Between A Laugh And A Hard Place

As a parent who frequently discusses parenting issues, often publicly, I hear the following phrase time and again: Parenting is The Hardest Job EVER.

One thing I’ve noticed as both a parent and a parenting magazine editor for the past 12 years is that we parents (and parenting pundits) tend to exaggerate … a lot. (If I had a penny for every exaggeration every mommy blogger ever made, I’d be a billionaire.)

I don’t know about you, but I actually can think of all sorts of jobs that seem much harder than being a parent. I would rather be a parent than, say, an Alaska fisherman, or a Southern California firefighter, or a trauma surgeon, or the president of a country.

Exaggerating the difficulty of being a parent, however, fulfills several purposes.

1. Most importantly, it makes you feel better. Saying “If Junior doesn’t pick up his underwear off the floor, I’m going to burn every pair he owns and roast marshmallows over the inferno and make him watch while I eat them” provides a rush of relief, a bit of a giggle, and the feeling that, OK, it’s not as bad as all that. (On second thought, maybe we should make him eat the marshmallows.)

2. It gets people’s attention. The above statement is much more provocative than “Junior still refuses to pick up his underwear. Darn him.”

3. Once it has their attention, it usually elicits a response. If you’re talking to someone in person, how can they not respond to the outrageous image you just planted in their head? If you’re on social media, you’ll get at least a “like” if not an emoji, an amusing gif or perhaps an “Amen” or “Preach!” Here’s the best part: Responses can lead to dialogue, with others unloading their burdens du jour. Ultimately, exaggerating the pitfalls of parenthood brings us together as one big happy-not happy family. As the No. 1 fan of supportive communities, I think that’s a good thing.

But I would be doing my fellow parents a disservice if I didn’t add that parenting really is hard.

You don’t get pummeled by the elements like you do as an Alaska fisherman. But you do often feel pulled this way and that by your kids’ moods, by their many activities, by society’s judgment of you and by scores of best practices that are at odds with one another. At the end of the day, you fall into bed exhausted and a minute later, you wake up to the alarm or the baby crying or the dog puking … (You think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not!)

You’re not battling life-threatening monster blazes for days at a time, but you are putting considerable effort into putting out many fires a day — misunderstandings, cyberbullying incidents, screentime battles, lost homework, lost underwear (check the fire pit in the backyard, kid.)

You don’t control a person’s fate at the end of your scalpel like a brain surgeon does, but you are molding your kids’ minds by your attitudes, your beliefs, your words and your actions every minute of every day.

You aren’t in charge of holding a country together and brokering world peace, but you are the ruler of your home, and you get the privilege and responsibility of deciding how your little kingdom will be run.

So when I use this space to write about being a parent in the Ohio Valley today, heads up that I may exaggerate. When I do, go ahead and roll your eyes. I’m used to it.

But some of you may want to chime in online or email me with your two cents. Let’s start a dialogue. Let’s be there for each other.

I don’t think local mental health advocate Amy Gamble was exaggerating when she says that sharing our stories can save lives.

Betsy Bethel is the Life editor and editor of OV Parent magazine. She can be reached at bbethel@theintelligencer.net.

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