10 Lesser-Known Parenting Challenges

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Parenting is really hard. It uses every ounce of mental and physical energy I have, every day. Sure, I knew about the big child-rearing ordeals before we had kids: the sleep deprivation, the early-morning wake-ups, the difficulty of saving for college. But there are also a lot of smaller issues, things that no one told me about pre-kids, that test my patience and resolve every day. Below, 10 lesser-known parenting challenges.

1. Interrupting

Ever tried to relay a funny story to a fellow parent, and just as you’re about to hit the punch line, a little voice says, “Mommy. Mommy. Mommy”? If you ignore the kid, your story is ruined because everyone’s distracted by the child who wants you to hand him the water bottle that’s one foot away. If you let him interrupt, you’re encouraging bad manners. And your story is still ruined.

2. Horrible, Mind-Numbing Children’s Books

For us, it’s My First Farm Book, which I hate with a fiery passion, as it is only pictures of farm equipment and animals. Also, I don’t like the implicit threat that there might be more farm books to come. But both my boys love this book, and I never had the heart to throw it away, so five years in I still find myself with a 15-minute jail sentence every night: “Where’s the combine? Is that a crop duster? Do you see a little piggy?”

3. Dealing With Parents You Don’t Like

I try to be generous to people who have different values than I do. But you know what? Some parents are idiots or jerks, and sometimes our kids like each other, so I’ve endured a few playdates with a woman who criticizes me every time I go to the doctor. She offers her special home remedies instead, like dropping fennel tea into our ears instead of taking antibiotics. She also suggested rubbing my son’s chest with, I dunno, lamb tallow or something, to treat him for bronchitis. Nodding politely has become my own personal challenge.

4. The Colds, From October to May

The tedium of us all having chest colds all the time is only alleviated by the excitement of the occasional round of norovirus.

5. The Car-Seat Scrubbing

The first time my kids threw up simultaneously after a large hummus lunch, I stood with my husband in the driveway in the rain and negotiated who would clean up the kids and who would clean up the car. He chose the car, and I came out an hour later to find him staring miserably at the grody and tangled seat-belt clasps and buckles. “Throw them away!” he cried. “Burn the whole car!”

6. Hair Washing

Five years in, rinsing my son’s head is still like waterboarding him. How many times can he shriek in agony, and how many times can I scream back, “If you’d keep your head tilted, this wouldn’t happen!” before the neighbors call CPS?

7. Sand

We don’t live anywhere near the beach. And yet, sand from the various play areas we frequent is an ongoing battle. I haven’t slept in non-gritty sheets since 2010.

8. Leaving Your Kids in the Care of Someone Else

Before I had kids, I thought I’d pick a day care or a nanny and that would be that. Uh, no. The sheer instinctual panic that can arise when you leave your kids with someone else can be a challenge to manage. Even when I leave my sons with our trusted babysitter, sometimes I say, “You’re going to cut up the hot dogs really small, right?” and then I say it again before I leave. And then sometimes, on bad days, I even come back in after I’ve left and say, “Um, really small, yeah?” and she nods and smiles and generally keeps her opinion of me to herself.

9. The 25-Percent Chance of Canceling Rule

I’m generally pretty organized, and when I say I’ll attend something, I’ll mean it. Since I’ve had kids, I’ve learned to build a 25-percent chance of cancelation into everything I plan, since (especially from October to May) there is always a chance someone will barf just as we’re walking out the door. This is less painful when we’re canceling an outing to a kid’s birthday party. It’s much more painful when it’s our anniversary dinner.

10. The Bathroom Begging

This actually started in pregnancy, when I would find myself seized with the need for a toilet, immediately, while walking by a fancy dress shop. I would beg to use their bathroom; this regular pleading continued in the postpartum period and then during the potty training of my toddler. And it still continues when a look of alarm crosses the 5-year-old’s face as he says urgently, “Mom, I have to go.” Shop owners who say no deserve a special place in hell, and may find their doorstep peed upon.

Who am I kidding. Every single day brings new challenges with kids, even when the obvious ones have passed. Moms have to be more flexible than they were pre-kids, whether it’s housekeeping standards or adequate sleep or bladder control. That might actually be the biggest struggle of all: adapting to change in the first place.

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