9 Reasons Parenting is the World’s Hardest Job

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 comes close to parenting. Here’s why:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

9 Reasons Why Parenting is the World's Hardest Job

 If you enjoyed this post, please pass it along. You can follow Motherhood and More on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

Comments 26

  1. Pingback: The Invention of Parenting - Catholic CR

  2. Parenting is only hard if you are one of those parents who actually has rules, and expects things out of your kids…LOL! Which I am…but I look around, and I feel like I’m the only one. Seems like I never got the memo that parenting was optional today. So in my opinion, parenting is harder today because if you are the kind of parent with a traditional parenting style, who wants to raise a decent human being, has rules, bed times, uses the word “no” a lot, and also yells from time to time, you might be alone. And that is hard.

  3. It is true that parenting is quite a hard thing to do but it’s all worth it especially the reward of Love you receive and it’s also the most beautiful thing about parenting.

    1. hi i just noticed yous are labelling parenting as a hard job??? Wtf it ain’t a job it’s a it’s a responsibility that is decided to take on when falling pregnant and a responsibility that is so fun an it’s a privilege a luxury to parent kids if done correctly it’s simple for all types of kids there’s an easy way to teach an discipline them if kids aren’t being raised correctly or problems going unsolved before they hit adolescents then that’s so disgraceful an sad that the mature generations within the community are retarded basically can cannot raise young wtf is this spices letting happen to it?????????

  4. I agree that the love we have for our kids makes parenting tough. If we weren’t emotionally attached, we’d get a lot more stuff done with them. But, our feelings often get in the way. Interestingly, it is what we get for going through the challenges of parenting. These children love us back in unparalleled ways.

  5. Great list! I have to add my insight also because the list I feel is a bit incomplete without fathers/dads mentioned. Even though the list says “Motherhood and More” stay at home fathers are just as stressed and burned as mothers. One addition to the list is “Stay at home fathers get no recognition from society and sometimes looked down upon”. I’m a stay at home father and I have to say, a lot of my wants and needs were sacrificed to care for our “Irish Twins”. As I mentioned, great list but let’s destroy the stereotype that only mothers are stay at home because there is a large population of stay at home dads.

    1. Deffenatly my dad raised 3 girls hands down best job he did for us and now I have my children wow well done to the dad’s out there also !!!

  6. I’m not actually a mom but I’m currently living with and taking care of two toddlers at an orphanage in Thailand, and I kind of feel like their mom sometimes! I really love this list. The last one about love almost made me cry. I don’t know what your religious beliefs are, it’s ok if you don’t agree with me- but for me it really made me think of how God loves us as a Father! I think he gave us the role of parenting to understand more of his heart toward us. Anyways, your post was beautiful, thanks for sharing!

  7. I’m sorry but I have to say this, it’s simply NOT the hardest job in the world, you know what job doesn’t pay and is still infinitely worst than parenting? Slavery, as in being a diamond picking slave in Africa, being a fishermen, coal miner, oil rig worker, THOSE are the hardest jobs in the world… Not parenting.

    1. Thanks for putting parenting in perspective. I have recently become a dad. Parenting seems to be very tough. The unpredictable feeding and sleep schedule, seemingly unending crying feels tough. And this from someone who doesnt find working 10 hours a day as tough.

      But your comment made me thankful that parenting is not as hard as some other harsher realities of life. At least we have to face the music from the comfort of our home. Thanks again for the new perspective.

    1. Try birthing and raising two babies to outstanding adulthood (mostly) as a single parent while being one of the first three female police officers in a huge metropolitan city. And, when you think you are finished with the most difficult stuff, and sacrificing decades of your senior years babysitting THEIR babies, both of them tell you now that you did it all wrong and won’t even talk to you anymore.

    2. It sound like you have to listen to them, really try to understand what they are saying and NOT tell them what you wrote here. The “what about ME” thing will never work. they did Not ask for you to parent them. If they won’t talk to you you should consider what you have done to hurt them. And go to someone else with your hurt feelings from this situation. it is not your kids responsibility. but it is your job as a parent to listen to their feelings, especially if you want them “back”. i strongly believe that they have their reasons. and its their reasons you must understand to be able to change behaviourpatterns from today and forward. and apologize for the passed, unfortunately you can’t undo that.

  8. This is a great list! Somewhere near the top of my list would be the fact that your needs matter very little for like 5 or 6 years (even then it’s touch and go). That was a hard one to swallow. Your world completely revolves around the dietary/social/entertainment/health/intellectual/spiritual needs of someone who has no qualms about loudly alerting you that they need something but has few tools to actually articulate them. Plus you’re exhausted a lot of the time. Although it is great when your needs coincide, particularly when everyone needs a brownie sundae.

  9. I would add that it’s hard to watch them learn much needed lessons and not intervene. Like the “maybe you shouldn’t wait until the last minute to do your homework” lesson or the “he/she isn’t really a good friend” lesson. It’s tough, as a parent, to see something coming and know they need to experience the panic, heartache or disappointment for themselves.

    1. Awesome addition, Lisa. That’s a toughie, and one that sounds a lot easier to deal with when it’s not your kid. Those hard lessons really tug at the old heartstrings when you’re in the midst of it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *