No one who has ever parented a child will deny that it is tough. It's been dubbed "the hardest job in the world" -- among other things -- over and over because, well, it is. There are no sick days, no health benefits, no salary, inadequate training (if any) and highly variable breaks and periods available for sleep. So what the hell keeps parents happy enough to have multiple children and even encourage others to join the club?
The perks, of course.
You may be wondering, "What perks?" after reading the job description above. Although most of them are subtle, and many are not even intentional, the perks are there by the hundreds. When added together throughout the days, these little parenting rewards help soften the memory of harder days, terrible tantrums, and outright defiance. Here are a few of my favorite so far:
A homemade meal down the hatch. Only a parent understands the strange juxtaposition between the shear joy and relief of seeing your child scarf up a meal you made, while simultaneously trying not to become too outwardly excited -- because then they will likely never eat it again. Wait until they've excused themselves from the table and are busy playing before you do your little happy dance, fist pump, and shimmy. Congratulations, it may be weeks before you see that happen again.
An unprompted "thank you." Any parent who denies being surprised -- albeit grateful -- any time their young child says "thank you" at the appropriate time without prompting is lying. Saying 'thank you' is a social custom, not an inborn reaction, so it takes time to learn. We all seem to know this, but still can't help but be embarrassed when our 2-year-old snatches the sticker from the nice store clerk, and then pretends to be mute when you give her the look and finally ask, "Is there something you want to say?"
Showing a sibling kindness. I've never met a parent who won't admit that their children have confrontations with one another. Some claim it happens sparingly and is resolved after a short counselling session with one of the parents. Others are honest. Still, even the most challenging sibling pairs will sometimes drop their guard and treat their brother or sister with love, respect, or kindness (or -- gasp! -- a combination of these things!). Few things make a parent feel like they are doing something right as much as watching an older brother take his little brother's hands and help him move across the living room as he is learning to walk, or when an older sister decides to offer her most favorite lovey to her little sister to help calm her tears after a tumble. These are the moments that give us faith our children will grow up to treat people like, well, people.
Sleeping through the night. The first time your baby does this, you will freak out and run to their bedside to ensure they are still breathing. When that is confirmed, you will likely feel tears of joy and gratitude running down your cheeks. Then, you will get this totally sick and twisted ironic urge to wake them up to squeeze them because you miss them from not having held them all night. There is no pleasing you!
Considerate barfing. There's no way around it; if you are a parent, you will be cleaning up barf as some point. However, some children are able to navigate barfing better than others, and quickly learn to aim for the toilet, a sink, or even run outside. This is unbelievably considerate to the parent who would otherwise be cleaning it off of a rug, the carpet, or perhaps his or herself. If you have a considerate barfer, give him a hug -- he deserves it.
Laughter. Our kids are oblivious to the crippling effect their laugh has on us. The sweet sound of genuine laughter from your little one can heal all wounds, cure all disease, and ride the world of evil - at least as far as you are concerned. If our kids knew all they had to do was offer a sincere giggle to soften our hearts, our Achilles heel would be exposed and we'd be utterly screwed.
That first "I love you, too." You know they love you, but there is something heart stopping about hearing their tiny little voice say it for the first time. It's enough to bring tears to your eyes.
These are a few of my favorite rewards that my children have offered in my three years of parenthood, but I know there are thousands more. I'd love to hear from readers - what are some of yours?