the hard part

What We Never Say About Parenting

Photo-Illustration: the Cut; Photos Getty Images

Writer Amil Niazi’s monthly meditations on the highs and lows of parenting — and every feeling in-between.

My almost 3-year-old daughter has started speaking in full sentences, her baby words (“lellow” and “polar claws”) evolving into big-people words (“yellow” and “granola bars”). It’s amazing, but part of me is really hoping she’ll keep calling butterflies “futterflies” for at least a little longer. These sweetly mispronounced words — the early-days-of-parenthood lexicon — define so much of my experience of mothering. The funny phrases, the uniquely pronounced colors and animals and objects, have now become part of my own language with my children, the way we talk and joke with each other that is entirely ours.

It’s one of those parenting things that is difficult to put into words, even with other parents. I could tell you all the sweet, hilarious ways my kids describe the people in their lives or how they say certain things, but it’s not really a story with any discernible shape or rhythm, and besides, you have your own words and inside jokes, and often when we try to exchange them, the real tenderness gets lost in translation.

That’s how I tend to think of all the soft, joyful parts of parenting: as millions of beautiful, funny, vulnerable, absurd moments of love that are so specific and individual that to translate them wouldn’t make sense. Still, if you already have kids, you will instantly understand the significance of these things because you live your own infinite version of it every day. Those are The Good Parts.

It’s much easier to talk about The Hard Parts, because those bursts of frustration, sleeplessness, and struggle, even in their specificity, can feel universal, like a cheat code to relate to other moms and dads who are otherwise too tired to explain the many, many ways their hearts were made full this past week, but have no problem describing their baby’s latest sleep regression or toddler meltdown. It’s a way of staving off the loneliness and navigating your way through the rougher waters of parenthood.

A couple of months after my son was born, I felt so alone and isolated. I hadn’t really been prepared — it was my first child — for what would happen to my body in those early days. Everything hurt, I was so tired, and I felt like I wasn’t returning to my old sense of self fast enough. I invited a few friends and acquaintances who’d recently had babies over for a New Year’s Day brunch in hopes of connecting with other people going through what I was going through.

At first, a couple of the parents shared stories about what their babies were accomplishing — one was rolling onto her back, the other crawling — and while it was lovely to hear about, it was also a little alienating since not everyone’s baby was there yet. But once someone shared that they were still working through their difficult birth, we all suddenly leaned in a little closer. Soon we were trading exhaustion war stories and burping tips and forging an intimacy based on a shared sense of fumbling. Relief met camaraderie, and we all felt a little more understood and accepted as we grasped our way through this new experience.

As parents, we bond over The Hard Parts while keeping the overwhelmingly good parts close to our chest, sometimes because they feel like fragile glass, threatening to break if you pass them around too much, and other times out of respect for what other people may be going through, mindful not to boast about our joy in the presence of their pain.

The last couple of years of parenting through the pandemic have seen us fumbling our way through a strange new world, as unsure of ourselves as we were in those newborn days. Talking about how hard and scary it is connects us. It’s a way of forming community and a sense of togetherness in an otherwise isolating moment. In the darkness of school closures and illnesses and medicine shortages, those familiar cries were like an outstretched hand, a lifeline from one parent to another.

In naming so wholly and honestly our shared sense of anguish to myself, to my partner, to the internet, to you here in this column, I’m trying to get across that there has to be a better way, that structural support for families can make a tangible difference in all of our lives. And I won’t stop advocating for myself or other parents. But it struck me recently, while lying in a puddle of soft, loving bodies, listening to peals of laughter and feeling as happy as I’ve ever felt in my life, that in so desperately fighting for something better, I had forgotten to adequately name what I’m fighting for. To properly spell out the sheer joy and beauty and love that forms the core of what parenthood is. The shape of a toddler’s foot, so puffy and perfect. The first time you hear your baby’s unbridled, spontaneous laughter. The little hand that reaches for you on a walk. The way my kids cackle when I pretend to faint because of their stinky feet. The whispered stories of their day at bedtime, that’s the real language we all share. I don’t want those parts to get lost in the story I’m telling about what it feels like to be a parent right now.

Because it is incredibly, absolutely, undoubtedly amazing. Parenthood has given me a sense of clarity about who I am and what kind of person I want to be. Seeing life through the eyes of my curious, loving, kind children reminds me of what it means to be present and fall in love with the world every day. My work is sharper and better because of how differently I experience time now that I don’t have any to waste; I’m more focused and deliberate and aware. It’s only because of how good it is that the bad stuff sticks out, and only because of how much better I know it can be when you have affordable, accessible help, that I feel so comfortable calling it out.

I thought I would stop having kids after I had my second, but when I turned 40 I started really thinking about how I wanted the next decade of my life to look. I looked at the life I have now and couldn’t imagine anything better, anything more loving and hopeful and full than what I was doing right now, with these kids. Now I know I want a third. There’s nothing about parenting that is so hard it outweighs that kind of joy and confidence and love. And there’s no part of my story that doesn’t include them.

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