’ll never sleep again!”). Sigh.
Once you have your baby, you might understand where some of this perspective has come from. Is it hard to be a parent? Yes. Definitely, yes. But you also know it’s so much more than just the hard parts. Maybe the better answer to the question “Is it hard to be a parent?” is “Yes, and.” Yes, and it’s also beautiful, humbling, sacred—a thousand hopeful words could fill in this blank. Maybe if we offer that perspective to parents-to-be, it can give them hope and excitement about the arrival of their baby instead of only anxiety.
Sometimes I wonder if the doom and gloom we toss at parents-to-be comes from the relatability of the hard parts. Everyone can understand that it would be exhausting to wake up five times a night to feed or change a crying baby. Everyone can understand that it would be frustrating to battle a tiny, unreasonable toddler over putting on their shoes. They can understand the hopelessness of being out of control (i.e., I cannot get my baby to sleep no matter how hard I try). They can understand the fear of the unknown. Fear that something bad could happen to your baby. Fear over labor.
Those things we can all picture, and they all make parenting hard.
But on the other hand, parenting is indescribable love and joy, and everyone else can only understand that in part until they’ve been there themselves.
We only get the dimmest shadow of what that could be for someone else. No one can feel the love I have for my children but my husband and me. And no matter how hard I try, I literally cannot articulate the love I have for them to anyone else. The happiness they bring me. How absolutely beautiful their little hearts are. How I would do anything for them. How they can melt my heart with one giggle.
When we’re talking to parents-to-be about parenting, and they ask for our perspective, what if we tried to keep things balanced and offered some hope instead? No parent-to-be appreciates or only wants to hear your parenting “horror stories” told in the condescending tone of “you’re about to ruin your life.” Those types of sentiments are unlikely to truly prepare them for dealing with the difficult parts of parenting. It’s just going to make them feel bad. (Let’s save some of those war stories for other parents so we can commiserate together, anyway.)
Instead, let’s try to articulate the good in a way that won’t make their eyes glaze over. Let’s tell parents-to-be how they can look forward to hugs and cuddles for no reason at all. How they can marvel at their kids’ amazing ability to forgive quickly. How they will want to spend hours trying to memorize their baby’s face. How they’ll never laugh so hard. How they’ll receive countless, priceless gifts from their children—crayon drawings and picked dandelions and hearing their sweet baby voices say words. How sometimes it will hit them how absolutely incredible it is that they are lucky enough to be their kids’ parent. Let’s share that hope.
Let’s offer a picture of parenting that’s a fair balance. If they ask, let’s be authentic about the challenges and what’s worked and not worked for us. And let’s also share the sweet things that surprised us, excited us, and filled us with joy. And maybe people will just nod politely while you try to convince them that your baby literally is the cutest baby in the world, smiling blandly as you show them the video on your phone of your baby staring at you and breathing—but they will also gain some optimism that they will love so many parts of parenthood, too. That it won’t be just hard. Or too hard. That they can do it.
So yes, having kids is hard, like all important things you’ll do. And yes, having kids is one of the deepest experiences of love and joy you can have in a way that so few things in the world can offer. Yes, and. We grow from both, we can learn to appreciate both, and we should share both, however difficult it may be to put into words, with those who ask.