Two days before the end of a seemingly endless winter break, a friend considering having children asked me if I’m “happy” I did it. I didn’t know what to say.
It was a rare night out for me. My husband was home watching my 7- and 10-year-olds so I could have a bit of a break, but every minute I was out meant 60 seconds less sleep — as I’d be the one they’d call when they awoke at 6 a.m. (on a good day).
I was desperately counting down the moments until they returned to school, those seven hours of bliss when my home would be quiet again, free from tiny arguing voices, sans the pitter-pattering of dirty feet on my clean rugs, minus the trail of Rice Krispies on the floor that seemed to follow them, Hansel and Gretel-like, throughout my home.
I love quiet. I crave stillness. I work from home, shying away from even the white-noise chatter of a coffeeshop so I can have some complete silence in my day.
My children are loud. They want my attention always. Even if I try to take a bath, one of my girls will inevitably invite herself in, stealing my space along with my sugar scrub. They need me; they’re also very messy. Despite my decade of training my oldest to make her bed and to clean her room, she’s still a beginner in the Marie Kondo process. She craves clutter. It unnerves me.
Am I happy I had them?
My favorite time of the day is when I’ve put them to sleep — when they’ve actually fallen asleep (there could be a big time lapse between the two). That’s when I know I can potentially have a few hours to myself to read my book without a tiny hand tugging on me. I know that my favorite time should be when they come home from school, so happy to see me (well, my 7-year-old more than my 10-year-old, as the latter only really seems happy to see me if I’ve brought a donut).
But the truth is that their sudden arrival home is jarring. They want food. They leave their bags, their jackets, their hats, their papers and their requests throughout my rooms. One is usually in a bad mood: A friend dumped her; her spelling words were too hard that week; she lost a mitten on the playground. Or maybe she didn’t like the food I sent for lunch (usually, it’s this last one).
For the next few hours, I’m consumed by stopping their arguments and reminding them — to do homework, to read, to practice the piano, and later in the evening to brush their teeth, their hair, to wash themselves and to get into bed. It’s a whirlwind, and it’s hard. There are often tears (mine or theirs).
If I didn’t have my daughters, then my home would constantly be quiet — just the way I like it. It would never be messy. I wouldn’t have to fight with anyone to eat food, to wash, to go to sleep at a reasonable hour. And that sounds lovely.
Once in a while, I treat myself to a night at a hotel or a few days out of town, to remember that feeling; it’s bliss. I wander into any stores I want without worrying that I’ll be kicked out because my child will knock something over or touch something fragile. I eat my meals with only my book as company.
But within a few hours — a day at most — I start to miss my loud, boisterous children. I miss them even when I Facetime them, tears streaming down their cheeks as they each tell me what’s wrong with their lives, as they each yell and scream and otherwise act totally impossible. I miss helping them deal with their big feelings, explaining to them how to do their homework, rubbing their backs to help them fall asleep — even if while I’m doing it, I’d rather be reading my book. The grass is always greener.
So to my friend deciding whether to have kids: Don’t do it unless you really want to. But for me, yes, I’m happy I did it. Parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s more difficult than the most difficult class I took in school. And it’s been a struggle for me, whether they were in their newborn phase, their “threenager” phase, or their tween years. Every age has different issues for me. If it’s not dealing with sleeping through the night, then it’s potty training or talking back or trying to fit in and attempting to make it in the world.
And I expect parenting will always be the hardest thing I ever do. Nearly every minute of it is difficult. But even when I don’t love doing it, I’m grateful for every second of it. Yes, that sounds ridiculous. But it’s totally true. As much as I adore silence and reading and traveling alone, there’s nothing better than a good snuggle with my two tiny people. Even if they’re arguing over who has more room on the bed.
I’ll miss it dearly when I’m done.