In my pre-kid days, when I’d hear people say parenting is the hardest job on Earth, I’d nod along in benign agreement. I assumed that statement was a platitude designed to let tired parents vent a little, or a sympathetic bone to throw at less-than-stellar parents as a form of encouragement.
Now that I’m a mother of three, I clearly see the truth. Parenting is, in every way, literally the toughest job in the world. Hands down. Air traffic control? Super stressful job. Brain surgeon? Definitely not for sissies. But no occupation on the planet even comes close to parenting. Here’s why:
1) THE MUNDANE DAILY GRIND
Parenting has a million tedious aspects to it that are seemingly never-ending. You can’t really grasp the entirety of this fact, even at just at the basic, physical level, until you’ve been at it for a while.
You start off the parenting gig with months (or years) of sleep deprivation that you never quite seem to catch up from. You think about what to feed these little people several times a day, every day. You deal with their bodily functions – spit-up, potty, snot, boogers, ear wax, fingernails, teeth and hair, etc. – every single day, for years on end. You field 625,897 questions, half of which are unanswerable, just in a kid’s 4th year of life alone.
It gets easier, in some ways, as you develop your own systems and rhythms. And as kids get older, their physical needs wane. But even at that, they don’t stop. The kids’ needs change, but they still have needs. All. The. Time.
2) THE IMMENSE RESPONSIBILITY
I remember the first time it dawned on me that I was my child’s mother. You’d think that would have sunk in when the pregnancy test turned blue, but it wasn’t until I was summoned by our first child’s bad dream that I really internalized the weight of my role as “The Mommy.”
For the rest of this kid’s life, when she’s scared and wants her “Mommy,” that’s ME. When she’s older and looks back on her childhood, I’M the Mom that will be featured in her memories. And the lovely man I chose as my husband? HE will be the Daddy whom she will see as her primary protector. HE will be the Father who will impact her sense of self and future relationships by his daily interactions with her.
That was a very heavy realization. And a dozen years later, it continues to be heavy. You only get one chance to be the parent of your child’s childhood. Not that you have to do everything perfectly, but you really don’t want to screw it up. These little people’s safety and health – physically, emotionally, spiritually – falls on your shoulders. It’s on you. That’s no small thing.
3) THE INCESSANT WORRY
When that same first baby was just a few days old, I watched an Oprah episode about child abduction, and I’ve pretty much been terrified ever since. Like the daily grind and the sense of responsibility, the worry never really stops. I’m not much of a worrier by nature, but parenting has awakened fears I never knew I had.
I never worried about dying until I had kids. I never gave crib bumpers, or lead paint, or artificial colors a second thought. The definition of “overprotective” was something totally different in my mind than it is now. The stakes become so much higher when you’re a parent, in every area of life, that worry is something you have to constantly keep at bay.
4) THE TIME AND ENERGY JUGGLING
Imagine someone coming up to you with three eggs and telling you to keep them all in the air as much as possible. And though you’ve seen other people juggling, you never learned to juggle yourself. And you’re also supposed to continue on with your normal life while juggling these eggs, cleaning, driving, cooking, exercising, learning, etc. That’s kind of what parenting feels like.
It’s partially the time juggling that’s tricky, but it’s also the emotional juggling that gets you. Your attention and energy are constantly two or more places at once. And again, the stakes are high. If you drop an egg, it’s really hard to put back together again.
5) THE FACT THAT IT’S NOT, IN FACT, A “REAL” PAYING JOB
Being a parent comes with more responsibility and stress than any occupation, but there’s no paycheck, no seasonal bonuses, no monetary compensation of any kind. And generally speaking, the more time you spend parenting, the less money you make. There’s also no paid leave from parenting. In fact, much of the time, you have to pay someone else to watch your kids so you can have “time off.”
Pay isn’t the only “real job” benefit parents lack. If you excel at a real job, you usually get some version of a pat-on-the-back. In parenting, your superhuman ability to multi-task, your keen attention to detail, your can-do attitude and devotion to the job will not be noticed by the boss and rewarded with a promotion or a raise. In fact, you’ll be lucky if these skills and qualities are noticed by anyone.
