Parenting is the hardest job on the planet.
Air traffic control? Super stressful job. Brain surgeon? Not for the faint of heart. But parents take on the most relentless and challenging work on Earth every single day. Here's what makes raising humans the toughest job:
1. The responsibility is immense, and the stakes are incredibly high — yet there is no manual.
The first time you hold your baby — the weight of their entire life in your hands — it's nearly impossible not to be overwhelmed. You question whether you're adequate for the task, and the fact that you have no real idea what you're doing hits you. This is a person's life we're talking about. How did you get put in charge of a life?
And no matter how many experts you talk to or parenting books you read, you discover that children always find a way to thwart their wisdom and keep you on your toes. What works with one child is totally ineffectual with another. Your job is to nurture these tiny humans physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually — and you basically have to figure it out as you go along.
2. It’s physically and emotionally exhausting — and there are no real breaks.
Unless you’re lucky, you start off parenting with months of sleep deprivation that you never seem to catch up from. Even after kids figure out how to sleep, they wake you up because they're scared, they wet the bed, their pajamas are "scratchy," they're dying of thirst, or 5 a.m. on Saturday seems like a good time to party. Later, they choose your bedtime to have their most profound, hours-long heart-to-heart talks with you.
And in this constantly tired state, you are expected to be "on" 24/7. You must feed these people several times a day, every day, or they'll die. Dealing with their bodily functions feels like a full-time job in certain stages. And those are just the bare basic physical needs.
Until you're in it, it's impossible to understand the mental and emotional work that goes into parenting. You field 583,417 questions — half of which are unanswerable — in a kid's fourth year of life alone. You have to teach kids to navigate social and emotional landscapes that you yourself are still figuring out, and inevitably, at least one child will exhibit a behavior that you never even knew existed and have no idea how to handle.
Parenting taxes the body, brain, and heart — and it's nonstop. Even if you get a physical break, you're always thinking about their wellbeing.
3. If the exhaustion doesn't get you, the worry might.
When my first child was a baby, I watched an "Oprah" episode about child abduction, and I've pretty much been terrified ever since. Like exhaustion, the worry waxes and wanes but never really stops.
Before kids, my definition of "overprotective" was something totally different than it is now. And thanks to the internet, parents have a whole host of concerns that generations past didn't have. Technology can open awesome new worlds of learning and exploration for our kids, but literally one click can lead them into a world of sick and twisted depravity.
You don't want to be neurotic, but you need a healthy amount of concern in order to make wise choices. Discerning what's worth worrying about and what's not is a constant — and exhausting — balancing act.
4. You don't get a paycheck — and in fact, this job costs you money.
Parenting comes with more responsibility and stress than any occupation, but there's no paycheck, no seasonal bonuses, no monetary compensation of any kind.
In fact, generally speaking, the more time you spend parenting, the less money you make. There's also no paid leave. You usually have to pay someone else to watch your kids so you can have "time off."
Your superhuman ability to multi-task, keen attention to detail, and devotion to the job will not be noticed by the boss and rewarded with a promotion or a raise. In fact, you'll be lucky if these skills and qualities are noticed by anyone.
5. Yet we do our best anyway because our love for our kids is unparalleled — and the rewards are priceless.
Honestly, if we didn't love our children, they'd be a lot easier to raise. We wouldn't worry about them or bother figuring out what's best for them. We'd sleep through the night and let them cry until they turn blue. We'd plop them in front of the TV with Cheetos and root beer to keep them quiet and go about our days in peace.
But we do love them. The heart-swelling, Earth-shattering, all-consuming love we have for our kids is what makes us get up at 3 a.m. to chase away bad dreams, dutifully wipe a butt for the 2054th time, and agonize over meal-planning and screen-time limits.
And that love is also the reward we get for a job well done.
Love creates the challenge of parenting yet makes it all worthwhile. It's the cause of our parenting woes yet also the cure. My kid could be driving me up the wall one minute, but when he lays his head on my shoulder and says, "I love you, Mommy," I fall head-first into that gushy cloud of kid-love that has propelled the human race forward for millennia. Those moments always remind me that the joy ultimately outweighs the hard.
So keep on keepin' on, parents. Here's to you and the vital, daily, unacknowledged work you put into raising good humans.