How Hard Can It Be?

Ash and Mom

Parenting is hard.

Parenting is challenging, demanding, formidable, Herculean.

There.  Consider yourself warned.  I often hear parents say that no one tells them how hard it is to be a parent—most recently yesterday from a parent dealing with a child super-charged by too much sugar and too little sleep.  I’m sure I said the same thing myself, especially when my most important work as a mom began after an exhausting day of teaching the children of others.

Both English teachers, my first husband and I didn’t want children when we married.  When asked why, repeatedly, by parents who we were certain just wanted us to be as miserable as they seemed, we answered, “We’re with kids all day.  Why would we want to go home to kids?”

Instead, we got a dog, a recalcitrant black cocker spaniel we named Chaucer, after that always irreverent and sometimes crude author of The Canterbury Tales.  Geoffrey Chaucer would have been amused.  His namesake cocked his leg and peed on every plant in the house and snarled at anyone who came near his food.  We never took him to obedience training, and we were forever yelling, “Stop that!”  But he was beautiful in spite of his atrocious behavior.  We would hug him and stroke that shiny black coat and melt into his puppy eyes.

I remember the reaction of our dentist, who was always telling us how important he thought it was for us to bring children into the world, for reasons we thought were less than sound.  He belly-laughed when he heard about the dog.  “That’s the first step,” he said.  “Next you’ll be having a baby.”

And though it wasn’t quite that simple, he was right.  We did change our minds, and a couple of years later we brought a beautiful daughter into the world.  Well…to be honest, she wasn’t exactly beautiful at first.  She was long and skinny and had a head so much larger than her tiny body that I tease her now that she looked like E.T. when she was born.  But like all parents, we thought she was the most precious baby ever conceived.

A few years later, on the verge of divorce and overwhelmed at the thought of parenting separately, her father and I couldn’t bear the thought of taking on one more responsibility when we talked about custody of the dog.  We found a good home for Chaucer—on a farm where he could run and fart and bark in gloriously open space that we could never offer him.

But there was never any question that we’d share the care of our daughter.  And the only thing that saved us from the ugly custody fights that envelop some couples was that, in spite of our anger, our love for her was greater than our animosity toward each other.

So, in a stroke of luck for humanity, if you’re reading this and asking yourself whether you should bring a child into the world, you won’t heed the warning I’ve given you.

Yes, parenting is the most formidable job you’ll ever have.  If you’re thinking about taking up the challenge, I recommend getting a puppy.  And if you’re really unsure, do your homework about the best breed to prepare you for such work—the one that is the hardest to housebreak, the most rambunctious, and the poorest at listening.  Enroll the puppy in an obedience class, as I did with the dogs that came after Chaucer, where you’ll learn that it’s not really the puppy that gets the training—it’s you.

Then multiply a thousandfold the challenges you face and the love you feel for that little guy when you look into his puppy eyes.  And you may have some idea of what it’s like to be a parent.

And though some of us might say we’d forego parenting if we had it to do over again, I suspect that most of us would still make the same decision. And we’ll still say, in the moments that try us, “Nobody told me that being a parent was this hard.”

Most young parents are afraid to be honest with others about the demands of our children.  Most of us are too insecure about our failings to admit the challenges even to our own families.  But, trust me, there are no perfect children in this world—just parents who want others to think their children are perfect.

So how hard can it be?  You tell me.  And then tell me a story of joy that outweighs the challenges.