I’m often asked by new or soon-to be parents (as I suspect many of you have been asked) what the hardest part of parenting is. I usually have two answers:
The first, which I think I’ve written about before, and which people can usually agree with once they’ve had kids in the house for even a short time, is the constant nature of parenting. Anyone can change a diaper once, but being a parent involves doing it several times a day (often at the most inconvenient times and in the most inconvenient places), every day, for several years per child. Anyone can respond calmly to a temper tantrum, but being a parent involves keeping your temper day in and day out (often in the face of ridiculous and unforeseeable provocations), every day, for as many years as it takes to launch them into their own lives (and even then…).
The second answer, which is much more specific to me and to people of my personality, and which some people can’t really understand, is simply the over-stimulus of parenting.
I’m mostly an introvert. My perfect day is a quiet cup of coffee on the porch with whatever book I’m reading or manuscript I’m editing or text I’m typesetting. If that morning coffee eventually drifts into an afternoon beer and then an evening whiskey without interruption by another human being, so much the better. I might make time for a chat with a friend here and there, but a day of perfect solitude would be just as good.
When you’re a parent, however, there’s none of that. From the moment you wake up in the morning (I can’t find my coat; you didn’t sign my agenda; he’s wearing my shirt), to the moment you get them to bed at night (I forgot to do my homework; he’s throwing his socks at me again; he always gets to stay up later than me), I’m constantly bombarded with interruptions. Even when they’re at school I can’t escape because the secretary constantly calling me to come deal with some crisis or another (your son ran away from school; he’s been in an incident on the playground; he’s feeling sick).
And the noise. My goodness. The noise. Someone is always wrestling, dribbling basketballs, running around, yelling, playing the piano, trying to scare their brothers, zooming cars across the floor, fighting over heaven knows what… and on and on. The house is never quiet when they’re in it. There is never silence, only degrees of loudness.
Now, I don’t begrudge my kids all that. I know it comes with the territory, and I’ve run into some parents who seem to love all the noise and bustle and craziness that comes with kids. But for me, introverted as I am, all this stuff is really difficult. I endure it as best I can. I try not to let it make me grumpy or upset. I deliberately remove myself from it when I feel it getting to me. But I never get to the point where it isn’t a struggle.
My favourite times with my kids remain when I have them one on one, doing something together just the two of us – going for a donut at the cafe down the street, playing cards, watching a movie, chatting in my office each morning, going for a walk or a drive.
Of course, those aren’t the sorts of things that interest my sons very much. They’d much prefer to be running in a pack, chasing a ball, making trouble, playing the music loudly, inviting friends to play, bickering over trivial things, and generally crying havoc. I understand. I do. So I try to involve myself in their crazy lives as much as I can, to tolerate as much of the rest of it as I can, and not to be too hard on them for the bits that I can’t even tolerate.
But it really is, for me, the hardest part of parenting.
Luke Hill has been the parent of birth kids, adoptive kids, foster kids, and just-need-a-place-to-stay kids for fourteen years. He’s had experience with kids in homeschool, public schools, and alternative schools. He’s been a teacher, a camp counsellor, and a coach. He’s also taught parenting courses for Children’s Aid for almost a decade. When he isn’t working with kids, he’s a writer, a publisher, and the director of a non-profit organization that supports book culture.