Raising kids is hard. It takes a lot of things, one of the most important being flexibility. When you first start out, you never imagine things the way they are really going to be. You imagine the love, the giggles, the cute little smiles. You dwell in moments of holding a newborn child, searching their eyes for things that remind you of yourself. You imagine sharing this love with a significant other and believe whole-heartedly (hopefully) that this little creature will bind you together in such a concrete way that nothing…ever…will come between you. You see first steps, first loves, graduations, wedding bells and becoming a grandparent as far off monuments cascading the horizon of your imagination. But you never really, truly see the trials, troubles, tribulations, heartbreaks, difficulties and struggles that seem to put the finishing touches on this package as wholly as red ribbon on a Christmas present. Perhaps, that is a good thing.
There is a saying, “Life is what happens when you are busy making plans!” When you become a parent, there is nothing that can more succinctly explain what happens in your life. Not every aspect of raising children is hard and while parents everywhere complain about the demands and pressures – the truth is it is something sewn into the quilt of humanity. Like snow or rain. You complain when you get it and complain when you don’t. The difference though is that with children, your hearts are so tightly intertwined in the process that it can be difficult to unravel them. Every decision now has the capability to have a profound effect on another person, whom you happen to love so deeply. And nothing can happen to them, without affecting you as well.
A wandering mind or one who has been blessed with the experience of children can spend a lot of time recalling what the hardest part of raising children really is. Depending on where they are in their career, the answers will be different. The best way to purport the hardest part of the journey is to start at the beginning.
The Early Years
When it all begins, the hardest part is simply figuring out what to do. Handling the crying and constantly being on duty, 24/7 – can feel like a college hazing into the throws of parenting. Not only are you tired, but also you are clueless and God forbid your baby gets sick. When she does, you will think for sure that that moment is by far the hardest part of parenting. Watching someone you love run a fever, hurt to the point of tears and be blissfully unable to clear their own nasal passages definitely pulls at the heartstrings. On those disgusting days when you must endure watching a doctor do what is best for your child by sticking them with needles and prodding their tiny fingers to bleed, you will feel helpless and guilty that you couldn’t protect them (at least in their eyes). They sit in the doctors office reaching for you, screaming at the top of their lungs and then there you are having to let this ‘bad thing’ happen. That can feel like one of the worst moments in parenting as well.
They start to walk, banging their head on coffee tables, and jumping out of their cribs. Your daytime is now spent chasing after this little person, constantly cleaning up after them and serving them. Some days they eat, other days they don’t. Some nights they sleep, other nights they don’t. Some days are fun, others not so much. You become tired, questionable about whether or not this experience is really worth having and then they sneak up from behind and do something that melts your heart. Then, letting go of all those things you thought you would do when you were a parent and those firm beliefs of how things are supposed to be in life, become one of the hardest parts of parenting. How could you have been so wrong? You realize that life is definitely not as you expected it to be, which is okay – and you start practicing the art of being flexible.
The next phase marks the end of the early years, when you walk your child through the front doors of a brick and mortar building where you know they won’t be treated as family anymore. One step in, they walk away from you in such a profound way and steal away all that control that you thought you had. Suddenly, your baby is surrounded by the world and absolutely privy to all the bad things in it. You realize in that moment that the hardest part of being a parent is not be able to protect your child all the time, or ever, or enough. And then it hits you, it is time to start flexing again and learn how to let go. Nothing seems worse than that.
The Next Decade (or So)
The next decade or so changes everything. Your children become children, with minds of their own. You are constantly in a hurry, running around and may find that you have truly turned into your own parents. You realize that you hurry to move your kids out of diapers in order to save money only to crash into a financial mountain, as they get older. Paying bills, affording everything you feel like they need, having the perfect car and house – handing over the real control over the checkbook to the kids, who never seem to appreciate anything. Working hard and long, both at home and away in order to make the dream come true. Losing sight of your partner in the middle of it and finding that you have a sort of angry, resentful, and lonely existence can feel pretty difficult. You explain it away, wipe it away, rationalize it the best you can and wonder the whole time if you are doing everything right.
Then, your child makes a mistake or two. They say the first disrespectful words, act out with rebellion, and have trouble at school. They seem emotional, unstable some days, completely ungrateful and difficult to be around at best. They choose music, friends, or television shows over spending time with you. You relive conversations you had with your own parents when you were a kid and find yourself constantly nagging and prodding – hopefully hoping to bring out the best. They may cry and shrug away when you reach to hug them. They get angry and tell you they hate you, or lam a door in your face. Their mood swings give you whiplash and break your heart, but you know you can never show it. Unconditional love rears its committed head and you realize once again, that this is the hardest part of raising children. Looking back now, the tantrum in the candy aisle seems insignificant and you would likely go back if you could.
Worry becomes a part of your life. Not the kind of worry that you are accustomed to either. This is the kind of worry that literally wrinkles the brow and grays the hairs on your head. Worry about their future. Worry about their today. Worry about their feelings. Worry about whether you are doing things right. Worry about whether they like you or not. Worry that you have enough to give them. Worry that you will be able to pay for college, let alone your car payment. Worry that your marriage is on the rocks. Worry because you see the mistakes you have made. Worry because they aren’t home on time. Worry because their math grade is falling. Worry because you cannot protect them, cannot feel like you are reaching them, and worry because you know that with every day, and every step, they are continuing to move away from you.
The Last Chapter
And then they do. While you are caught reminiscing about the road you just traveled, they are caught looking forward to the road ahead. You can almost feel the braids of your being, intertwined so tightly into their life, being ripped from your heart. And then it hits you…this is the hardest part of raising children. It wasn’t the money. It wasn’t the tears, the sibling rivalry, or the constant fights. It wasn’t trying to make everyone happy, or figuring out the discipline. It wasn’t the pothead friend they had in high school, or the playground bulky that pushed them around in kindergarten. It wasn’t the shot at the doctor’s office. It wasn’t trying to stay married, or the pressure to be the perfect parent. It wasn’t staying up all night when they were a baby, or watching them fall down a million times. It wasn’t any of that. It was this moment and the simple knowing that this moment would one day come. The hardest part of raising children is letting go – and knowing all along, from the day they came into your life, that one day you would have.
Raising children is hard. There will be days when even the best mom or dad, dreams of walking away with the curious wonder whether it is really all its cracked up to be. That is just human nature, like complaining about the rain or cursing the drought. The thing is that while it may seem like there are a million hard parts in the midst of doing it…none of them seem so bad when faced with letting it go.