And yet you still feel compelled to try your best at this job on a daily basis. It’s baffling.
6) THE LACK OF CONTROL
I’m not sure how super-type-A people survive as parents, because I’m a super-type-B person and the lack of control that comes with parenting drives me batty sometimes. The sad truth is that you can’t actually make a child sleep. Or potty train. Or stop crying. You can’t force a child to listen. Or obey. Or be kind.
And honestly, during my “good” parenting moments, I wouldn’t want to control those things. I truly believe that parenting is about gently watering a young sapling, weeding the soil around it, making sure it gets the light and nutrients it needs, and letting it grow and blossom at its own pace. When I’m in a good parenting place, I’m focused on mining the undiscovered, uncut gems from inside the child and helping to polish them into pristine brilliance.
But in my weary parenting moments, I just want the little offsprings to do what I ask without question, treat each other nicely without being reminded, and go to frickin’ sleep at bedtime.
And those moments happen frequently.
7) THE PEOPLE WHO THINK THEY COULD DO IT BETTER
When we were in the throes of potty-training our first kid, we had a friend visit from out of town. As he witnessed our toddler toilet-training two-step, he proceeded to tell us how he’d just watched a Dr. Phil episode about potty-training in one weekend. “Seriously,” he confidently advised, “All you have to do is X, Y, and Z.”
As if we hadn’t tried X, Y, and Z. As if we hadn’t tried A, B, C, F, J, K, L, M, N, O, and P as well. Multiple times.
We loved our friend. We loved him even more when his first child took an extra long time to potty train. Karma can be a beautiful thing.
8) THE SOCIETAL CESSPOOL
As if parenting isn’t hard enough already, we now have dozens of television channels, thousands of books and magazines, and tens of thousands of websites vying for our children’s attention. We have media selling our kids a bill of goods that often appears way more attractive than what we’re trying to instill in them. And most of it is absolute crap.
And how about technology? Figuring out how to determine and monitor screen-time alone is practically a full-time job. Technology can open whole new worlds of learning and exploration, but literally one click away is a world of sick and twisted depravity. It’s terrifying.
You want your kids to reap the benefits of technology without the pitfalls. You don’t want your kids to be so sheltered that they don’t know how to handle the garbage that’s out there, but you don’t want to expose them to the garbage that’s out there in order to prepare them. Striking a healthy balance is crazy tricky.
9) THE LOVE
This is the biggest one of all. The truth is, if we didn’t love our children, they’d be a lot easier to raise. We wouldn’t feel compelled to worry about them, to figure out what’s best for them, to keep them healthy and safe. We’d sleep through the night and let them wail until they turn blue. We’d plop them in front of the television with Cheetos and root beer to keep them quiet, and go about our days in peace.
Love is what makes you get up at 3:00 am to chase away bad dreams, dutifully wipe a butt for the 2035th time, and agonize over meal-planning and screen-time limits. Love is what makes you put up with the power struggles, the endless variations of crying and whining, the constant physical and emotional upheaval children bring to your life.
But here’s the real kick-in-the-pants when it comes to #9, and the reason this list is not as doom-and-gloom as it may seem:
Love is also the reward you get for all of the things in this list.
I said this before, and I’ll say it again: That heart-swelling, earth-shattering, all-consuming love for your kids is what creates the challenges of parenting, yet make them all worthwhile. It’s the cause of your woes, yet also the cure. It’s the force that drives you to near-madness, yet the balm that soothes your battered heart. Love makes parenting tougher, but it also makes it easier.
Your kid could have just thrown the biggest tantrum on planet Earth, but when he looks up at you with his shining eyes and toothy grin, you fall head-first into that gushy cloud of kid-love that has propelled the human race forward for millennia. It’s kind of a twisted but beautiful joke that only parents get.
Those are some of my reasons parenting is the world’s toughest job. What tops the list for you?