Parenthood is an elusive institution. Visions of sweet, cuddly babies seductively promise a secure future, companionship, fulfillment and happiness. But the reality of parenting can be a very difficult, nay overwhelming and completely exasperating at moments. What you envisioned from the experience, and especially from yourself, does not always come to fruition in the timing and method of your choice. What can you realistically expect from parenthood?
Prior to entering parenthood we have careers, friendships, hobbies and interests. After becoming a parent, you are no longer just a lawyer, writer or teacher. You become, first and foremost, a parent. Whether or not you maintain your career is a null issue because, with or without a job, your thoughts, hopes, dreams and wishes are now seen through a parent’s lens.
The limits that parenthood placed upon my life recently confronted me. I realized that prior to children, I dwelt upon the future and lived from goal and accomplishment to the next, carefully choosing my strategies and building my life around getting what I thought I wanted and needed. Parenthood stripped me of the ability to live life this way and confronted me with my need to rethink my concept of personal significance and worth.
I made the decision to put my career on hold and stay home while I raised my children until they were school aged. One of the most difficult parts of staying home with children is the utter lack of accomplishments, or at least significant accomplishments. Saying that I kept everyone (including myself) fed, dressed and healthy doesn’t seem like I’ve reached my potential for the day, let alone year after year.
Upon becoming a parent, I never expected to feel down at times, antsy, literally bored to tears, alone and mad at myself for feeling these things. I hope no one confuses my openness about these experiences and feelings as distaste for parenthood. I absolutely love parenthood, but I do have a distaste for the copious physical duties required of me as a parent, which are separate from the relational duties that are significant and rewarding.
The need to clarify this possible confusion is testament to the cultural problem of idolizing happiness. We expect in America that we can and should feel happy all the time. (After all, the pursuit of happiness is declared an inalienable right in our national Declaration of Independence.) We make the faulty assumption that if we don’t feel happy, then something is wrong.
While feeling happy in our daily work can be a sign that we are on the right path in life, it cannot be the case that our daily work will always make us happy. Most of us select our careers based upon our skills and interests and so they are therefore tailored to our strengths. Our work product is in itself positive feedback, in addition to other reviews and comments by our colleagues.
Parenthood is a very different type of work than that in the professional world. It’s uniqueness highlighted by the fact that most people are parents (81% of woman according to 2010 US Census and 47% of men according to CDC 2006) and so we can safely say that most of us are asked to do the same job. Imagine if most of us were asked to become an executive assistant, mayor or journalist. While professional work is highly specialized and tailored to our strengths, parenthood is a general position and no matter the diversity of our skill set, most of us are asked to excel in the same, often droll, duties of parenthood.
Let’s touch back on happiness. We cannot expect that most of us who are called into parenthood will all enjoy and feel content with the tasks related to parenthood equally. Some us whose minds are designed to be logical will feel very frustrated by their illogical, tantrum raging toddlers. Others whose minds are creative and freewheeling may feel stifled by the structure enforced by a baby’s daily routine of eating, diapering, sleeping- repeat.
We trade our hobbies, interests, expertise and sometimes careers for our general parenting tasks of laundry, cleaning, organizing, driving, scheduling, dishes, dinner, etc… How can we then expect to feel happiness in doing jobs that we were not wired to complete? What should we realistically expect from our daily work as parents?
Instead of expecting to feel happy completing mundane tasks at home, I propose that we instead seek to feel peace and joy in completing them because ultimately our children are worth it and by completing them we are fulfilling our requirement to love and care for our children. (Please note that I am NOT proposing that only stay-at-home parents are fulfilling this requirement.)
Dishes, laundry, diapers, subduing a screaming toddler are all the jobs we have to do so that we can care for our children. Where I went wrong in my journey as a young mother was mistaking the daily work of parenthood for parenthood itself. Parenthood is not the mundane list of physical work and duties required of us to ensure our family’s survival, rather it is more abstract.
I finally reached the realization that those mundane, tedious, awful parenting jobs that I can’t stand just come with the territory. The best part of my day, the part that gives me happy feelings, is being with my children. I love reading to them, going on a family run, hearing them squeal in the park, dwelling on their adorable faces or the silly things that they say. If I have to spend the majority of my day driving carpool, making meals, cleaning spilled milk, etc… to get to the warm and fuzzy special moments then sign me up. But even if none of parenting was fun or fulfilling, it is still worth doing because my children deserve a loving parent and I have a duty and privilege to love and care for them.
Bring on the dishes and endless loads of laundry! If you work outside the home to provide for your children, then cheers for your job! Let’s welcome the 5th sequential reading of Good Night Moon! Parenthood is a labor of love and all children are worth it.