Some days being a parent sucks.
As I sat down to write this blog post I was interrupted immediately by two children fighting over a pair of Cookie Monster slippers. The slippers clearly belonged to one of those two children, but that seemed irrelevant to the other child. She seemed willing to sacrifice her life to be able to wear those slippers. My wife was out and had left me in charge, so it was up to me to deal with the drama.
I restated my oft-used mantra: “Be calm and kind”, before leaving my desk to work with my daughters on dealing with the dilemma.
A few minutes later I had that issue resolved – patiently, calmly, and kindly – when my baby girl, aged 3, came to me, crying. I picked her up to hug and comfort her and she puked down my back, shoulder, and arm.
The mess meant another lengthy interruption. Twenty minutes later I was clean, the floor was clean, the soiled clothes were soaking in the tub, and my 3-year-old was also changed and clean. I had work to do and knew that I wouldn’t be able to hold her all day. While I don’t like the children being in front of the TV, I make allowances when they’re sick so we ventured into the TV room. Our new DVD copy of Moana was the obvious selection. My little one snuggled up under a rug with a toy in hand (and a bowl nearby), and once again I settled in to write this article.
I typed about four words (about a different topic) when my eldest burst into the office. “Dad, can I please have the credit card?” This conversation took about 15 minutes as we discussed her level of contribution in our home and the over-the-top expectations she had that I would continue to hand over cash and cards despite her having a job.
Having six children might make life a little more complicated than it might be with just a couple… because while this conversation was taking place we left the office and walked into the kitchen so I could get a drink. Two of my children had been “cooking”. The kitchen bench was no longer visible. The sink was overflowing with mess. And something was burning in the oven. Closer inspection showed that they had selected the wrong function on the oven.
Smoke billowed out of the oven door as I took a deep breath (which almost choked me), reminded myself that my kids needed me to be calm and kind, and switched off the oven.
The next ten minutes were spent getting smoke out of the house before the alarms went off, guiding children towards cleaning up their mess, responding to a persistent teenager who still wanted my credit card, and so on.
A little over an hour after I initially sat down to write, I found myself at my desk again, laughing about how damn hard it is to be a parent. The work is thankless, never-ending, and it gets harder as they get older. Within moments of me sitting down, another drama erupted and I left the office again, vowing to rent some office space and stop working from home.
One of the most surprising findings from parenting science is that peoples’ happiness declines as they become parents. And it declines further as they have more children. Study after study has shown that the sleepless nights, tantrums, school issues, learning difficulties, sibling fights, screen-time arguments, curfew conflicts, and stress about whether the kids will be ok (and whether we’re doing it right) take their toll.
Most of us have had one of those days (or more) where we’ve looked at our spouse/partner and said, “What were we thinking? Why are we putting ourselves through this?”
Like I said: some days, being a parent sucks.
But…It’s now 9pm as I write this. The kids are in bed, sleeping peacefully – even the baby. And I’m changing my tune.
You see, the kids got over the issue with the slippers. They cleaned up the kitchen. My eldest sorted out her budget, and the baby had lots of rest. I eventually got some work done (when my wife returned home), and we had dinner as a family.
After dinner came bath time. Then we snuggled in bed, read stories, sang songs, and talked about our day. We hugged. I kissed my daughters goodnight and then lay on the bed as they fell asleep. And as I left their rooms I stared, in the faint light, as they slept. And their precious innocence and perfection took my breath away. I wanted to stay in that moment forever.
Family life is messy. It’s rocky and bumpy and mucky, and it’s simply plain hard work. There are competing priorities. There is never enough time. There are clashes and disagreements. There is chaos and failure.
But when we take the time to stay calm, be in the moment, and really soak it all up, there are remarkable moments that make all the difficulty worthwhile.
As I sat down to write this article I decided I don’t care what the science says. No matter how tough some days are, being a parent might just be the best thing we can ever be. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.