The situation always plays out the same… Your childless friends come over to meet the baby. They hold the baby, give you a novelty gift (a onesie that says I’m A-WOKE! How fun!) and then lower the boom. “What is it like being a parent?”
This question is usually tinged with curiosity, horror, wonder. It’s a trojan horse, hiding other questions. I’ll translate. Your friends who might want kids are asking: “You idiots did this. Can we do it?” Your friends who do not want kids are asking: “How could anyone do this?”
I’m not just a parent. I’m also a Dude Turned Dad. It’s my job to ask myself these questions and really consider them. “What is it like to be a parent” is the sort of seemingly simple rhetorical Q that leads one down a deeper existential rabbit hole. Have I changed? How am I different? I’m tired… but besides that… what IS IT really like to be a parent?
I can only speak from the locked room of my own brain and personal experiences, but being a parent is… a paradox. A parent-dox? It’s two ideas, two feelings, trapped inside your heart and your head. The author Elizabeth Stone put it pretty well: “Making the decision to have a child – it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.”
It’s this story. My wife texted me on the day of my son’s nine-month checkup. She was so proud of us, so happy to be a mom. She said she was lucky to raise our son with me, that I was a great husband and father. Then three hours later I started to get texts about how the boy was standing in his crib, scream-crying. No more warm fuzzies. Now, this dude was a monster. That story feels like being a parent.
It’s being tired and more awake than you’ve ever been. It’s being filled with love and fear constantly. Your old life is over… but was that really even being alive? It is so many things. I tried hard to describe it in the video above… and fell short.
Maybe you just have to live it? Listen to the cliches and take them in stride… and try it for yourself when you’re ready. Or don’t. I think both are valid. I love my son… but I also mourn my old life. It’s okay. I can hold both ideas in my mind.
So what is it like being a parent, my friends ask. “It’s complicated,” I say as my son knocks over our bookshelf and I hold him closer than I have ever held anyone.