Why is Being a Parent So Hard?

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Becoming a Parent is Hard

Becoming a parent is one of life’s most momentous events. It marks the need for the development of new behaviors. It is physically demanding. It requires new roles and responsibilities to be welcomed into life, and others to be ushered out. Mind, body, and relationships are all tested.

Having so many aspects of life in flux simultaneously is an invitation for feelings of panic.

That the arrival of a new child might inspire strong feelings may not be very surprising. It is something that people often talk about. Intense feelings of love and joy are so commonly described as to be cliché, and so are expected by new parents. But the intense feelings of panic, rage, and helplessness do not get as much press. These feelings are just as common as joy or love, yet may be wholly unexpected by a new parent. Equally jarring is that contrary emotions seem to spawn in each other’s midst. Feelings of joy, frustration, eagerness, apprehension, confidence, and inadequacy live side by side.

Unprepared for such complex emotional terrain, many new families find themselves in crisis. Many parents, their crises having compromised their abilities to care for their families or themselves, wisely turn to medical professionals for help. Others have experiences that are not as debilitating, yet still serious enough to be disrupt their lives.

For any new family, it is easy to wonder, ‘Why am I having such a hard time adjusting? Billions of people have done this successfully, what is wrong with me?’ The answer is that billions of people have had a hard time adjusting as well. For one in every five families, the transition to parenthood represents a genuine crisis. For the rest, it may be better described as several mini-crises.[1]

Having a hard time doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you. It means that you are normal.

Having a Hard Time is Normal

You likely have friends and neighbors who are also having a hard time. They may be smiling when you see them at the school, on the sidewalk, or on the playground. They may seem to always be able to make time for one another. Their children may be well dressed and well behaved.

They are probably not telling you about their struggles. They are not telling you about the frustration they feel that their children, for whom they give all they can, ask ever for more, refuse to listen, and seem to systematically upset their plans. They are not talking about their shifting career paths, their shrinking social lives, or their straining marriages. There seems to be a stigma associated with talking about these struggles. It is as if everyone has chosen to meet these challenges alone.

It may be comforting, even empowering, to know that these struggles are common. They are not openly discussed, but they are normal. Becoming a parent is an upheaval of everything life has been up until that point. Feeling overwhelmed is natural.

And it can be a good thing.

Being Challenged is a Good Thing

Parenting requires the best of you. If you are like me, however, then the you you have is not always the you you need. The challenges of new parenthood were bigger than I was, and I needed to grow to meet them. I needed to make myself into someone better.

I need to do so still. Despite the progress I’ve made so far, I still find myself reprimanding when I should be coaching, keeping busy when I should be playing, and nursing a scowl when I should be making amends. The challenges of parenthood seem to grow ahead of you, making it a constant struggle to keep pace.

Becoming a parent, for me, was and is a transformative process. As it turns out, that is also normal. When starting a family, the realization that your impact extends beyond your own life begins to sink in.

Until I became a parent, my actions had primarily influenced my own condition. Suddenly, I was to have a profound impact on the lives of other people. Not just any other people, but those for whom I felt indescribable love. It was a sobering realization. The kind of person I was suddenly became important.

The gravity of having so much influence over the life of another begins to weigh down hard. The pressure that threatens to break you can be used to make you.

That pressure is a prompt to start asking the big questions. What values and beliefs do I want to survive me? What does life mean? Who am I? These questions, no longer mere abstractions as perhaps they were a year ago, no longer a punchline as perhaps they were a decade ago, must actually be confronted. The kind of parent you decide to be depends upon the answers.

You don’t just stumble upon the answers. The answers require effort and intention. It is hard work. And when answers come, then they must be backed up with behaviors. That is harder work. It amounts to nothing less than a change in identity.

Yet nobody is talking about this. Expectant parents are bombarded with resources and advice. Pamphlets, advertisements, articles, headlines, how-to videos, and books envelop the parents-to-be, telling all about diapers, safety harnesses, allergies, milestones, and teething. But nothing of questioning beliefs; nothing of searching for meaning; nothing of transforming identity.

As new parents become seasoned parents, the information tsunami doesn’t stop but only changes. The subject matter addresses new problems, specific for toddlers, then preschoolers, next youths, and finally tweens and teens. But still nothing of transforming identity.

Transforming one’s identity is not something done casually. An impetus is needed. That impetus just may take the form of a crisis.

Opportunity Within Crisis

A new baby is a surprisingly powerful impetus. It seems a miracle that a fragile infant can motivate you to question everything, to sacrifice so much, to upend your life, to make yourself into someone better – into someone who knows what type of life to strive for, someone who can act according to deeply held beliefs, someone who can summon patience in the face of rage, and someone who can find a way when feeling helpless.

Becoming that kind of person is a major undertaking. It is something you do for your child. You transform your entire self so your child can be prepared to someday make a good life. You ask for nothing in return. It is a pure gift.

That is why the challenge of having your life upended can be a good thing. What feels like a crisis, or a series of mini-crises, is actually a prompt for you to make the conscious decision to meet that challenge. The reason being is a parent is so hard is so that you may make yourself into someone better. So much good comes from doing so. And it gets even better.

Your new behaviors, a product of your heightened level of self-awareness, your fresh perspectives, and your thoughtfully crafted identity, are not confined to your parenting role. You can apply them to the career, social, marital, and other spheres. You can extend them to all aspects of your life. They become part of you. In the end, you are your behaviors.

Knowing who you are and backing it up with behaviors allows you to approach things with purpose. It lets you put more into life. And it allows you to get more out of life – more enrichment, more satisfaction, and more fulfillment.

The sacrifices you make on your baby’s behalf are ultimately reflected back to you. This new you, that you created as an unconditional gift for your child, turns out to be a gift from your child.

It is worthy of marvel that a helpless infant is powerful enough to ask so much from you and get it. It is even more marvelous that she is able to give so much. I believe this is the true meaning of the miracle of childbirth.

[1] Michaels G.Y. & Goldberg W.A. (Eds.). (1988). The transition to parenthood. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, p.5.

How to Properly Cite this Article: Brian Vondruska, “Why is Being a Parent So Hard?”, The Kind of Parent You Are, accessed [date], https://www.thekindofparentyouare.com/articles/why-is-being-a-parent-so-hard.