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The Pay-off

There is this one liner in parenting. You’ve surely heard it.

The good far outweighs the bad.

Also known as the joy outweighs the work.

It’s hard but it’s worth it. 

They are thrown around like life rafts, sentences like these, because although there is truth in them, their effect is ultimately therapeutic. Reassuring for those both hearing and speaking them. What they do is dangle like ropes in the sea of Hard, encouraging us to notice the good, the moments of beauty, the glimpses of bliss, as the ultimate payoff to our parenting labours.

Their legs tangled in yours, talking nonsense, making each other laugh. An I-love-you. A heavy head nestled within the nook of your neck, in the quiet but for a rhythmic, steady breath upon your skin. An impossibly cute thing they said. A hand reaching for yours. These moments are filled with such heightened feeling, they wipe dry all the unpleasant things which came before, such is the force of their impact. And so we say, thereright there – that is the glory. That is the pay-off.

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But what if the I-love-you’s never come? What if the hands don’t reach around your neck? What if they don’t sleep through the night, behave well, reach milestones like they should be? What if they are not the child you’d hope they’d be? The one who fulfills the expectations you subconsciously hold, the longings you have, the desires you dream about?

Last Thursday morning, I left.

Barely looking at Joel, at my children, at the mess, at the work, I fled to the car, turned on the ignition and drove away, realizing with relief that for the next two hours, it wasn’t my problem. Nothing that went on in that house was my problem. I’ve been in the game long enough to know that sleep-deprivation is paramount to my lack of ability in coping. I have, in nearly eight months, slept more than four hours straight only twice, averaging two-hour sleeping spans and a seriously erratic head space. People say love makes the world go round, but in my experience, I think they mean coffee.

Look, don’t get me wrong, I’m like a ninja when it comes to finding the good. But I worry that I rely on it too much when considering how I feel about parenting. Is a successful day in parenting one where the good outweighs the bad? Are we to enjoy our lives by its moments of bliss and use them to try to skim by the rest?

After two hours away, I came home. Back to the same mess, the same work, the same Joel, the same children. The benefit of leaving is not in the reprieve you are granted but in the clarity you are given. There will always be more good than bad if you choose to view it that way. Situations will always be worth it if you choose to make them so. That’s the way it is. The power we hold. But when we’re too tired to try to be positive. When we’re too fried to be grateful. When we’re too angry to be appreciative, what matters, I think, is not that our children finally sleep, or say I love you, or hold our hands. It’s not that we find more good than bad. It’s not that we’re granted some kind of pay-off for our efforts.

What matters is simply that we get to be part of it. We get to be a parent. And that we get to experience, for all it’s worth, how it is that goes.

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A life well lived, I’ve come to conclude, is not one whereby the good outweighs the bad. Where the happiness trumps the rest. A rich life is one where we feel all the feelings. Where we go through all the things. Where we paint with every colour, swallow down every flavour, sail on every sea. We are down here to know it all, simply for knowledge’s sake.

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Because this is the great adventure.

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