Parenting is the hardest job you'll EVER have. I repeatedly heard folks say this before I had my first child. I had no earthly idea what they meant. "I think I'll take up scrapbooking while I'm home with baby -- you know, something to fill up my time," I casually mentioned to one of my co-workers toward the end of my first pregnancy. She chuckled, slowly swiveling her chair back toward her computer monitor, unable to dignify my statement with a response.
Later, I discovered that I would have NO time for scrapbooking and that parenting truly IS the hardest job. It's also the most rewarding and the most courageous job. But let's just be honest. DANG. It's hard. And to illustrate this point, I'd love you to participate in a visualization with me.
You and your partner receive the news that each of you just landed your dream job. Better yet, both of you will get to work for the same company, in the same office, on the same start date. How fun is that? (Well, some of you would consider that to be fun.) The only catch is that you don't report to work for nine months. And during those nine months, you will have very limited and sporadic job training. Just a few hours here and there, in which someone will share with you what your job might be like, but they really can't tell you for sure.
Your excitement and anticipation grow as the months tick by, but while you wait, you are plagued by some (or all) of the following: excessive weight gain, heartburn, constipation, insomnia and occasional nausea. What a splendid way to start my job, you groan, while hanging out in your new favorite spot, the bathroom.
As the nine-month mark approaches, it's go-time. You get the news that it's time for you and your partner to report to work. How cool! But WAIT. Before doing so, you will need to go through the most physically and psychologically exhausting ordeal that you have ever experienced. The same goes for your partner, who will emotionally and vicariously stand by your side through this process. Your excitement is through the roof any way, because hey, you're starting your dream job, right?
You are officially in your new position now and you are overjoyed. For the first couple of days, a few sweet, well-meaning individuals pop into your cubicle from time to time and give gentle suggestions. But for the most part, you and your partner have to figure out the new protocols and procedures on your own.
You quickly realize that you will not get to leave your workplace to rest at night. Even coffee and lunch breaks are obsolete. Every time you do get some sleep, you will randomly be jolted awake. In the meantime, your body is still recovering from everything it went through a few days ago, and your hormones are raging. Add this to the sleep deprivation, and you alternate between beaming with pleasure and sobbing uncontrollably. You begin to wonder if you're developing multiple personalities. You're trying to figure out if your partner is an angel sent from heaven or a demon trying to confuse and frustrate you further.
For the first few days, the new system you are working on is fairly quiet and peaceful, but after a week or so, it suddenly wakes up and there is no rhyme or reason to how it is functioning. You reach out to others, who have worked with this "hardware" before, and they give you vague pointers, but it seems like your system is different from everyone else's, dang it. Not to mention, noisy! Never fear -- as the weeks stream by, you and your partner begin to figure out your job duties. You even give each other fist bumps for rocking your new positions. And yet, every time you say, "We got this thing!", everything changes, and you have to figure out the new protocols all over again.
Despite the hardships and bewilderment, you and your partner are still in an odd state of satisfaction, so you stay with the company for 18 years, knowing that every few months, your job requirements will completely change, with no additional training, and you will be challenged in ways you never knew. But you know that it will all pay off in the end -- and you experience daily (or weekly) glimpses of the purest pleasure you've ever known.
THAT is why parenting is the hardest job. There's no training, there's no user manual, there's no report card or annual review to let you know you are doing OK. There are physical and emotional strains on both you and your partner. And your child and parenting situation are uniquely challenging and amazing all at once. But if you ask any parent if they would take on this job again, their answer is always YES. In fact, quite frequently, one to two years after accepting the first job, parents sign up to do it all over again. Wha???
I have reported to the workplace of babyhood, not once, but twice, and I know it can be a doozy. But when I spot a smiling 6-month-old at a restaurant, there's a small part of me that wants to apply for the position of baby mama all over again. My husband, the sensible one in our home, rips the virtual application out of my hands and encourages me to focus on the two muddy, snotty jobs I already have -- my two boys. They provide plenty of work to keep me busy for years to come.
Kirsten Brunner, MA, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor and hard-working mother of two rambunctious boys in Austin, TX. She and her blog partner, Cheryl Sipkowski, MS, LPC, provide sanity-saving tips and workshops for expectant and new parents at Baby Proofed Parents. Follow BPP on Facebook or Twitter for real-time tips and humor to help you "bring sane to baby brain".