Each day, after working eight hours and commuting more than three hours, I go home to my real job: raising my 3- and 6-year-old daughters. I knew being a parent was going to be difficult, but I had absolutely no idea just how difficult. You can write an epic Hemingway-esque novel on the horrors of war, but until you’re actually on the frontline yourself, with a helmet on and a rifle in hand, you don’t know what you’re talking about.
I’ve had over 20 different jobs in my life, including working as a janitor at the now-defunct Toys “R” Us, where I once had to literally wipe human excrement off the bathroom walls, and by far, being a parent is the hardest. The reason is simple: When you’re a parent, there are no breaks, not even during the night. Even at my worst job (the aforementioned janitorial position), I at least had breaks. My wife and I used to have a joke mantra: “Dishes, diapers, laundry, garbage, recycling, cleaning, repeat ad infinitum!”
Parenting is, in a word, torture.
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Some people — especially those without children — must think I’m overstating it, but let’s break down the basics of torture. The first thing they do is ruin your sleep, and that’s exactly what children do when you bring them home from the hospital. Good luck getting eight hours of solid sleep for the next four to six months. In my case, my first daughter kept my wife and me up for almost an entire year, and there are still some nights she wakes us up to crawl into our bed. Also, weekends are no help because my kids regularly wake us up around 7 a.m., even though they don’t have school. I haven’t slept past 8 a.m. since my first daughter was born, more than six years ago. Before kids, this would’ve been unthinkable.
The second aspect of torture is to disturb someone with extremely loud noises. Again, the similarities are uncanny. My kids are constant noise machines, disturbing our peace until I can barely hear myself think. If my oldest daughter were a superhero, her name would be the Banshee, and her superpower would be her high-pitched screams, which can be heard for miles. Honestly, the only time my children don’t make noise is when they’re sleeping, and even that’s questionable, if you count loud snoring and the aforementioned ritual of waking us up in the middle of the night.
Another feature of torture is depriving someone of proper nutrition, by either intentional starvation or malnourishment. Some may think I’m stretching, but what do you call being forced to eat nothing but pizza at birthday parties almost every weekend and McDonald’s every week for dinner because the kids demand it and you’re too exhausted to make a home-cooked meal? And I’m embarrassed to admit the number of times I’ve had to hide while eating, either in my basement or in the corner of my breezeway, because I knew whatever I was eating, my kids were going to want some of it, too. Enjoy eating apples? Be prepared to split it with your 3-year-old. Like snacking on chips? She’s getting half the bowl.
The final aspect of torture is being forced to deal with dirty living conditions: a stained mattress, dirty plates, and filthy living quarters. I’ve basically just described living with children. Over the years, my kids have consistently thrown pillows and blankets on the floor, spilled their food, broken dishes and furniture, created holes in the walls, and generally made our house unlivable. As someone who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, this has sometimes become unbearable.
Don’t get me wrong. I, of course, love my kids. I just wish they had a switch on the back of their necks so I could turn them off every once in a while. You’ve had a long, hard day at work. You come home, and the kids are screaming, as usual. You give them dinners, baths, play a little with them, and even read them a few books. It’s now past 9 p.m., and all you want to do is relax in front of the TV with a cold one, but they’re still up. Is it so wrong of me to want to just switch them off like one of their toys? I’ve done my job (actually, multiple jobs) for the day. When is it “me time”? Fellow working parents, help me out here.
The irony is, even if, by some miracle, my kids go to bed at a decent hour (which is like 8:45 for us), you’re so exhausted from working, commuting, taking care of the kids, and putting them to bed, that by the end of it, all you want to do is just go to bed yourself. Each night, the more tired you become, that precious sliver of time to yourself gets thinner and thinner until you just pass out.
Notwithstanding all these responsibilities, and the infinite amount of patience that’s required to go along with them, really, the most important parenting job I have is to make sure my daughters know I love them. That’s it. Even if I fail at everything else — even if the laundry isn’t put away or I don’t immediately clean up that mess — I make sure to remind them that their Daddy loves them. I may not use my words necessarily, but I show them in little ways like kissing them on their foreheads when I return home from work, getting on their bedroom floor at night to play “My Little Pony” (I’m always the large, purple pony), and reading Dr. Seuss in bed with them while imitating ridiculous character voices.
Looking back on this article and its list of torturous parenting duties, I feel I may have frightened a few folks who are expecting their first child. Why do we bother? Is it all worth it?
I’ll answer that with another story: Last year, as I was outside in my driveway preparing to put my youngest daughter in her car seat, she began singing a strange, though sweet melody. It seemed to come out of nowhere, and I noticed she was aiming her song towards the sky. I asked what she was doing, and she told me she was “talking to the birds.” I was at first confused until I realized a bird was in a nearby tree singing the exact same strange, sweet melody; she was simply answering the bird. She helped remind me of things that are truly important, like nature, beauty, and, basically, life itself.
I then picked her up to gently place her in the car seat, and she randomly looked up at me and said, “Daddy, I love you.”
In other words, this job is totally worth it.
Michael Perone is an editor based in New York. He has written for The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore City Paper, and Long Island Voice (a spinoff of the Village Voice), as well as Yahoo!, Whatculture!, and other websites that don’t end with an exclamation mark. His favorite job, though, is being a father to two little girls.