When my son was a baby, it seemed like there were two kinds of parents: those for whom parenting was a breeze and a pure joy, and me. That, of course, is not true, but at the time, when my hormones were going crazy and I was running on two hours of sleep a night, that’s what it felt like. It felt like everyone else had it figured out and I was facing these seemingly insurmountable hurdles.
That Peace Corps slogan, “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love,” describes my parenting experience pretty well. You hear that, Peace Corps? I’m stealing your slogan on behalf of parents (but not all parents, because everyone’s experience is unique and I cannot speak for everyone). Being a parent is rewarding, but there are times when I just want to switch places with Oliver and be the kid. Because being the mom is hard sometimes.
Our favorite read, The Daily Mail, asked mothers about their greatest parenting challenges, and the resulting list makes me hyperventilate a little. Because it seems that, as a parent, you are never out of the woods in terms of challenges. You are always in the fucking stupid woods, and you might be strolling along thinking that when your kid is out of college and on his own things will get easier, but noooooo, your job as a parent is to be a stress ball until the day you die.
My top parenting challenges?
Probably the weirdest, scariest thing Oliver ever had was herpangina, which involves a scary-high fever and blisters on the inside of the mouth and throat. Oh, and screaming/crying. He was about three when he got this, presumably from daycare (*shakes fist at daycare*).
But even the memory of that cannot compare to the challenge I face, to this day, when Oliver gets a stomach bug. In fact, “vomit” was my top reason for never wanting to have children. You see, I am an emetophobe, which means I have a fear of vomit. I didn’t realize emetophobia was even A Thing, let alone A Thing I Have, until the first time Oliver got sick with a stomach thing (also presumably from daycare).
My emetophobia goes back as far as I can remember. For example, in elementary school, there was a girl who got sick in the hall, and from that day on, I was afraid to be near her. As an adult, the news that someone in the office feels sick or was recently sick is enough to make me do this involuntary breath-holding thing if I must be near them, and to sanitize all common surfaces.
At my last job, I was the office germophobe: I refused to touch handles with bare hands, wadding up a paper towel to turn on the faucet in the restroom, the refrigerator in the break room, and all door handles. I will not use a public restroom unless my bladder is about to explode or back up into my kidneys or whatever. I am also that person who refuses to vomit. I will do anything not to, no matter how nauseous I am. The thought of it is, frankly, terrifying.
I’m working on it, but emetophobia makes it hard to take care of my kid when he is sick, and it makes me feel like a terrible mother. And my kid is prone to stomach things, you guys. If there’s one going around, he gets it, no matter how much I remind him to wash his hands. I’d say he gets barfy an average of three times per year, and I’ve got the routine down: cover the sofa with old towels and sheets, make a barf bag by cutting a paper grocery sack down and lining it with a plastic bag, don’t let him touch anything, wash my hands every time I put a cool washcloth on his forehead or hand him a popsicle. Bleach the entire house like three times per day. You get the idea.
2. Potty Training
Potty training, for me, was so much tougher and more stressful that those first six newborn weeks ever were. And that’s saying a lot. Oliver was three years and some months before he was potty trained. We chose this method called “Potty Training Boot Camp,” which promised to successfully potty train your kid in a weekend. It was sort of our only choice -- Seth and I both worked full-time, and Oliver’s daycare didn’t do potty training. We started our boot camp weekend optimistically, only to be plunged into the depths of toilet-refusal Hell.
On day two, I finally broke down, sobbing (crying in front of your children is something you’re not suppose to do, right?). Oliver put his arm around me, where I was sitting on the floor, and said, “Aaaw, what’s wrong mommy?” and I wailed, “I’m sad because you know what you’re supposed to do but you’re not doing it.” And my very empathetic kid gave me a nice hug.
Then we took Oliver to his favorite place, IKEA, and explain that if he has an accident we have to leave because he’s in “big boy underwear” and we don’t have any extra clothes for him. He refuses a stop in the bathroom, and of course three minutes later he pees on a plastic chair. We clean up the mess (we wouldn’t leave it there, ew), and say, “Well, we gave you an opportunity to use the bathroom, and you had an accident. So now we have to leave.” And Oliver was totally devastated and sobbed the whole way home. And then he did all his business in the toilet from that day on. So yeah: guilt and heartbreak are the keys to potty training, apparently. Not my proudest parenting moment.
Those are the big two that have overshadowed all the other challenges I’ve faced, but there are certainly others, like not getting enough sleep, leaving my kid in the care of a stranger, comforting Oliver when he’s sad about something, and dealing with discipline.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. For all the challenges as I’ve faced as a parent, I can think of twice as many good times. Being a parent can be fun, for one thing. I get to relive portions of my childhood through him. It’s a pleasure to watch him grow up. Just when I think, “this is the best age,” Oliver turns seven and then that is the best age. It’s a totally imperfect journey that unfolds one day at a time and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
If someone had told me about all the bad things that go with parenthood before I got knocked up, I probably would have never had a kid. Ever. But for me, this is a case where the good outweighs the bad.
I look at it this way: when I was considering getting a cat again, the “cons” of cat-ownership included cleaning up hairballs, cleaning a litter box, cat fur everywhere, potentially scratching the furniture. The “pros” were: cats are cute.
But I chose to get a cat anyway, and the companionship and affection of the little hairball factory totally outweigh the negative stuff. Parenting a human child is much the same way -- on paper the situation looks dire, but the reality is, while you can list all the challenging aspects of parenthood, it’s difficult to quantify the positives. The love you give to and receive from your child can’t be measured. But if you could put it on a scale, opposite the illnesses, the worry, and everything else, the love will outweigh them all, every time.
What are the toughest things about parenting, for you? If you don’t have kids, does this list scare you? And does anyone want to come over and clean this litter box for me? Because, gross.
Somer’s on Twitter @somersherwood