What is the hardest part of being a parent? My favorite question (insert sarcasm). Being a parent is the only job in the world where two days of experience suddenly makes you an expert. I have done something along the way to convince my childless friends that my 2 1/2 years of experience (and I use that term loosely) qualifies me to give them my professional opinion. As if me saying “Yes, the terrible two’s are the worst part” makes it the ultimate truth and somehow negates the fact that I have yet to see the three’s or four’s or tweens or anything in-between.
I am a hopeless romantic and having a child was no different. I romanticized the crap out of bringing a baby into this world. Romeo and Juliet didn’t hold a candle to the beauty of the parenthood story in my head. While reality turned out to be better and worse in many ways, I always find myself wishing people had been more honest. That I had heard more truths and less stereotypical responses with half-smiles. I think I would have been better prepared. Having been asked this myself though I can now say I understand why they took the easy road. I understand why they smiled and said “Oh the lack of sleep is tough but it’s the most rewarding thing you will ever do” or “Think of how much fun it will be” or “This is the best time in your life”. They did it because the truth, the words that really hit it home, are inadequate.
How do you tell them the hardest part is all of it? How do you explain to someone that the best and worst days of their lives will be had in parenthood? How do you tell them that the it will both breathe life into them and crush their soul? How do you explain that they will never look at any piece of the world the same? That all the bad becomes so much worse and that they will lay awake at night wondering what kind of world their child will grow up in? That the good becomes so much clearer and that they will hope everyday that their child holds onto their innocence long enough to be a kind human being and bring more good to the world?
How do you quantify what it means to have a piece of your heart beating outside your own body? That every fall, every scratch, every tear will take a little piece of you? How do you explain that every time their child is sick they will lay awake just to make sure they hear them breathing? How do you tell them that will give up so much of themselves somedays that there will be nothing left? How do you tell them that everything they thought they knew will become irrelevant when they have a child – that they will be learning everything all over just when they thought they had finally figured it out?
How do you share the hopes, the dreams, the fears? How do you tell them you can’t even see a child diagnosed with an illness without looking away because it hurts to even consider the possibility? How do you say that you worry about if you will like your future daughter-in-law (which seems so silly when they are 2 1/2)? How do you tell them the difference between dreaming for them and with them?
How do you adequately explain to someone the gut-wrenching, all-encompassing, forever evolving journey of parenthood? You don’t. You simply can’t. So you just smile and say “Oh the lack of sleep is tough but it’s the most rewarding thing you will ever do” and you hope that when they take their journey they will understand your stereotypical answer and your half-smile.