An old friend recently reached out on Facebook for perspective on having children. She wondered in particular how parents stay sane in the face of things like explosive diapers, extensive sleep deprivation, childhood illnesses, and the need to find and then pay babysitters to do anything without a child in tow. She explained that while lots of parents she knows say their kids are the best thing that ever happened to them, she could not see how she would overcome the aforementioned obstacles. Her questions and comments struck me for two reasons: one, their honesty — I think a lot of people have these questions and wonder why people assume having children is a good thing rather than just the next logical step at a certain stage — and two, I think she has picked up on something. Yes, plenty of parents do think and say that parenthood is the best thing to ever happen to them but not many expound on that. It is a lot easier to vocalize the frustrations of another sleepless night than the reason having a child is so wonderful. Plus, based on my very unscientific observations on the social media I inhabit, snark is a lot more “in” than sincerity. Complaints are or can be funny. Talking about love and joy, not so much (or at least those subjects take a lot more work). There is also the presumption, I think, that parents don’t need to explain to other parents. But for what it’s worth, here is the gist of the response I gave my friend.
I don’t judge anyone who doesn’t want kids. There are as many reasons to not be a parent as to be. (Furthermore, not having children does not make your life childless. Some of my child’s most ardent and adoring fans are dear friends who do not want their own children.) For me, though, having a child has been an exercise in falling in love, the greatest love of my life. There has been all the excitement, leveling of expectations, and attempts to be the best version of myself. More sleepless nights, yes, although it hasn’t felt so very different than college exhaustion-wise and from all accounts will probably last about as long per child. The reasons for the sleeplessness are different, and the responsibilities are greater, but exhaustion is exhaustion as far as I am concerned. However, no other person has the ability to make my heart explode with joy so many times a day. Or my throat tighten as quickly if I see them hurting. To make me feel like a superhero or like the most helpless creature on this planet. I have never had more fun or felt as humbled. The diapers, night wakings, illness, and babysitters, they’re all temporary. There’s probably a reason that those things coincide with the phase in which your kids love you so hard and so openly it can blow your mind. Thus far, parenthood is another type of education. High investment, high return, and the lingering hope that I don’t go utterly broke in the process.
Is my child the best thing that ever happened to me? Yes. “Best” is a misleading term, though. It sounds easy and obvious. Likewise, my “worst” days as a parent, the days when I feel most challenged, still contain more love, joy, and pride than any single day prior to becoming a parent.