I have a friend who has always wanted to be a mother. Recently she’s had some up close and personal, full-time interaction with several small children that left her wavering in her resolve to become a parent. She wasn’t sure she even wanted to do it anymore.
In discussing the situation with her, I’m pretty sure I stumbled across the very most accurate and perfect analogy about parenting that has ever been analogized in the English language. I feel like it’s my duty to share it with the world so that parents and non-parents can come together and understand each other. I’m just saying I really think this might be the key to peace on Earth.
So… here it is (prepare for your mind to be blown with understanding for your fellow man):
Having kids is like smelling your own farts. (It’s OK, stay with me a second.)
When you let loose a cloud of really gross, foul gas, you think, Ha, I’m grody. I should probably fan that so it dissipates before anyone else comes in here. And then when your husband walks into the room as you’re frantically gesticulating, you pretend you’re dancing and look at him like he’s the one who’s crazy.
But the point is, even though you know it smells gross, and you can even understand the magnitude of grossness (like ‘that one was just kinda stinky’ vs. ‘that sucker made my eyes water’) you are not actually personally particularly grossed out by your own farts. They’re yours from your own body. You’re more concerned with how they affect the people around you and how your stomach feels.
However, if your nasal passages are subjected to someone else’s farts, you are repulsed, right? Your nostrils have been invaded by someone else’s fecal molecules and it is filthy and disgusting. They basically pooped in your nose. GROSS.
This is exactly the difference between your own children and other people’s children. You know your own children are disgusting and exhausting and obnoxious, but they’re part of you. You’ve emotionally invested in them. So when they’re being disgusting, exhausting and obnoxious, you’re thinking more about how they’re feeling and how they’re affecting the world around them than about the misery they’re subjecting you personally to.
(This works even with adopted or step children, because even if they’re not biologically part of you, they’re part of your heart. It’s a sort of magical fart/child principle.)
But other people’s children? Well they’re just gross and offensive. You get, intellectually, that it’s a natural bodily function for them to be horrible and annoying because they’re children and children are horrible and annoying, but you can’t help but be super disgusted by them. Because it’s like they just pooped in your nose.
So what it all comes down to is you can’t really judge the parenting experience as a whole by spending time with other people’s children any more than you can be grossed out by your own farts.