Several weeks ago we went away on a weekend with friends, to watch a few of our mates (my husband included) take part in a triathlon. Amy, her hubby Chett and their 10 month old baby Ben, came along. Amy and I have been friends for more than 17 years and weekends away with the 4 of us are nothing new. Until they became weekends away with the 5 of us. That’s when everything changed.
This particular weekend was hard. Ben had started teething, and crawling, and being a bit of a homebody felt horribly antsy at being in a strange environment, in a strange cot and with a strange new routine. Over and above that, traipsing a 10 month old around a triathlon course in 30 degree heat, would bring even the strongest of people to tears.
To make matters worse, Ben wasn’t sleeping, which meant that neither mom nor dad were sleeping, and to say the least, tempers were frayed and nerves were shot. I remember, post race, and after about 23 minutes sleep between the 3 of them, Chett, while trying to rock Ben to sleep, looked up at me with vacant eyes and muttered ‘Don’t EVER have kids”.*
Like a moth in a windstorm, I was frazzled. Hubby and I had been taking about starting a family and now here we were, getting told by some of our closest friends that it was the biggest mistake we could make. I was ready to quit any idea of motherhood right there and then, and resign myself to being childless forever.
But – guess what – a few weeks later Ben had stopped teething and had turned back into the adorable kid he was. Amy on the other hand, fearing she had scarred me (and closed my uterus for life) kindly offered to write a guest post on motherhood, explaining why it was the hardest yet most rewarding thing one human can ever do.
Take a read – let us know your thoughts – and then congratulate every parent you speak to from here on out. Because they deserve it.
Parenting: A Joyful Chore
This morning I woke up to my ten month old son crawling to the side of my bed, lifting himself up, and kissing me on my cheek. It was one of those moments that makes you wonder how you could have earned such love. Of course, it only takes a few seconds until you come to your senses and remind yourself that you’ve worked damn hard for this love. Damn. Hard.*
A few months back, we went through a particularly difficult patch. Ben had undiagnosed allergies and wasn’t sleeping much. He was also prone to bouts of tonsillitis and ear infections (because of the allergies) so nights with less than two hours of sleep were a regular occurrence. My husband and I couldn’t agree on anything. We walked around in a daze thinking ‘What have we done?’ and ‘Why do so many people choose to have kids?’. In an effort to feel that we weren’t alone and out of genuine curiosity, I started on a research journey to answer our ‘why?’ questions.
My initial findings weren’t encouraging. Research is pretty clear: Parents are less happy than non-parents. Children are more likely than money, sex, work, pretty much anything, to cause arguments in marital relationships.
For mothers, the news is even worse. The wage gap between working moms and equally qualified childless women is bigger than the gap between men and women.
So yes, parenting is hard. It makes our days less happy, our marriages harder, and our salaries lower. Why then, do we choose to have children?
Have you ever considered that holidays are less enjoyable while they’re happening than they are when you look at the photographs? Picture your last holiday and try to put yourself in the moment, say walking through a market in Thailand. It’s hot, you’re sweating, traders are haggling you to buy things, your partner is on his own mission. In the moment, you’re uncomfortable and irritable. But if you look at a photograph now of you standing in the midst of fake Polo shirts and incense holders, you’d feel very differently.
Parenthood is like that. The day-to-day business of feeding, clothing, and entertaining children is tedious and frustrating but when you look back, it’s the greatest adventure of all time. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense because it means you’re likely to have more than one child despite having first-hand experience of how tough it is.
Did you know that we don’t care for our children because we love them? We love them because we care for them. At least, that’s what some studies say. The more we sacrifice for something, the more we love that thing. If you think about this in context of some of the projects you’ve taken on, your garden for example, it makes sense right?
Parenting isn’t rewarding in spite of some hard times. The tough stuff of parenting is exactly what leads to the good stuff.
My Ben, as you know, had a traumatic arrival. I didn’t get that precious moment when mom holds baby for the first time and dad leans in lovingly. So many moms describe that moment as a lightning bolt realisation that *this* is everything and that your heart will never be whole again. I did get the lightning bolt a day or so after birth when I went up to the ICU to see my tube-covered, fighting-for-life baby and the nurse commented on how his heart rate calmed as soon as he heard my voice. I realised then that our connection was deeper than emotional or practical, it’s biological. That’s an amazing thing to know.
Psychiatrist and researcher George Valliant is an authority on adult development who followed the lives of 268 men for 75 years. His research was able to track many of the things that most sociology research can’t quantify and he’s quoted as saying that “Joy is connection,” and that connection is the strongest predictor of life satisfaction there is.
So if the ‘fathomless connection’ that parenting brings is mixed up in sleepless nights, arguments with your spouse, despairing over a baby that won’t eat textured foods, then I’ll take it.
* I don’t leave Ben to crawl around the house when I sleep. My husband had fetched him from his cot and was watching him play on our bedroom floor.
One times 10km race runner (you may remember this post), perfectionist, empathetic and revoltingly fitted back into her size 8 jeans just minutes after Ben was born
Weeks away from his first birthday, Ben’s favourite activities include playing in the garden, crawling around the house, drooling… and occasionally keeping his mom and dad up at night.