When you decide to become a parent (or have it sprung upon you), you know in advance that there are going to be ups and downs. Pluses and minuses, if you will. No, there can be no preparation for it, but at least you have some idea of what to expect, right? I imagine that it must be a little bit like going to war. You can train for it, you can be told about it, you can watch videos about it, and you can talk to other people who have been through it, but until you are in it yourself, you can’t truly understand. However, you know some of the things to watch out for.
You know that you will get less sleep. Perhaps no sleep. Maybe you don’t know exactly how that will feel physically, but you know that it will suck, and you know that it will happen. Crying babies will wake you up at night. You will be cleaning vomit out of teddy bears at 3 am. You know this. But that is not the worst thing about being a parent.
You know that there will be poop involved. Poop in the diapers that you will have to change. Poop during potty training. Perhaps you are not aware that, from time to time, the poop will blast forth from all available clothing openings like a sewage volcano, and that this will likely happen during Easter dinner at a friend’s house, but you are at least aware that the frequency of your contact with the feces of another human being will increase. But that is not the worst thing about being a parent.
You know that children are expensive. Diapers cost money. Baby food costs money. Toys and clothes and bikes and summer camps and birthday parties and college educations all cost money. This is money that, were your children not around, could have been spent on something else. Something like a sports car, or a trip to Hawaii. You know this going into it. Kids are going to drain your wallet. But that is not the worst thing about being a parent.
All of these things are bad, but you know, deep down, that the joy and love and satisfaction that you get from your children is worth any number of lost hours of sleep, poopy diapers, or sudden expenses. You are at least partially prepared to deal with all of these things. Well, you’re not really, but at least you think you are, and that makes a big difference. Your children are going to fight with you, but you love them anyway. They are going to turn into teenagers and drive you crazy, but you love them anyway. Yesterday, my three year old clogged the toilet with a half a roll of toilet paper and continued flushing it for close to one billion times, completely flooding the bathroom, and subsequently the hallway, with dirty, nasty, toilet water that took me over three hours to clean up. And I love him anyway. Nothing my children could ever do would make me stop loving them.
So then, what is the worst thing about being a parent? I’ll tell you. It’s the one thing they don’t tell you about in all of those books and classes. It’s nothing that your children do, or say, or cause, that is the absolute worst. No, the worst thing about being a parent is this:
I am not an uncaring man. I have always felt sympathy for the plight of others. And when small children were involved in any sort of tragedy, I felt it even harder, because they were young, and they had full lives ahead of them, and it made me sad. But holy graham crackers, wait until you have kids. All day yesterday I sat looking at the news from Oklahoma, and reading about the kids who had been killed by the tornado, and their parents, and I was a mess. In fact, I am tearing up right now just thinking about it. I am not a crier! What the heck!
No, seriously, I never used to get so worked up about this stuff, but now that I have children, every time I hear about a parent losing a child, or a child who is missing, or a child who is dying, or a child who is sick, or a child who is mildly uncomfortable, I just start bawling like an idiot. Because I think about what it would be like to lose one of my children, and that is the worst possible thing I could ever think of. But it’s not just limited to the news! I can’t even get through a freaking episode of CSI with unmoistened eyes if there is a kid involved. Movies that I know have a happy ending, and I’m still a wreck if the kid is missing or hurt. Stupid movies, like apocalyptic zombie flicks! If somebody mentions that their kid was eaten by a zombie, it’s over. They don’t even have to show it on the screen. Much of popular entertainment is now ruined for me, just because I am a parent.
So be warned my friends! Being a parent will make you feel things that you don’t want to feel. It will make you worried about your children all the fricking time! Even when you know they are sleeping, you will go check and make sure that they are still alive. Parenting will give you extreme amounts of empathy for other people. It will make tragedies that were already terrible, about a thousand times worse. But, actually, I suppose if empathy is the worst thing about being a parent, maybe it’s not so bad after all. Perhaps I should embrace and appreciate this newfound amount of caring. Maybe it has made me a slightly better person. Just don’t tell anyone that I cried the last time I watched “Home Alone.”