Looking in from the outside can't compare to raising your own kids.
When I was 19, I travelled as an au pair with an Australian family on a trip to Scotland to visit their extended family. The two children in my care were aged 2 and 1.
We were staying in a quaint little cottage surrounded by fields of cows, with a view across to Stirling Castle from the kitchen. But, that was all I saw of Scotland (except to trips to the local Tesco for nappies), thanks to jetlag and the effect it had on the kids. I would sit with them when they woke up alert at night, and then take them for long walks in the pram around the farm the next day trying to lull them to sleep. It was what I'd been hired for, to make sure the mum could rest and not be too tired to enjoy her holiday, but I was not prepared for the sudden effect of the sleep deprivation. Oh, and did I mention that in summer in Scotland the sun doesn't set until close to 10pm?
I came home to Australia wondering (for the first time in my life) if being a parent was something I really wanted to do.
Fortunately those feelings passed, and I now have 2 little girls and another baby on the way, but my overseas trip gave me some insight as to why many single and coupled-up people without kids seem quite scared of having them.
In the past 10 years in particular, Facebook has enabled us as parents to share things about our children, both good and bad, but sometimes in such a way that we must make parenthood seem pretty unappealing to people without kids. However, when you are updating your status after waking up with the baby at 5am about how “there isn’t enough coffee in the world to take the exhaustion away”, it’s hard to remember to try and filter yourself.
Even though there are plenty of other (better) moments we share too, when our children win awards or do adorable things, hearing about the hard slog that is the early years of parenting definitely takes the romance out of the idea of starting a family. But would going in blind really be any better? I don’t think so.
Picture perfect Instagram posts showing mothers blissfully breastfeeding and cooing over their babies don't accurately depict parenting either. If Facebook is the social media platform for oversharing, then Instagram is the home of the humble brag in photographic form. Both do a disservice to the multi-layered experience that is raising kids.
Based on my experiences, parenting is fulfilling in millions of tiny ways that can't be explained without actually living them. Yes, you may have had younger siblings, worked in a childcare centre, or looked after your nieces and nephews for years, but...you can't compare looking in from the outside, to raising your own little creations.
Like how, no matter when your kids are sick or hurt, being the one who can comfort and calm them just by "kissing it better" is always a huge validation that you are doing something right. Or how watching your child meet milestones, such as toilet training or taking the training wheels off their bike, is really a celebration of months of practice and accidents.
This means what was a torturous working holiday for me, is (hopefully) instead a treasured family memory for the parents and kids I travelled with. If nothing else, it made me appreciate all the sleep-ins I had in my early 20's before my daughter arrived and the sleepless nights returned!