PARENTHOOD: The world’s toughest job. Whether your kids are infants, toddlers, teenagers, adults, or furry babies, you can expect the job requirements to include:
LOTS of sleepless nights (due to feeding, diapering and other feces matters, illness, and fear-both theirs and yours!)
LOTS of worry (about their safety, their whereabouts, their decisions, what trouble they might be getting into, and their relationships with others)
LOTS of boundary setting (“no, you can’t take your sister’s toys away from her”, “no, you can’t speak to me like that”, “no, you can’t run around the yard without your lease on”, “oh hell no, you are NOT sleeping over at your boyfriend’s house!”)
LOTS of tears (from fear, joy, pride, anger, sadness, guilt, regret, and excitement for and about our kids)
The job of parenthood is a non-benefited position with 24/7 on-call responsibilities. There are no paid holidays. In fact, there’s no paycheck at all. You just put in your time, fulfill your parental duties, and hope that today will be a good day in which your child doesn’t scream at you, slam a door in your face, or tell you their moving back home. You may or may not be compensated in the form of snuggles, giggles, an occasional “thanks Mom”, or the ever so rare word of praise from your kid. Puppy licks and purring may also be included in your compensation package.
When we look at parenthood from this angle, it kinda seems like a raw deal. Sometimes it feels like a constricting, exhausting, endless battle. We’ve all had those days when it seems like are kids are on a mission to wreak havoc on our lives. We’ve all had moments where we’re covered in puke, dinner is burning, children are running around the house screaming, the laundry basket is overflowing, and we haven’t showered in four days. I believe those days are the equivalent to Rushing in a sorority….it’s a right of passage.
So if parenting sucks so much, why do we do it? Why do we choose to have kids or adopt pets? Some might answer these questions by saying, “to continue the human life cycle” or “to have people to care for us when we’re elderly”. Some might choose to have kids out of curiosity to know what the combination of themselves and their spouse is like. Some might choose to have kids because they feel it’s expected of them or because their lives feel boring without them. Some might choose to have kids because they truly love being around little people/creatures and kids bring them happiness. All-in-all, we choose to raise our kids because of the joy it will bring to our lives….and theirs.
Joy? Watching my daughter throw herself on the floor at the grocery store and fake a seizure in revolt of not getting a new toy seems far from joy! The many challenges of parenthood that we face on an everyday basis can often mask the moments of joy our children bring to our lives. We have to look for those precious, priceless slivers of joy.
I’ve had to work hard to teach myself how to do this. I truly enjoy sharing in my children’s company now, but it wasn’t always like that. I did NOT enjoy the “baby phase” at all. I didn’t enjoy constantly packing a baby around (along with 10 tons of equipment, bags, and other baby gear). I didn’t enjoy planning my entire life around feeding and nap times. I absolutely hated not being able to sleep through the night. It was a real challenge for me to see the little benefits and rewards to motherhood that would help me forge on and keep doing what my children needed me to do for them.
I had to practice patience….and I do mean “practice” because patience isn’t something that comes naturally to me. Most of all, I had to practice mindfulness every single day. I had to shift my standard of living and change the expectations I held for myself, my husband, and even my kids. In my mind, I had always envisioned this perfect life with a clean, organized house, a happy, helpful husband, and sweet sleeping babies snuggled close. The reality of my life looked far different from that vision and I had two options: accept how things were and be joyful or reject my reality, cling to that lofty ideal, and feel miserable. This is a choice we all have to make at some point in our lives.
Now, I make it a daily habit to look for the joy in my children and furry baby, in my role as a mother, and in this life that we all are moving through at the speed of light. I slow down more now and give myself permission to prioritize tickle parties and pillow fights with my girls over folding laundry or emptying the dishwasher (and this is hard for me because I just want to get all that crap done and then relax). I make it a point to take a break from teaching letters and numbers and teach them how different flowers smell or what fishing worms feel like when they squiggle in your hand. I sit and watch my dog, just observing her ears perk up, her facial expressions change, or the way her tail immediately starts to wag when I start talking to her in a high pitched voice. This, to me, is joyfully living with kids.
When was the last time you smelled your kid’s hair? How long has it been since you gazed at your cats eyes? How often do you make a surprise dinner for your grown children? With a joyful heart, an eye out for the little things, and an appreciation for the uniqueness that lives in our kids, we can experience the fullness and the wonderfulness of parenthood despite the trials, tests, and challenges it brings.
Our real rewards come in the form of our children teaching us important life lessons, in the experience of raising them rather than in the outcome we’re trying to achieve, and in the discovery of witnessing who these amazing little beings will become. If we’re really being honest, I think we have children not to give them life, but to give life to ourselves. Parenthood truly is a great adventure….especially when you look for the joy in it.
Nicole C. Iacovoni earned her Master's degree in Clinical Social Work from the University of Denver. Through her vast experience working in the mental health field and her own personal self growth work, Nicole has developed valuable skills and tools for enhanced self awareness, self care, and improved relationships. Her passion and life's work is to help women overcome life's many challenges, become the best version of themselves, and live the lives they envision. She curently serves as the Founder and Clinical Director at Willow Tree Wellness & Counseling in Bloomsburg, PA.