Ooh, that’s an excellent question. And one that’s surely going to induce a straightforward response, right? Wrong. This is an almost impossible query to field for a couple of reasons. First, if you posed this brain teaser to 100 different parents, I’m pretty sure you would get 90-100 different answers. Second, when you’re firmly implanted on the front line of parenting, new hardships seem to pop up every other hour.
Take my experience. For the first couple of weeks after our bubster entered the world, the hardest thing was, without a doubt, the lack of sleep. During months three and four, this was usurped by the twin terrors of colic and nappy blowouts. From month six on, the teething process has been a constant source of vexation. And then there have been other random low points like: bad weaning sessions, early walking tumbles, separation anxiety, failure to get into a routine, projectile vomit in the back of the car, allergic reactions, illnesses, the baby blues, not settling at nursery, parental guilt, sleep training, the scar on his leg, meltdowns in public places, missing friends’ birthdays, refusing to eat, four month sleep regression and the Great Car Seat Conflict of August 2016.
The bad news is this is just the stuff I can think of off the top of my head. The good news is my wife and I are still alive, still together and still getting up every morning to kiss the little man on the forehead and discover the identity of the next challenge we’re going to face. Which is? Well, I have no idea what tomorrow will bring, but last week it was getting him to drink his milk (he was refusing due to teething), yesterday it was trying to make him comprehend that horses say “neigh” rather than “yay” and this morning I threw a diva-tastic hissy fit over the fact he seems to cry for everyone but me.
Okay, okay. So everyone might be a slight exaggeration. What isn’t an exaggeration, however, is how much he screamed when he was left with me after my wife went to the bathroom last night, how much he cried when he was left with me after his grandpa went to put his buggy in the car this morning and how much he protests whenever his grandmother drops him off at our house.
I can just about cope with his reaction to my wife leaving the room, but do you know how much it hurts when your child’s grandparents have to instruct him to “go to Daddy”? The answer is a lot and do you know what’s even more upsetting? I have a rupture in my Achilles, which means this situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. I mean, if you were a 13-month-old who could toddle proficiently and had more energy than a solar powered house in the Sahara, would you want to hang out with people who can throw you about, chase you up the stairs, run around the garden and take you to the park, or a person who can lie on the ground reading books? Case closed. Verdict returned. Bye-bye, Daddy. It’s a unanimous victory to the humans with two fully functioning lower limbs.
Now, as mentioned above, I threw a fairly major tantrum about this a few hours ago, but I’ve now journeyed back from the doldrums because, as my wife always, says: “PMA”. It means premenstrual army and… I’m sorry, I don’t even have the faintest idea where I am going with this. It actually means positive mental attitude, it’s a concept that has got me through most of my hardest parenting moments and it works like so. Whenever you find yourself being reduced to a quivering wreck, doubting your ability as a parent or stomping on some cuddly toys and screaming: “Why doesn’t he like me?” (I can neither confirm or deny whether this happened in our house this morning), simply take a step back and think about something special you and your baby have shared over the last few days.
Well, go on then. Do it. In my case, it was the I Love Milk song (I sang it yesterday evening and he drank half the bottle, which is way more than he’s been drinking with anyone else), but it could just as easily be that smile when you got home from work, a leg hug, a game of peek-a-boo or a nose ‘honk’. The moment itself doesn’t matter, what matters is that you are finding a way to escape from the darkness and show yourself: a) that your child does not hate you, b) that you are not a useless carer and c) that parenting is extremely rewarding and, at times, actually quite fun.
Got that and feeling a little bit better about your most recent minor mishap? Great, now let’s finish up by forming a circle, joining hands, raising our arms in the air and shouting: “P.A.R.E.N.T.S. Goooooooooo, parents!” Or, you know, mainlining some alcohol in preparation for the big bedtime battle.
P.S. If I had to answer this question in one deep and meaningful sentence, it would read. The hardest thing about being a parent is learning to accept that you won’t always have the answer, and that this is completely okay.