I’m as guilty as every parenting writer out there vomiting their own true confessions of leaking diapers and finding peanut butter smeared on the walls. I’ve written my fair share of parenting horror stories and tales of how easy life was before I decided to add four other humans into it. Parenting can be hard. It can be exhausting and terrifying and confusing and heartbreaking. It changes your body, your priorities, your financial situation, and your tolerance for hearing the same tinny television theme song over and over again. But no, it’s not as bad as those of us with kids want those of you without kids to believe.
Last week Ruth Graham wrote a piece for Slate entitled “My Life Is a Waking Nightmare” -Why do parents make parenting sound so God-awful? and that headline basically sums up the entire piece, where Ruth asks why those of us who write about parenting insist on making it sound like the very worst thing in the world. Yes, it’s nice to write about all the reasons it sucks ass to step on a Lego piece and have 200 other people chime in and agree with you. Yes, it’s great when your kid is doing something weird and new and to write about this weird and new thing and hear from other parents with kids that also did the same weird and new thing so you feel less alone.
Parenting is one of the only things in life where there are absolutely no easy answers, no simple solutions, and no perfectly guaranteed way to do anything. Everything is up for debate. It’s also a pretty guaranteed way to question everything about yourself, who you are as a parent, and who you have become as a person.
Parenting isn’t as bad as what we are telling you. You change diapers, it takes you three minutes, you get on with it. It isn’t fun of glamorous, but sometimes your baby smiles when you do it and that’s pretty lovely. You feed your baby and no matter if you formula or breastfeed at times there are challenges with each, but your baby grabs your finger or spits out the nipple and gives you a big gummy grin and you get on with it. Babies wake up crying but then you pace your floors, singing Born To Run to them at two a.m, or else you watch your partner do it and that may pretty much be the best thing ever.
Your kids get older. You give them ice cream for the first time, or watch them take their first steps, or they reach their fat little arms up to you and you take them to the garden, and you sit and watch them watch a bird and you stop, because at any moment, your heart with its lurching in your chest and the sun on your faces and you could explode, because this love, this gigantic Godzilla loves that fill you until you could burst, and it’s not just then. It’s a lot, when you are at the market or away from them on your first date night out or when they sleep next to you, their hot little breath on your cheek as you cocoon yourselves in the blanket. And when it does happen, it floors you, the utter monumental task you have decided to embark on, just by not using birth control. Or by adoption. Or by IVF. Or however you have become a parent.
And at other times it’s four a.m. Sunday fevers and overdue book reports and tantrums and plates under the bed and lost teeth and bullying and growth spurts and fear. Fucking fear. And it’s a very special sort of fear, because it’s not just you anymore, it’s you in charge of this other human and all you want more than anything is for them to grow up and be okay and be decent and be happy and healthy. And this doesn’t even encompass the parents raising children with medical problems, because that is a whole other dimension of the fear.
The pissed-parent genre follows a reliable template: My life is a waking nightmare and I’ve lost all that I once held dear, but it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me!
And yeah, there is a lot of it. I’m guilty as any other parenting writer. But my life isn’t a nightmare, and it has never been, even when my kids were a lot younger. It’s just that parents have a lot going on. We have many dishes to do and laundry to sort and humans to help grow up. We get tired, we get cranky, we like being able to complain and have someone else eager to share our complaints with. Plus, we have to share everything. Our dinners, our bed space, our once spotless sinks that are now encrusted with toothpaste spittle and our bathtubs filled with plastic guys who take up the real estate for our shampoos and body washes. Why shouldn’t we share our tales of monster diapers or the asshole sanctimony who snack-shamed us or how our kids refuse to eat anything but tater tots?
Nobody without kids wants to hear this. It’s not interesting, or glamorous, or fun, or life affirming. It’s boring to pretty much everyone who has never sat smack down and gotten a Barbie hand in their ass. Sure, lots of childless and childfree by choice people read parenting blogs. They hear a lot of our complaints about being parents. They take what they want from the content that is provided by parenting writers, whether it’s good or bad or helpful or simply reaffirms their decisions to not breed children. No one ever decided not to have kids simply because a writer once wrote that their kid keeps missing the toilet seat.
Parents have to share everything, so don’t go asking us to stop sharing our horror stories now. I’ll continue to write about the very worst aspects of parenting, the dirty and freaky and disgusting and scary and depressing. But if you stick around, you’ll also see the whole “it’s the best thing that has ever happened to me” aspect too. Maybe most writers don’t get too into that part of it because we sort of assume every parent knows this, no matter how annoyed or afraid we are when we write, no matter how scary or boring or hard parenting can be, it’s pretty damn wonderful.
(Image: getty images)