There’s this school of thought that really bothers me. It shakes its finger at us and says that if we think parenting is hard or we feel like giving up on a daily or hourly or minute-by-minute basis, or we, God forbid, wish our kids would be different, less difficult people for a fleeting moment in time, then we probably shouldn’t have become parents in the first place.
It’s a lie.
It’s a dangerous lie, too, one that keeps us locked in chains as parents, because that’s when we start looking around at all those people who make it look so easy, who make it look as though they’re enjoying every single minute of every single in-the-trenches hour, and we can think that we are somehow deficient in our parenting abilities.
You know what the easy part of parenting is? Making it look easy.
You know what the hard part of parenting is? Every other second.
Parenting is hard. You’ll never hear me say it isn’t. It’s hard because I work really hard at it. And also, nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
I fail every single day at this parenting gig. Every single day. Sometimes that failing looks like yelling because the 3-year-olds just poured a whole package of brand new crayons out on the table and broke 26 of them in half before I could even get to them, even though I had just got done telling them to leave the crayons alone until their brothers got home. Sometimes that failing looks like speaking more sharply than I intended to the 8-year-old because I just warned him not to swing the broom like that, and he decided to do it anyway, and he broke a light. Sometimes it looks like standing in a kitchen and crying without being able to say why I’m crying, just knowing there are too many voices and too many words and too many needs knocking all at once, and it’s overwhelmingly suffocating.
But I will never pretend I don’t fail, because it’s not true. I will never pretend that parenting my six boys is not hard, because it’s not true. The world is not served by facades, pretty little pictures and perfect little examples. The world is served by imperfection and being brave enough to bare it.
So, yeah, parenting feels hard to me. It’s not because I don’t love my children. I love them with a love that is great and deep and wild. They are precious and wonderful and, most of all, beloved.
Parenting feels hard because I’m trying, every day, to be better at it than I was yesterday. It feels hard because we’re all people, we’re all imperfect, and we’re living and growing together in ways that can grind, carve and shape. It feels hard because these are tiny little humans we’re talking about, tiny little humans who will one day become men and women, and we get to shepherd them into that, and it is a giant, humbling, magnanimous task—a privilege but also a mountain of responsibility.
I don’t take it lightly.
I would venture to say that if parenting feels easy every second of every day, if there is never a moment when we feel like locking ourselves in the bathroom for just a breath, or 50 of them, if we never wish for that tiny split of a split-second that they would be different people, we are probably doing it wrong.
The best parts of life take hard work, dedication and perseverance, and the things most worth doing will, at any moment in time, feel hard. That’s how I know I’m on the right track as a parent.
I know because, for me, parenting feels hard every time my 8-year-old forgets how he’s been taught to handle his anger and lashes out with hands instead of words, because he’s always been a gifted kid whose emotional development lags behind others his age, and we’ve worked really, really hard trying to walk him toward a place of control, knowledge and healthy expression of all the emotions, not just the good ones, and sometimes it just feels like a losing battle. It feels hard when I remember what a brilliant, kind and loving little boy he is and how much good he has the potential to blast into the world, if only he didn’t have this one little thing. It feels hard when I see that school number on my cell, and I wonder if it’s him they’re calling about.
Parenting feels hard every time the 3-year-olds eat a tube of toothpaste and leave the evidence on the counter, because I have to choose not to yell and instead use my words in ways that will honor, teach, and show grace and love even in this disciplinary moment that’s happened a billion times already. It feels hard when the 6-year-old wakes up on a school morning and barfs all over the Hot Wheels the 3-year-olds dumped out, not just because now it means cleaning all of that up, but also because no mother wants to see her baby sick. It feels hard every time the 5-year-old comes home from school and talks about how one of the boys in his class was mean to him on the playground, because then I just want to scream at the bullying kid, but instead I have to talk to my boy about how the people who choose to bully often don’t know any better and need to be shown a better way of making friends, and he’s the one who will have to do this brave, kind and world-changing work.
Parenting feels hard when they forget who they are. It’s hard because I love so much, because I want to order their worlds just so, because I want to make their decisions for them, because I don’t want to sit by and watch those consequences break their hearts, but I have to, because it’s the only way they’ll learn, grow and stumble back to who they are.
Sometimes I don’t feel up to this task. Sometimes I don’t feel equipped. Sometimes I want to give up, but I also know that I’m a fighter. I persevere. I keep going, which is kind of the point of all this parenting in the trenches—to show us what we’re made of. And you know what? I’m made of some pretty tough stuff.
So, no, I’m not going to suck it up, buttercup, because I have discovered something else in my eight years with these delightful little boys: Parenting is hard because I’m doing it right. Because I fail. Because they fail. Because we keep going, all of us together, along the road toward wholehearted living.
There is nothing greater in the world than this.