I was fighting a hopeless battle. Against my baby son.
For the past three hours, I'd been struggling to put him to bed. He'd fall asleep in my arms, but the second I laid him down in his cot, he'd start wailing as if I'd just dunked him in boiling water.
The cycle was playing on repeat: Pick up crying baby. Carry, walk around and hum a lullaby to gradually calmer baby. Put down sleeping baby. Sigh dejectedly as sleeping baby transforms into crying baby.
It was already 1:30 in the morning, and I had to wake up at 6. Tomorrow was going to be a long day -- as if the night wasn't already long enough. I felt frustrated and defeated. Who knew that a tiny, 11-pound baby could make a grown man feel so pitiful?
In preparation for fatherhood, I'd read countless articles and books that claimed that "parenthood is tough, but it's worth it." Really? Given the ordeal I was undergoing, it didn't seem so. As I picked up my screaming son for the ninth time that night, I recounted the low moments I'd experienced as a dad.
Witnessing my wife's misery as she recovered from 40 hours of labor. Getting multiple caffeine fixes every day just to remain conscious. Watching my "me time" vanish, and realizing that it wasn't going to reappear in the near future. On dozens of occasions, staring helplessly at the baby monitor at 3 a.m. as my son stirred in his sleep, while my wife and I prayed, "Dear God, please let him fall back to sleep. Please..."
Without a doubt, there have been tender moments, too. The first time I held him. The first time he smiled at me. The first time he babbled. The first time he let out his innocent, exuberant laugh. (Don't get me wrong, the subsequent times were good too.) Undeniably, he has brought joy and wonder to my life.
In my exhausted stupor, I asked myself, "Is parenthood worth it?" This question demanded an objective, quantifiable answer. So I mustered my remaining mental energy and, one by one, I weighed my positive parenting moments against my negative ones. If the positive exceeded the negative, then I'd concede that those articles and books were right: Parenthood is worth it.
I wanted this to be the case, desperately. But the evidence suggested otherwise. No matter how much I discounted the negative experiences, they still outweighed the positive ones. The benefits I'd received as a parent were great, but the costs were even greater. At least, that's how it seemed.
My heart sank. Parenthood just isn't worth it, I concluded.
But the idealist in me refused to accept this conclusion. For the sake of my sanity, it couldn't be true. As I wrestled with my muddled thoughts, it hit me that I'd been asking the wrong question.
Asking "Is parenthood worth it?" is an indirect way of asking, "What's in it for me?" But a quiet voice inside my head reminded me that raising a child isn't about how I, as a parent, would benefit.
In many other situations, "Is it worth it?" is a wise question to ask. Is it worth it to take a longer route to avoid rush-hour traffic? Is it worth it to go to grad school? Is it worth it to invest in stocks? Is it worth it to start a business?
Those are all good questions. Cost-benefit analyses are important in both our professional and personal lives. But we should be wary about conducting these analyses in the area of parenting, especially after you've become a parent. It will probably leave you feeling confused and discouraged, just like how I felt that sleepless night.
I've spoken to jaded parents who lament that their freedom has been taken away, their bodies have been wrecked, their spirits have been weakened -- all because they had kids. The more they ask themselves if parenthood is worth it, the more disillusioned they become.
Since that night, I've stopped asking myself if parenthood is worth it. This has helped me to become less self-centered, and to see parenthood for what it is: an honorable responsibility and a challenging adventure. Having and raising kids isn't something you do because it's "worth it." It's something you do because it's extraordinarily meaningful.
Nowadays, when I hear people say that parenthood is tough but that it's worth it, I understand what they actually mean. They don't mean that they've placed the adorable smiles and charming coos on one side of the scale, and placed the poop-stained clothes and hissy fits on the other side -- and have concluded that the former outweighs the latter.
Instead, these parents have chosen to focus on the significance of raising kids, not on how much this endeavor has cost them. They understand that parenthood is a lifelong commitment, an unspoken promise. They work hard to fulfill this commitment, rather than wonder incessantly if they should have even made this commitment in the first place.
When people say that parenthood is worth it, they mean that parenthood is more meaningful than they could have ever imagined. This is something I'm beginning to understand.
What could be more meaningful than growing as a family, through both struggles and joy? And what could be more significant than teaching your child to be kind, generous, respectful and hardworking?
Parenthood isn't about calculating costs and benefits. It's about creating meaning. Parenthood is a unique invitation to create meaning as a family, and to experience it together.
Going by a strict definition of "worth it," parenthood probably isn't. But I strongly recommend it anyway.