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Opinion: Why do people continue to do ‘the hardest job in the world’?

Parenting can be very tough – and thankfully more people are being honest about that – but let’s not forget about the good stuff.

Andrea Mara

“IT IS EXCEPTIONALLY HARD but people still do it. Other than hormones, there must be a reason people make the choice to become parents multiple times?”

This was the comment from a friend, after I had shared an article about how tough parenting can be. She was wondering why so many articles focus on the negative aspects of child-rearing, and pointed out that for people like her, who don’t have children, it makes the whole thing sound very unappealing. She said “I am really curious about the driver that motivates people to plough into a situation frequently described as the hardest thing you’ll ever do”.

This really made me stop and think. Part of the reason I started blogging was because I couldn’t find any realistic articles written by normal people with normal jobs, about trying to balance work and home. I felt that there was a lot of sugar-coating; a lot of beautiful magazine and social media photos of families having a wonderful time, and not enough honesty about the fact that it can also be tough. And more to the point, that we are not all perfect parents – tiredness after a sleepless night is one thing (that even the most patient, dedicated parents can experience) but admitting to shouting at kids or finding it all overwhelming is a further step down the honesty path, and these articles can be harder to find.

I said to my friend that I didn’t think people wanted to read about how wonderful it is to have children – that it might be nauseating, smug, condescending or just plain boring. And that parents need a sense of knowing they’re not alone in finding it difficult. But on the other side, from her perspective, if all the articles she reads are negative, there’s a lack of balance there too.

So for my friend, and for anyone else who needs a break from the stories of sleepless nights and uneaten dinners and playtime squabbles, here’s something on the good stuff – a little bit on the happiness side:

I’ll start with the bold statement. Having children is far and away the most amazing, most fulfilling thing I’ve ever had the privilege to experience.

Sure, the early days were overwhelming. But for every moment of confused panic, because I needed a shower upstairs and the baby was asleep downstairs, there were a hundred moments of pure, indescribable, overwhelming love. Melty, shivery, hard-to-believe love. Staring. Just staring at her in my arms. Tracing her features while she slept. Marvelling at the way she crumpled into me, like a little beanbag, melting into every crevice. The trust. The vulnerability. The smell. The softness. The tiny, tiny toes. In awe of her little body every time I gave her a bath. Perfection. Miraculous, surreal, incomprehensible perfection.

And then there were two. And although I’ve written here about how challenging I found adapting to two, and although the first weeks and months were stressful, they were also wonderful. I remember all the worries I had built up, about how I could equally love a second child, being washed away as soon as I met her. I remember folding away the tiny baby clothes that she grew out of so quickly; putting them safely aside, knowing already that I wanted a third child – understanding finally that it is possible to love every child that comes, no matter how complete the family unit feels before-hand.

I remember sunshine and sitting in the garden and going to the park, and coffee and cake and chats. I remember long, bright evenings. I remember sitting down to watch The Wire with a glass of white wine on Sunday nights, and feeling so very happy that Monday would bring more hanging-out-with-baby-time instead of work-time. I remember getting to know this new little person as she grew – so utterly different to her big sister but every bit as charming. Unputdownable.

Then came the boy. And we all became obsessed with him overnight. And two-and-a-half years later, we’re still obsessed. I want to pick him up and eat him. I can’t be near him without touching him. I’m addicted. He’s my fuel. He drains my energy but he’s also its source. Nothing that happens in my everyday life, no matter how good, has power equal to a hug from this boy.

And these three little people, completely dependent on me, are the reason for my early mornings, my empty bank account, my crayoned floors, my cluttered house, my working-mother-wistfulness and my questionable social life.

But they’re also the cue for most of my smiles and the cause of most of my laughs and the prompt for most of my hugs. They’re the reason for exchanged glances with my husband and barely restrained laughter. They’re why we end every night by kissing them as they sleep, agreeing as we close the bedroom doors “They’re not so bad those guys, are they.”

And yes it’s busy, and whether I’m watching TV while they’re in bed, or I’m at work, or I’m out at night, they are always my responsibility; switching off – fully off – is not an option. But there are upsides too; somehow, the small everyday frustrations that annoyed me so much before I had kids, just wash over me now – they’re not as important as they once were, particularly the work stuff.

And conversely, the small enjoyments – a glass of wine and the next episode of Orange Is The New Black, taste better than they ever did. Possibly because the window for switching off is now smaller than before. And that’s fine, because the daily toil is far out-weighed by the good stuff. And just like anything that’s fulfilling – whether it’s having a dream job, or running a race, or hosting a dinner party or writing a novel; having children is hard-work, but it’s also worth every squabble, every spill, every second.

Andrea Mara has three small kids, one tall husband and one office job. She writes at OfficeMum.ie about being a parent, being a mother working outside the home, being a woman in the workplace. She’s just trying to keep her balance. Follow her tweets@office_mum or on Facebook.

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Andrea Mara

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