Navigating Parenthood: 10 Unexpected Challenges and Surprises

©Robert Kneschke via

Recently, this tearful video deeply resonated with me, capturing the persistent challenges that accompany every age and stage of parenting. As I navigate this adventure with my family, I’ve reflected on this collection of unexpected challenges that continue to surprise me in my parenthood journey. I’m sharing my top 10, and I’d love to hear yours.

Designated Empath: The Third Shift

First shift, go to your paid job. Second shift, do all the remembering, the unpaid labor. Third shift, designated empath. Kiss all the boo-boos. Wipe all the tears. De-escalate all the arguments, fights, and challenges at home and school for the kiddos and your spouse’s from work. You are the emotional rock for your family, dubbed by Jennifer Senior as the “third shift.” This third, often full-time, job requires a level of empathy beyond the ordinary. There’s a reason, outside of the lack of sleep, that you are so tired all the time.

Influence vs. Control: The Punctuality Struggle

Trying to control time in a family is nearly impossible. While I can influence the concept of being on time, the delicate balance between instilling punctuality in my children and embracing the chaos of family life wears on my Type A personality daily.

Cacophony: The Symphony of Noise

Not a single member of our household possesses a naturally “soft” voice, myself included. We are a vibrant group of extroverted external processors. Though a testament to the brightness of our family, it tests our collective tolerance. The struggle to keep everyone regulated is real!

Daily Battle: The Mess and Visual Clutter

Managing the aftermath of daily life–the school papers and extracurricular supplies alone–adds layers of complexity to our routine I never could have imagined. My formerly pristine living space is but a distant memory. Minimalist no more; it’s time to embrace the maximalist lifestyle.

Tears: A Daily Ritual

Beyond the expected difficulties, my 6 and 10-year-old boys cry, without fail, every single day. It’s not a passing phase, and while we know that emotions are not ruled by our gender or age, the fact that I have to continuously explain this to teachers and otherwise well-intentioned adults continues to shock and frustrate me. Let’s face it: it also adds to the noise. The crying is also not “soft.” It often more closely resembles wailing.

Co-Parenting: Constant Complexities

For those lucky enough to parent with a partner, co-parenting unveils surprising dynamics. It amazes me how two childless individuals can agree so much, while those same two people, upon having children, can then agree on so little. I love my partner, but I have to constantly remind him that we are two caring, intelligent people doing the best we can. While we often disagree on approach, we share the same values. The work to find a middle ground or take a “both-and” approach is often a Herculean task.

The MOST Unanticipated Daily Task: Examining Fecal Matter

This daily routine, possibly specific to our medical conditions, is certainly not something I anticipated lasting beyond the infant years, let alone a decade into parenting.

Identity Crisis: Who Am I Outside of Motherhood?

The struggle to define myself outside of motherhood is an ongoing battle. Balancing the competing identities of a parent, partner, and an individual with unique interests and aspirations poses a constant challenge. This journey of self-discovery, where the lines between roles blur, has taken lots of unexpected turns.

Financial Strain: Meeting Basic Needs

The responsibility of making enough money to take care of everyone and meet basic needs is a formidable challenge. It’s a constant juggling act or a tightrope walk where I’m acutely aware that every step counts.

Every other aspect highlighted in this emotional video – enduring lack of sleep, diminished freedom, and so more.

These surprises encompass a blend of exhilaration and challenge—chaotic, heartwarming, and utterly surprising. Joy and love coexist with challenges I never saw coming. So, here’s to embracing the unexpected, laughing in the face of chaos, and finding joy in the messiness of parenthood. We’re all in this together, navigating this journey with resilience, love, solidarity, and, hopefully, a touch of humor.

What does your list look like? What would you add? 


  1. Love these. We really don’t know what we don’t know when it comes to parenthood. The noise one is a hard hitter for me, becuase I never considered myself sensitive to sound or being over stimulated and I wear it like a name tag these days.


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