Parenting is harder than I thought it was going to be.

It’s true. I’m embarrassed to admit it, especially since it I’ve done it three times over now. But I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one thinking it. 

Take this very moment for instance. My in-laws are blessedly watching my kids while I write this at a coffee shop. One table over from me sits a mom talking to her friend. The fancy stroller sits between them and I can hear cooing noises coming from it. I’m catching snippets of their conversation. 

“She just cries. Every time I think I can lay her down she wakes up.”

“It’s hard. It’s just so hard.”

We are all thinking the same thing and I don’t mind being the one to admit it. 

I don’t exactly know what I was picturing when I signed up for this gig. I thought about the sweet kisses and Saturday morning snuggles. I thought about Goodnight Moon and stroller walks in the park. 

Of course, I knew it was going to be work. I expected to be tired. I knew kids woke up early and ran you ragged. I thought I could handle that.

What I didn’t expect was utter sleep deprivation. Days where I feel scared to get behind the wheel of a car. Days where my entire body aches and existing feels challenging. Nights when I sob at the sound of a tiny voice peeking through the dark.

I knew there would be tantrums. I knew toddlers were illogical, emotional, and demanding. I had years of childcare experience, and I was sure I could handle that.

I didn’t know I would catch myself screaming over minor infractions. Maybe putting toys away doesn’t matter that much in the big scheme of things. But I desperately want—just for once—someone to listen to me. I didn’t realize I would spend nights stressing over if I was doing it right. The importance of raising a “good” child mounts at every turn of the news cycle. 

On any given day, I feel the pressure to teach them to respect others, be kind to kids who were bullied, to use their words and not their hands, to stand up for themselves but also think about others’ needs, be responsible, and respect the environment. 

And at the same time they are still little kids. And little kids don’t always behave the way we think they should. Living in the balance of those two realities exhausts me. 

I knew I would be giving up my free time. Of course with a baby, there would be no more Trivia Nights at the bar or weekend sleep-ins.

But I had never realized how much free time I had until I watched it all disappear. Habits I considered central to my being—curling up with a good book on a lazy afternoon, long walks after dinner, cooking extravagant dishes with my husband—became virtually impossible when my first was born. Forget knitting a sweater, I now can no longer pee without company, lift a fork to my mouth without someone trying to grab for it, or even finish a sentence without being interrupted. 

But what I truly never expected would be the way my heart has broken open.

I didn’t expect to put my children as the lead characters in every news story I came across. What if my sons were trapped in a cave? What if my daughter has to one day say “me too”? What if a gunman enters their school? What if they didn’t have clean drinking water? 

To willingly create a life and put it at the mercy of the world’s wildness is a love so strong it cannot exist without an accompanying fear. Parenting is more difficult than I imagined. And no small part of that difficulty comes from the emotional work of hoping it will all turn out OK. 

I will admit that every so often, on a day where another round of diapers and laundry sounds exhausting, I catch myself scrolling through my social media. I look at pictures of childless friends’ exotic vacations and fancy date nights and wonder what it would be like to still be young and free.

Yes, parenting is harder than I ever thought it was going to be. The sheer amount of physical and emotional work surpasses anything I could have predicted. 

But so does the love I have for my children. The cost is high, no doubt about that. But in the end, I’d pay it all over again.

Jackie Semmens

Jackie Semmens is a writer by nature and a mother by nature. She has two boys and is willing to chase them all over the hills of Montana in order to get them to nap.