The Responsibilities and Rewards of Parenting

Parenthood

When I first became a mom, I had a few freak-out moments over the huge responsibility facing me as a new mom and the fact that my life had changed forever – virtually overnight.  I remember clearly the fear I felt driving my new-born Zachary home from our first doctor’s appointment.  In that moment, I realized what a responsibility I’d taken on and was a bit overwhelmed by it all.   A few nights later, when Zachary was sleeping soundly and I was starving (with nothing to eat in the house), it hit me that my life had changed forever.  I couldn’t just run down the street to grab something to eat (because you NEVER wake a sleeping baby).

I could no longer be spontaneous and go wherever I wanted to go whenever I wanted to.  I had taken on a massive responsibility that seemed, at times, overwhelming.  And forget about getting good sleep – I was exhausted (which gets worse when you add additional kids to the mix, by the way).  These are a few of the “negatives” that are often discussed when the topic of parenting comes up.

Unfortunately, I fear that many parents (and young people considering whether they want to become parents) focus on the negative aspects of parenting.  I had lunch with a friend a few days ago who told me that none of her friends with kids seem happy.  All she hears is how exhausted her friends are and how they’ve lost their independence and spontaneity.  This has led her to believe that she likely doesn’t want to become a mom – because she doesn’t hear much good from people who are parents.  And she’s also worried about how having children would affect her career.

It does seem like there’s a lot of discussion today regarding how to have a thriving career while being a parent.  Before I get too much further, I want to make clear that I do believe you can have both a good career and kids – I’ve done that myself.  However, if you choose to have children, please note that your career will suffer.  In fact, if you’re a good parent, I’d argue that your career should suffer.  You may not like hearing this, but once you choose to have a child you’re obligated to, you know, be a parent (having kids isn’t a box you check along the pathway of life).

The point of this article isn’t to make anyone feel guilty who has kids and works.  In fact, I cannot stand the argument that you can’t be a good parent if you work – because it’s not true.  You can be a great parent and work – I’ve known many.  But these people understand that becoming a parent is a choice that comes with responsibility – responsibility to raise a human being.  And raising that human being takes time and serious emotional capital.  This will undoubtedly take away from your ability to work in the same way you did before having children.  However, that doesn’t mean that you cannot have a great career along the way (it’s just a bit different than it would be had you not had children).

This idea that we can have it ALL is a lie.  It’s a lie because of the way we define what “all” means.  Too many people, however, fall into the trap of thinking that having it “all” means they’re supposed to climb the career ladder to the top.  I have news for you:  it’s almost impossible to do that AND to parent the way you likely want.  Because there’s only so much time in the day (and only so much emotional capital each of us has within ourselves).  Although this trap is alluring (because it promises so much), it leads to exhaustion, overwhelm, guilt and regret.  And I don’t want that for you.  If you’re trying to do this, I suggest that you figure out what having it “all” truly means to you.  Maybe you’ve been defining it by someone else’s standards (instead of by yours).

This discussion around having a career and being a parent is seriously deficient in my view.  Why?  I think there’s too much emphasis on what you “lose” when you become a parent and not enough emphasis on what you gain from the experience.  I believe that raising kids will give you so much more than anything you’d get from a promotion or any other experience you’ll have at work.  In fact, being a parent is one of the most rewarding things you could ever do – if you choose to see it that way.

Parenting provides for a substantial number of growth opportunities.  I’ve learned so much from my children.  For one, I’ve learned to be more spontaneous.  Believe it or not, kids are pretty darn spontaneous – just about different things than adults are.  And I’ve also learned to truly enjoy the little things in life (and that they aren’t really all that little after all).  Kids love to discover.  My kids’ sense of curiosity and wonder has helped me to re-discover how beautiful this world and the people in it really are.  And that’s something I’m truly grateful for.  I’ve also learned not to sweat the small stuff so much (and that much of what we adults agonize over isn’t nearly as important as we’d like to think it is).

My kids have taught me the importance of patient perseverance.  And I’m not talking about patience that I’ve had to develop because of their difficult behavior (although that does exist too).  What I’m talking about is the patience that they (sometimes) exhibit when they’re determined to do something they’ve never done before, get extremely focused and continually keep at it until they get it right (or close enough).  I’ve learned through them that this process of quietly persevering can be an extremely rewarding experience.

I’ve been on a journey (which started about 6 years ago) to learn to let go of the things that I cannot control and enjoy the present moment.  And I believe that this journey would never have come had I not had my boys.  Because my boys have shown me how to experience true joy in the little things that happen each day – as they experience them.  Children live in the moment so much better than adults do.  And they’ve taught me to do the same.

I could go on for pages, but I’ll end with the best reward of all.  No one will ever love you like your child.  And I mean no one.  To be loved that much is one of the most rewarding and miraculous experiences you’ll ever have.  And you will love that child more than you could ever have imagined.  It’s a fierce kind of love that doesn’t ever go away.

So, is parenting difficult?  Absolutely.  It’s sometimes also heart-breaking, anger-inducing and overwhelming.  But on the flipside, it’s rewarding and amazingly beautiful.  And the beauty of parenting far outweighs any “negatives” (which, if you haven’t figured out by now, I don’t really consider them as negatives – they’re growth opportunities that make us better people).  When I think of my decision to become a mom, I never feel that I’ve given up anything.  Instead, I’ve gained more than I ever could have imagined when I first made the decision to become a mom.  And I’d never in a million years give it up – no matter what.

 

Until next time…

 

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1 Comment

  1. I honestly think many folks who “fear” parenthood do so out of an awareness that they’ve been able to live very self-centered lives. And that will change irrevocably when they choose to be parents. So as you point out, they see what will be lost, but have no insight into what will be gained.

    I had a fundamentally different experience growing up that informed my views in a way that I am grateful for NOW (but wasn’t then). I was the oldest and there was a huge gap between me and the youngest.

    That meant I was plenty old enough to help raise the youngest. And I did. I mostly loved it, but occasionally resented it. Mostly the anxiety around screwing up. I literally had nightmares that about losing track of Jeff and he wandered off and drowned. Or got hit by a car. Or lost. Or…..

    The good part was that I loved Jeff and came out of that just loving kids in general. And I didn’t cause him to die, so there’s that. But at the same time, I hated having so much responsibility at such a young age and when I was old enough, I just left for college and never looked back. Which was terrible, but there you go.

    So I can say that I saw both sides of it when we decided to have kids of our own. And I can say now that I agree with everything you say here.

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