I recently read a comment on an article lamenting that we don’t do enough to prepare parents for parenthood. New parents enter their role largely blind to the responsibilities that await them and we need to do a better job.
Now, I don’t completely disagree.
We could probably do more to prepare parents for what awaits them, and we could certainly do more as a society to support them once they’re in the trenches.
But there was a general tone about the comment that rubbed me the wrong way. Taken as a whole, it was clear the author felt it was actually possible to manage expectations in such a way that parents would hardly ever be surprised or overwhelmed by the job.
(For any parent reading, it probably comes as no surprise that this commenter had no children…)
Here’s the thing: Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, prepares you for the reality of parenthood.
It’s like when someone tells you they have pets, so they know what parenting is like.
Or they teach elementary school (God bless them), so they understand the pressures of parenting.
Or their sister has kids so they know what it’s all about because they’ve seen it up-close for years.
Nopity nope nope.
Did working with young children prepare me for various developmental stages and challenges? Yes.
Did having a dog prepare me to arrange my schedule around another’s needs? Sure.
Did babysitting teach me to entertain and keep children safe for a set period of time? Definitely.
Did any or all of these things prepare me for the nonstop, never-ending responsibility for another human’s well-being — physical, social, and emotional?
Those experiences prepared me in the way swimming one lap around my neighborhood pool would prepare me for an Ironman Triathlon — woefully inadequate. The only way to truly understand the full-on pressures of parenting is to live them.
The thing is, it’s not that any particular parenting task is too novel or too overwhelming (aside from a few extreme situations, and I certainly tip my hat to those parents). Babysitters feed and care for children. Educators teach them. Mentors lead them. Such tasks aren’t unique to parenthood.
It’s all of it taken together, day after day, year after year (multiplied by however many kids) with no end that makes parenthood such a different animal.
You are responsible for another person’s everything. You need to meet their physical needs (no small task, especially in the first year), but you also have to provide all the rest.
You are responsible for everything from teaching them how to use a spoon to teaching them right from wrong. Everything from, “Don’t put your finger in that outlet,” to “Don’t put drugs in your body,” falls under your charge.
That kind of responsibility is staggering.
This is not a dig at the childless. Raising children is a decision each couple has to make for themselves and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with deciding not to. But you won’t fully understand what parenting is like unless you do it. It just isn’t possible.
When you get a babysitter, you’re still the parent.
When the kids spend the night with grandma, you’re still the parent.
Years from now, when the kids are grown and move out (sob!), you’ll still be the parent.
Once you become a parent, you’re a parent forever.
And nothing can truly prepare you for that.