I think it is pretty safe to say that parenting is tough. Even if you don’t have or even like children, this is probably not news to you. Thankfully, parenting books, magazines, websites, and overly-pessimistic friends will prepare you for this when you are pregnant. What you will not be told is how emotionally draining it can be – at least the first one.
Every day that you raise a child you are confronted with any number of decisions: what will I serve for breakfast? what outfit will this child wear? what will I serve for a snack? Should I even serve a snack? What will I serve for lunch? for dinner? Should I apply sunscreen? is bug spray safe? Is he teething, getting sick, or simply being whiney? Some decisions are tougher: Is he too old for a pacifier? Are vaccines safe? When should he start preschool? Is he developing normally? Is he constipated? Where is he? Have I lost my child? Oh crap, he’s not in his room… You get the idea. Some of these are not terribly difficult problems to solve until other adult human beings enter you life, and trust me, they will.
First of all, your spouse is presumably in the picture. He or she will probably have an opinion at some point and sometimes it won’t mesh with yours. You will probably have grandparents who have opinions and those most likely will NOT mesh with yours. Daycare providers, babysitters, and other friends with kids may feel the need to provide opinions about the way you cut your child’s hair, the manner in which you dealt with his most recent tantrum, and, of course, his sleep and nap situation. These people will all tell you what they think “should” be happening in your life as well as the life of that mini-human who are raising. Some of these people will offer advice that you could not imagine living without. These are people who have survived these years or are currently surviving them. They may offer you suggestions that you never even considered.
Now, there is also another group of people who will no doubt enter your life. These are those friends (or neighbors) who do not have children. These people speak in absolutes: “I will never let my child…” or “My child will always…” or “I will do this…” You will take these comments as a direct attack on the way you are already doing things because raising a kid is hard work and you are always second-guessing yourself. Therefore, when a childless (and in your mind, objective) observer comments, you worry they might be right. Things are simpler for these people. They aren’t in the midst of making one million decisions about the care of a mini-human. They probably get eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. They may come and go from their house as they please and make plans at the drop of a hat. These are people who do not schedule their lives around naps, meals, snacks, and tantrums. These people aren’t living with the constant guilt that mothers seem to always have lurking somewhere in the back of their minds. I’m not criticizing these people. I was one at one time, obviously. They have either made this choice or just simply have not chosen to reproduce yet. The advice these people offer is usually not helpful and sometimes only serves to make you question everything you thought had already figured out.
What these people don’t understand is that they, literally, don’t understand. When your child whines or cries, they do not have the same physical response that you do. A cry is a cry when you don’t have a child, but when you do, you can recognize YOUR child’s cry. You can tell the difference between a whimper that means “I’m frustrated” and a whimper that means, “Ow that really hurt.” You can sense which whines are about to turn into screams and you can tell when a real hug is needed. You are getting used to the fact that your own personal hygiene really isn’t that necessary. You are now more excited about train sets and tricycles then you are about iPods and Nooks. Your childless friends don’t know what it feels like when your child wraps his arms around your neck and squeezes so hard that you feel like you might just explode with love. They don’t understand that after an unusually horrific night you wake to find your child looking at you with a look of such admiration that even you begin to think that you might really be the center of the universe. You get to see the first time they successfully count, the first roll, the first step, the first laugh – oh my god – the first time they really laugh? If that could be bottled we could end wars!
Kids really are a hell of a lot of work and I find that I exist in a state of near-exhaustion most of the time. I don’t get to stay out late at the bar or meet people for lunch spur of the moment. But those last few minutes before bed when I’m reading a book and Dylan has nestled his head against my shoulder and then looks up at me with those intense brown eyes says, “more books, mama?” beats a kegger, a hangover, a trip to the salon, a lunch with friends any day.