I met up for dinner with a group of friends – among them an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in a while. As we waited for our meal to come, I excused myself to take my toddler for a walk to burn off some energy, knowing that expecting her to sit through the whole dinner was highly unrealistic.
Toddler parents, you know what I’m talking about.
My friend came with me to catch up on life, and as we followed my suddenly free – and therefore elated – child around in circles, she asked how motherhood was going. “So many people say that it’s just so tiring and not worth it. You have to give up so much of your life and everything changes.”
Somewhat taken aback, since the implication was that the giggling, twirling child in front of us was possibly too much trouble to enjoy, I decided that my friend’s statement needed some serious attention.
“Of course it is a very true reality that parenthood is immensely tiring. Especially in the first months of endless feeding and no real sleep schedules, I felt like I was dying. And my life will never be the same: in the back of my mind, no matter what I am doing, I am always and will always wonder if she is ok. But since when does the fact that something is difficult mean that we shouldn’t pursue it?”
She looked at me with raised eyebrows. My point wasn’t getting through. We all live our lives, pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain. Right?
“Seriously. Think about becoming a Doctor. Or a Lawyer. Think of the hours of sleep lost in study, the exams so stressful you think you will have a heart attack, the years dedicated to the pursuit of…a job.”
She was starting to follow. “I guess that’s true. We have to sacrifice and do difficult things in order to achieve career goals. You won’t really get anywhere otherwise.”
“And that’s just for a career. What about sacrificing for a human being who loves you back? One who cuddles you? A human being YOU can’t resist cuddling? Someone who will eventually come over for Sunday dinner when she’s all grown up? Someone you can have long conversations about life with as you grow older?”
My friend nodded. She wasn’t really convinced.
“Isn’t she just fun to watch?” I pointed to my daughter, chasing the pigeons. Her joy was written all over her face. As she squealed in excitement, looking over to me to make sure I was witness to her experience, my heart melted. I know she is especially cute and heart melting to me, simply because I am her mother. But I hoped on some level that my friend could be touched even a little bit by my daughter’s infectious joy.
To experience that joy, that pure love of life, through your child, as that child’s mother, is breath-taking – worth any sacrifices you make along the way.
But it’s not even about what you GET. It’s about what you become in the process. To experience truly sacrificial love – a love that will meet any need and require nothing back – that is the experience of being everything you can be, and of doing more than you thought you could ever achieve.
At root, doesn’t our superficial pursuit of transient joys just point to one thing? We all just want to know that we are capable of truly great things.
And so: to miss out on this experience of love; this experience of the “too muchness” of the joy that life can hold for you; to run away from the experience of becoming more than you ever could have imagined – because it will also be hard?
That’s the saddest of all reasons, and also the most short-sighted.
What is any of this for, except to build better and brighter futures. And who is that future for, but the children who come after us?
In a culture of comfort and immediacy – where value is measured by how quickly you can achieve something and how comfortable you are while doing it, children seem a highly irrational decision. They are messy. They are unpredictable. They have needs that must be met. They are helpless and totally reliant. They are a lot of work. They have their own unique personalities that come out in insane ways at crazy times.
But what about the joy?
At a mom and baby group a few months ago, I ended up in brief conversation with a mother I had crossed paths with a few times.
She opened up to me a bit. She hadn’t wanted children. She really wanted to focus on her career. Kids would get in the way. And then in her mid thirties, that maternal urge that hits so many women became too loud to ignore.
And so, standing in front of me while bouncing her fussy baby, and with tears in her eyes, she asked a question that has haunted me since.
“Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about the joy? I almost missed out on this because all I heard about were the difficult things. But none of that really matters, does it? The joy is just too big.”
So, I am not here be a Pollyanna and say that motherhood or fatherhood is easy. I am not hear to present an unrealistic view and say that there won’t be moments when you are crying into your pillow because you are so tired but the baby woke up and needs you.
But I am here to say this: the deep and abiding joy of it all far surpasses and is far more lasting than the difficult moments.
And so it is worth asking yourself the question, and imagining what the answer could be.
“What about the joy?”