As the years of fertility start to wane, many of my childless peers are confronted with the question, “Should I have kids?” With hesitation, they turn to us parents who, frankly, seem overwhelmingly unhappy. They ask sheepishly, “Is it worth it?”
We lift our heads up, bedraggled, bags under our eyes, covered in boogers and sweat and spit up, we mutter, “Of course! It’s so fulfilling!” It’s like asking a hostage if they like their captor. Sure, it’s great. We love them. But our eyes are begging for liberation. Save me, please. I haven’t slept through the night in years. My brain hurts from overstimulation. I don’t remember how to converse with adults. Parents are terrible salespeople for parenting. “It’s awful! You should totally do it!”
There is a dangerous narrative out there that I urge everyone to reconsider. And it is that parenting is for special people. Some parents are special, it is true. These people are more naturally disposed to the sacrifices necessary for childrearing. But I am not one of them—and many, many others are like me. We’re not special. We don’t enjoy sleep deprivation. I miss having coherent conversations. I crave the autonomy that childlessness allowed me.
It is misguided to ask if the sacrifices involved in parenting are worth it because it implies two things. The first is that to be a parent, you must possess some level of superhuman sorcery. This myth fuels the lie that parents love parenting all of the time, and if you don’t, well, you made this choice, so now you must sleep in the bed you made (or more accurately, not sleep). I can not like parts of parenting while acknowledging those parts have innate, irreplaceable value.
The second fallacy is that we can even answer the question, “Is it worth it?” Parents of children 25 and under are absolutely the wrong focus group if you’re doing due diligence in making your decision about procreating. Is it worth it? It’s like asking someone who is training for the Olympics if it’s worth it. How can we say? I hope so.
I’m holding out hope that this parenting thing is way bigger than pregnancy nausea, toddler tantrums, and schoolgirl drama. You should be asking the moms whose kids are grown and flown. They are the only ones qualified to answer the question, “Is it worth it?”
You probably know all about the things I dislike about parenting because it’s the same things others grumble about. So I won’t even waste my (or your) time. Instead, I’ll tell you about the things I love about being a mom. I love watching them become people with thoughts and personalities and a sense of humor. The births of my three kids are easily my favorite memories. I have never felt so embodied and empowered. This was the one time in my life I felt 100 percent in the right place at the right time. I love those level-up moments when they experience a milestone and you realize, unannounced, that you’ve been ushered into a new chapter. I love that I am still a safe space, a place where a cuddle or a hug or a cup of hot chocolate can solve all of their problems even if only momentarily.
Christmas mornings, birthday cakes, and summer vacations. I love watching my oldest collect seashells, tell stories, and discover the things she loves. I love that my son takes cars to bed with him. I love pondering questions like “What’s under the ocean floor?” and “How do we know there’s only one universe?”
Parenting feels like an excavation of the soul. No stone is left unturned. It is basically one giant trigger warning. All of my interpersonal struggles are highlighted by being in charge of small people. Motherhood came with a quiet, yet thunderous, invitation to heal some of my most yearning wounds. Granted, motherhood was just an invitation. It is a daily practice to say yes to the invite.
On paper, I’m a terrible candidate for motherhood. I can be self-absorbed, I hate being tied down to a schedule, I need alone time, and I love a lazy weekend doing nothing. And yet, here I am. Some days I feel so lucky and honored to be my small people’s mom. Some days are really hard, and I end them crying in the bathroom. If it seems confusing whether or not parents enjoy parenting it’s because sometimes we do and sometimes we really don’t.
So the million-dollar question: Is it worth it? Are the sacrifices I’ve made in parenting worth the rewards? I think so. I hope so. I’m holding out hope. But I don’t really feel qualified to answer that question. Not yet, anyhow.