As published in Romper.
Parenthood is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. It’s also knee-knockingly, heart-poundingly, sweating-until-my-shirt-is-soaked-throughterrifying. Expecting my first baby, my head was in a cloud of all the possible names we could choose and the cute little onesies we had to look forward to. I didn’t know then what I know now. I didn’t know the thing no one tells you at your baby shower, the thing no one warns you about as they’re wheeling you to the delivery room. The thing no one says until you say it out loud, alone, in your first real minute to breathe: that parenthood is scary.
It’s scary for so many reasons. Because kids are so vulnerable. Because the world is full of bad people doing bad things, and you can’t stop them. Because, why is your kid making that weird nose when he breathes? Because you love them so, so much. Like so many expectant moms, I was admonished by well-meaning more experienced moms to enjoy my sleep while I could because the baby would keep me awake due to constant nighttime feedings and fussing. I imagined some sort of cute little colicky doll, like those crying dolls you took home in home economics class in middle school to “experience” parenthood. Instead of returning this doll at the end of the class, I reasoned, I’d trade in my fussy newborn after a few months for a sweet infant who slept like a dream. My worries would be behind me. It would be all over-sized hair bows and charmingly posed family photos from then on.
Wrong. Sure, I was fortunate that both of my kids were relatively good sleepers, even as newborns. But my days of restful sleep were behind me, because I’d be constantly listening for my kids’ little voices yelling “Mommy!” down the hall in the middle of the night. Somehow, my husband could sleep through their midnight noises but I could probably hear them sigh if they were spending the night at the North Pole.
I didn’t know then what I know now: that your babies are always your babies, and parenthood is scary.
Even now, all these years later, before heading to bed, no matter how tired I am, I check on my kids to make sure they’re covered with their blankets and sleeping soundly. But not so soundly that they’re dead or something. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ll have to drive to my kids’ houses at night when they’re grown and living on their own to make sure they’re still breathing.
As a parent, I have new appreciation for what my siblings and I put my mom through. How we stayed out until 2 a.m. as teenagers, not knowing or caring that she always stayed awake until she saw our car headlights reflect on her bedroom window as we pulled into the driveway. I didn’t know then what I know now: that your babies are always your babies, and parenthood is scary.
My husband and I are solely responsible for our children’s well-being. Every choice we make about where to live, about where they’ll go to school, about whether to feed them cereal or waffles for breakfast, is crafting the blueprint for their lives. There’s no one telling us how to parent or enforcing our good parenting. It’s terrifying that there’s really no one to fall back on but ourselves when it comes to parenting.
As a former newspaper reporter assigned to the crime and courts beat, I considered myself pretty thick-skinned and unflappable. But that was before I had kids.When I lose my temper and curse at my husband in front of my kids, that’s no longer just damaging my relationship with my husband. That’s setting a bad example for my kids. I have to choose each day to be a good example. Sure, I have the freedom to be a terrible parent, but the responsibility to be a good one. that responsibility is daunting and terrifying.
We parents generally don’t receive much training for parenthood. With the exception of child development, teaching majors, or veteran babysitters, there’s little in the way of formal parenthood education. We have to learn parenting as we go, with maybe a little help from parenting books and articles we don’t have time to read. But no matter the knowledge we glean from the articles we scarf down through stolen moments in the bathroom or because we stayed up too late and will definitely regret doing so the next morning, one thing remains: Parenthood is scary.
And of course, this is a big world and there’s bound to be bad news coming in from somewhere at any given time. As a former newspaper reporter assigned to the crime and courts beat, I considered myself pretty thick-skinned and unflappable. But that was before I had kids. Once I did have kids, someone could practically mention the word “kid” and I’d dissolve into a bucket of tears. As a parent, every kid is your kid. Every tragic news story involving a child makes you think about your own child, and how the thought of anything awful happening to them would shatter your life beyond repair.
I feel a responsibility as a parent to not only take good care of my kids, but of myself as well. My two children are depending on me to stay in good health so I can look out for them. Just as our kids are at the center of mine and my husband’s world, we’re at the center of theirs. It’s scary to think about something happening to one or both of us. Who would take care of our kids? Who would make sure they’re tucked in at night and breathing? It’s scary that we have to give our kids the freedom to experience heartbreak from a not-so-nice “friend” at school. It’s scary that life is full of lessons they’ll have to learn by themselves, on their own, firsthand.
I feel that parenthood is totally overwhelming and we’re ill-prepared for it. There’s no denying it. Still, we trudge through as we have for centuries. And yet the human race continues and even thrives. We’re obviously doing something right. Maybe our anxiety about parenting is what keeps us on our toes and ensures we give our best effort to raising the next generation.
As a parent in my own right, I’ve learned to embrace the unknown. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I can do my best to take care of myself and my family today. I can love my kids so much that watching the news hurts, but still trust that they’ll turn out all right. Because for me, parenthood is worth every nail-biting, knee-knocking, armpit-sweating moment.