Before I had kids, hell, before I even WANTED kids, I imagined that the diapers, sleep deprivation, lack of “me” and romantic time, and the overall 24/7 responsibility of caring for another person would be nearly impossible.
Surprisingly, those ended up being the easier parts. Yes, I am tired. Yes, I could use a moment to comb my hair and get out of the sweatpants I’ve been wearing for 4 days straight. But these incredibly exhausting things are bearable — for me at least.
No one warned me about what would truly be the hardest part about parenthood:
the terrifying realization that a piece of my heart is now walking outside of my body.
Suddenly, the world is a dangerous place full of threats to the safety of my child. Every driver is drunk or distracted. Every stranger has some infectious disease or is a kidnapper, or worse. Every corner of the house is a death trap. It’s completely overwhelming and despite these feelings, I have to just let my child grow.
I have to let him be free and explore. Scrape his knees. Catch the flu. Break a leg or collarbone. I have to let him fail and get hurt. I have to let him be so that I don’t hurt him more by trying to avoid him ever being hurt.
It takes every ounce of effort to let go and accept that I can’t protect my child from everything. That I can’t build an impenetrable forcefield around him like Violet from The Incredibles. I can only do my best and even then, my best won’t always be good enough.
As a parent, I have to make thousands of decisions. Decisions that affect my child either temporarily or permanently. From vaccinations to what food he eats to the company he keeps — it’s up to me as his parent to guide and protect him, not control or shelter him.
I love my son. He is my Earth, moon, and stars. Even one tear shed from him breaks my heart. But loving him also means being strong for him. It means I have to let him climb trees and rough-house and jump off the high dive. It means I have to cheer him on, and say “Way to go sweetie!” while I furiously bite my nails waiting for him to be safely in my arms again.
Loving someone this much is so overwhelming that it physically hurts. It bursts my heart at the seams and takes the breath right out of my lungs. A couple hours after my son was born, I remember watching his father slowly realize that this little bundle of joy was his lifelong responsibility. That this little ball of light was his heart living outside of his body — vulnerable and uncontrollable. The look of unconditional love and crippling fear on his face was something I’ll never forget. It’s the kind of love that brings us to our knees.
One day my son will be potty trained. He will sleep through the night and feed himself. I’ll no longer have to dress him or scrub under his arms in the tub. I savor these moments. These sweet and precious moments that take all of mommy and daddy’s energy but remain absolutely cherished and someday — deeply missed.
The fear of losing him, however, will never end. Your children never stop being your babies. They may grow stronger and bigger and wear suits Monday through Friday. But they will always remain your little balls of light. Your heart walking (and sometimes falling) outside of your body. We can only hope that we’ve taught them to pick themselves up again.
So we carry on. We allow them to seek our guidance while we watch them come into their own. We hope and pray that one day they will be a little more careful. A little more cautious. And that maybe one day when they have a child of their own, they’ll realize how truly loved and cherished they are.
Until then, we cheer them on, kiss their scraped knees and send them back out into the world as we accept the true hardest part about parenthood — letting go.