The stuff that no one prepares you for as a parent

I was making breakfast for dinner the other day, and by the time I actually had a chance to sit down and enjoy the food I had cooked, the eggs were stiff and congealed and cold. I ate it anyway. Cold food has become a normalcy since becoming a parent. Actually, I now prefer cold food. OK, maybe not cold, but definitely room temperature.

Let me be perfectly clear here, I am not complaining. I am simply stating a fact about how completely life changes when you become a parent.

I also realized some of this stuff that involves being a parent no one adequately prepares you for. Sure you get endless advice on what remedy is best for diaper rash, how much sleep a child of every age should get each night, how much screen time is too much, how to sneak in those green vegetables, or how important talking and reading and playing with your children is for their development as a human.

But the bigger things, those you hear less about.

The ability to be completely relaxed has vanished from the life of a parent. If I choose to take an hour from my life watching some mindless television show, it is never an hour uninterrupted. And if by chance I am able to stay up after the kids have fallen asleep to get such a divine peaceful hour, I find myself looking around the house making a list of what I still need to do/clean/get ready for the next day. My days of utter and total relaxation have all but disappeared.

The other day I was enjoying a massage, one of the perks of my health insurance, and I kept hearing my phone buzz in my coat pocket. So of course my mind starts to worry that something went wrong and my kids are trying to get a hold of me making it impossible to relax. Funnily enough it was just my Medium Daily Read push notifications.

But in all seriousness, there is a not a day that goes by that a parent doesn’t worry. The worry may change shape from day to day. It may even shrink down to the size of a crumb needing to be vacuumed, but it is always there. Always.

Along with room temperature food, this worry, this wondering if you are doing the right thing as a parent is also now a part of your every day life. Constant questions and concerns ping pong around your brain at all hours of the day. Are their video games ruining their imaginations or making them desensitized?Why don’t they love to read as much as I do? Are they eating enough vegetables? Are they getting enough sleep? Am I letting them fail enough? Too much? And what about that lingering cough? Should I call the doctor? Have I taught them enough about consent? Do they know how awful vaping is for them? Will they try it anyway?

I rarely have any concrete answers to these recurring questions that pop into my brain in a moment’s notice.

However, I have met plenty of fellow parents who are quick to offer their advice because somehow they contain all the answers. And while this is utterly annoying, I often find myself listening intently even if inside I am rolling my eyes. Because maybe I can use a nugget of their advice, maybe they have experienced even the tiniest similarity with their child, maybe that annoying parent can offer a slice of inside information that can help me worry a little bit less.

Parenting is an experiment, you gather up the most information you can and try out some things. We all know that each child is different. Sometimes one thing works and another does not. But in the end, as long as we have good intentions, show up, and show unconditional love, the kids will be all right.

Another aspect of being a parent that I definitely wasn’t ready for is the heartbreak. In theory, I should have understood this part of parenting because I witnessed my own parents dealing with it. But even witnessing it, hell, even experiencing your own heartbreak pre-kids, isn’t enough to fully get you prepared for it.

When your child’s heart is breaking all you want to do is take their pain and make it your own. Last weekend we came home from visiting family and my son discovered his pet snake had died. He had just gotten this snake in August; it was still just a baby. When he told me his snake was dead, he wrapped his arms tightly around me, buried his head in my shoulder and sobbed.

My fourteen year old’s heart was broken, and all I wanted to do was hold him so tightly the pain would transfer over to me instead. I began to tear up, and I don’t even like snakes. But his sadness filled the room, and there was nothing I could do to help him. He had to experience this and cope with it himself.

That is what no one can fully prepare you for when you become a parent: allowing your children to experience pain. And they absolutely must. They must experience pain and loss and failure in order to learn how to cope with it in healthy ways for the rest of their life.

It isn’t that people don’t warn you about this part of parenting because of course they do. And we have all watched our toddlers fall as they are learning to walk. But emotional pain is a whole other beast.

The fact is you do not fully understand what exactly this beast entails until you are forced to stand there helpless as this beautiful little human that you brought into this world suffers.

Never mind the cold food and constant worry, watching your child experience pain is the absolute most difficult part of parenting.

Parenting is leaning against the kitchen sink shoving cold food in your mouth.

Parenting is a never ending list of things to organize or straighten up or scrub clean.

Parenting is restless sleep.

Parenting is a different definition of relaxation.

Parenting is being in a constant state of worry but trying to hide it.

Parenting is a broken heart when your children experience any form of pain.

And yet, despite all of this, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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