What’s the Hardest Part of Parenting?

A parent and child arrive at school on Nov. 5, 2012, in New York City.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Eivind Kjørstad, father of three:

Opportunity cost. The hardest thing about any choice is that to choose one thing always without exception means pushing away other things.

Even though I’ve never regretted my choice to become a parent (I have three kids), I sometimes feel jealous of people who made different choices in life—even though I’d not want to swap with them.

Saying yes to children has meant saying no to a whole lot of other things that I care about. There’s been less travel. Less time for one-on-one romance. Less money for fun. Less concerts. Fewer musicals. Fewer visits to friends. Fewer long walks. Less working out. Fewer books read. Fewer letters written, and so on.

This isn’t unique to children: Making any big choice means saying yes to one thing and saying no to a whole lot of alternative things you could have been doing instead.

I’m pretty hungry for a lot of what life has to offer. In an ideal world, I would want to say: “Yes to all of the above!” But the real world doesn’t work like that. And that’s hard.

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Answer by Clare Celea, mother since 2008:

The fear. When they’re tiny, you’re afraid they’ll die. You constantly check their breathing.

As they get older and stronger, you’re still afraid that something will happen to them, but you also fear that you aren’t “doing it right”—you’ll somehow parent them wrong or fail to give something they need or accidentally instill some terrible habit or belief in them that will mess them up as adults.

It’s hard to have faith in yourself and in your own ability to be a good parent. It’s particularly difficult because you won’t know whether you’ve succeeded until it’s much too late to do anything about it.

That’s the hardest thing about parenting.

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Answer by Jonathan Brill, startup specialist, seller, marketer, maker of really good waffles:

Energy. There’s the father I want to be, and then there’s the father I am. I believe the difference between these two people is energy.

I think I have a pretty good idea of what’s roughly right in terms of guiding my kids along the fine line of showing them how to do things and letting them figure it out themselves. One could argue each extreme, but you quickly run into diminishing returns. What seems to be good is modeling a few times and then letting them mostly do it, with the occasional reminder to nudge them back on track.

That can apply to focusing on homework, getting dressed in the morning, eating in a timely manner, socializing with others in respectful and constructive manner, and more. In my best moments, I’m great at this. One morning, my 5-year-old was a little frustrated at having to wear an outfit she didn’t like. We talked about it for a few minutes, there was a hug, she felt better about it, and then she stepped up and put the scratchy stockings and the frilly Christmas dress on. High fives!

But there’s an alternative reality where I’m busy getting dressed or cooking breakfast or responding to an email where I’m just looking for the quick win. In those moments, I can’t get down on one knee and calmly and patiently walk her through the rationalization of why it makes sense to wear scratchy stockings, so I just remind her directly and authoritatively of her obligation to do what she’s supposed to do, and we move quickly to an escalating game of carrot or stick. That’s way easier and not nearly as constructive. Sure it gets the job done, but man does it feel like I’m shorting her the opportunity to figure things out and make her own decisions.

I need like one extra hour and about three more gigawatts per day, maybe a flux capacitor for emergencies, and we’re good.

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