A couple of Saturdays ago, my wife had some errands to run, so I ended up spending most of the day with my daughters, who are three and four. One thing that surprised me was how much I enjoyed myself, which may sound strange to those who know how much I love my kids.
Here’s the thing: I’ve certainly enjoyed my girls since they were born, but I’ve been disappointed to find how easy it is to get irritable with them. I mean, it’s cute in movies and TV shows when kids dump food all over the floor or go pee-pee in a parking lot or ask the same question 45 times in a two-minute period – but in real life, that stuff quickly brings out a hidden, self-centered, single man inside who’s still hanging on for dear life and screaming, “This is not my job!”
Anyway, after spending the day doing swimming lessons with the girls, playing with some other kids, doing nap time, preparing lunch, cleaning up after them, and reading books, something occurred to me: that wasn’t so bad – maybe I’m actually starting to get used to this.
People don’t tell you that being a parent doesn’t come naturally. They say things like, “Oh my goodness, when you see that baby for the first time, you’re going to fall in love and it’s going to change you forever.” And to an extent, they’re right; but what they don’t tell you is that a lot of things about you aren’t going to change immediately – things like your need for personal space, your desire to do what you want to do when you want to do it, and the feeling that taking care of kids is someone else’s job. Most importantly, they don’t tell you that parenthood is, in many ways, something you have to grow into. So you just assume that you’re going to be an awesome parent from the beginning, leading to a lot of disappointment as you discover a hidden world of impatience, irritability, and unkindness.
If you’ve got kids and you’ve discovered that you’re a perpetual failure at loving your little ones the way you once imagined you would, be encouraged. This is like taking on a new job where the job description regularly changes at a moment’s notice. It’s a job that requires you to be on call 24 hours a day for all kinds of expertise that you don’t yet have. That’s stressful, and it’s probably bringing out some of the worst in you, which shouldn’t be a big surprise actually. So rather than try to muster up all kinds of sweetness and patience for our kids, maybe we should start with having a little patience with ourselves, because our kids aren’t the only ones who are having to do a lot of growing here.