10 Reasons Parenting Is the World's Hardest Job
In my pre-kid days, when I'd hear people say parenting is the hardest job on Earth, I'd nod along in benign agreement. I assumed that statement was a platitude designed to let tired parents vent a little, or a sympathetic bone to throw at less-than-stellar parents as a form of encouragement.
Now that I'm a mother of three, I clearly see the truth. Parenting is, in every way, literally the toughest job in the world. Hands down. Air traffic control? Super stressful job. Brain surgeon? Definitely not for sissies. But no occupation on the planet even comes close to parenting. Here's why:
1) THE MUNDANE DAILY GRIND
Parenting has a million tedious aspects to it that are seemingly never-ending. You can't really grasp the entirety of this fact, even at just at the basic, physical level, until you've been at it for a while.
You start off the parenting gig with months (or years) of sleep deprivation that you never quite seem to catch up from. You think about what to feed these little people several times a day, every day. You deal with their bodily functions -- spit-up, potty, snot, boogers, ear wax, fingernails, teeth and hair, etc. -- every single day, for years on end. You field 625,897 questions, half of which are unanswerable, just in a kid's 4th year of life alone.
It gets easier, in some ways, as you develop your own systems and rhythms. And as kids get older, their physical needs wane. But even at that, they don't stop. The kids' needs change, but they still have needs. All. The. Time.
2) THE IMMENSE RESPONSIBILITY
I remember the first time it dawned on me that I was my child's mother. You'd think that would have sunk in when the pregnancy test turned blue, but it wasn't until I was summoned by our child's first bad dream that I really internalized the weight of my role as "The Mommy."
For the rest of this kid's life, when she's scared and wants her "Mommy," that's ME. When she's older and looks back on her childhood, I'M the Mom that will be featured in her memories. And the lovely man I chose as my husband? HE will be the Daddy whom she will see as her primary protector. HE will be the Father who will impact her sense of self and future relationships by his daily interactions with her.
That was a very heavy realization. And a dozen years later, it continues to be heavy. You only get one chance to be the parent of your child's childhood. Not that you have to do everything perfectly, but you really don't want to screw it up. These little people's safety and health -- physically, emotionally, spiritually -- falls on your shoulders. It's on you. That's no small thing.
3) THE INCESSANT WORRY
When that same first baby was just a few days old, I watched an Oprah episode about child abduction, and I've pretty much been terrified ever since. Like the daily grind and the sense of responsibility, the worry never really stops. I'm not much of a worrier by nature, but parenting has awakened fears I never knew I had.
I never worried about dying until I had kids. I never gave crib bumpers, or lead paint, or artificial colors a second thought. The definition of "overprotective" was something totally different in my mind than it is now. The stakes become so much higher when you're a parent, in every area of life, that worry is something you have to constantly keep at bay.
4) THE TIME AND ENERGY JUGGLING
Imagine someone coming up to you with three eggs and telling you to keep them all in the air as much as possible. And though you've seen other people juggling, you never learned to juggle yourself. And you're also supposed to continue on with your normal life while juggling these eggs, cleaning, driving, cooking, exercising, learning, etc. That's kind of what parenting feels like.
It's partially the time juggling that's tricky, but it's also the emotional juggling that gets you. Your attention and energy are constantly two or more places at once. And again, the stakes are high. If you drop an egg, it's really hard to put back together again.
5) THE FACT THAT IT'S NOT, IN FACT, A "REAL" PAYING JOB
Being a parent comes with more responsibility and stress than any occupation, but there's no paycheck, no seasonal bonuses, no monetary compensation of any kind. And generally speaking, the more time you spend parenting, the less money you make. There's also no paid leave from parenting. In fact, much of the time, you have to pay someone else to watch your kids so you can have "time off."
Pay isn't the only "real job" benefit parents lack. If you excel at a real job, you usually get some version of a pat-on-the-back. In parenting, your superhuman ability to multi-task, your keen attention to detail, your can-do attitude and devotion to the job will not be noticed by the boss and rewarded with a promotion or a raise. In fact, you'll be lucky if these skills and qualities are noticed by anyone.
And yet you still feel compelled to try your best at this job on a daily basis. It's baffling.