I can remember perfectly that day when my children were born. The excitement combined with effort, pain and fear was all transformed into an ecstasy pill of sheer adoration when I held my babies for the first time.

That was rewarding.

It has kind of gone downhill from there.

Sure–there have been some rewarding moments. The surge of oxytocin that I experienced every time I nursed the babies kept me going for the first several years. The toddler years are fraught with milestones, and with those milestones come feelings of pride, of reward.

Nowadays, I feel like I am surrounded by little people who are constantly either bossing me around, poking me irritatingly, begging for things, whining for things, yelling, speaking rudely to me, speaking rudely to each other, shrieking, howling, or–when I have those blissful moments of quiet when they’re at school–doing things that result in a call home from the teacher.

When my kids were about 3 years old, things were really freaking hard. I told myself that they would get better. I waited for the reward.

It never came.

It still hasn’t come.

I don’t expect it to come.

In fact, TIME reported on a paper that was published in Psychological Science that states that parents fool themselves into believing that having children is more rewarding than it really is.

In fact, the researchers found that the parents who focused on the negative aspects of parenting were more likely to rate parenting as rewarding.

In other words, the harder things get, the more delusional you become.

Just read this blog post on the sacrifices and rewards of raising children. The author actually calls chaotic weekends a reward compared to the lazy weekends of her past. She doesn’t even try to explain why or how she sees that as a reward.

In this forum on Pop Sugar’s Circle of Moms, the question “What is the most rewarding thing about mothering?” was asked. One mother replied “How do you count all the rewards? They are endless.”

Bwahahahahahahaha. Other answers were:

    • Every day
    • Every minute
    • All of it
    • Everything

Delusional, right?

However, why are we seeking rewards in everything? Who told us that we were supposed to be rewarded by our children?

Oh, that’s right–EVERYONE.

Parenthood is soooooo rewarding.

Wait. Is parenthood rewarding?

Actually, most of the studies find that parents are more depressed and angry than non-parents. Non-child-based accomplishments can be just as rewarding as snotty-nosed kids who can wow us by counting to 100.

Before you send off that nasty email to me telling me that I’m heartless and should love my kids more, I assure you, I love them. My day-to-day happiness isn’t created or broken by great or terrible moments. Thank God, because the great moments can be few and far between sometimes. I don’t rely on my kids to fuel my sense of satisfaction with life.

And eventually maybe they’ll have kids. And some studies show that grandkids are quite rewarding.

Yes, there are always rewards in the little things. {Or is that part of the parenting delusion?}

This is when I find parenthood rewarding:

  • When I see my kids being kind
  • When my kids show curiosity
  • When my kids are being hilarious
  • When my kids snuggle with me
  • When my kids do what I say
  • When my kids laugh
  • When my kids stand up for themselves
  • Watching my kids’ personalities develop
  • When my kids are proud of themselves

Those things happen maybe 5% of the day. The other 95% is often spent gritting my teeth and managing motherhood as best I can. Of course, there is a deep-seated satisfaction that comes with having kids.

Most of the mothers I’ve coached agree that their lives took on more meaning after having a child. That’s HUGE. That’s comforting. That feeling will always be there. It’s an investment, and there isn’t necessarily a daily payout.

However, part of me is jealous of those mothers that find reward in EVERYTHING that is motherhood. Is parenthood really that rewarding? Either those mothers have angels for children, or they are delusional. Or maybe they’re not being honest with themselves, and telling themselves that parenting is rewarding is all they can do to get by.

I’m cool with that. I’m big on reframing your inner self-talk to create a new reality.

But when we’re hanging out in a group of women, seeking support, posting on Facebook, showing off our true, authentic selves, can we just drop the act for a second?

Can we be truthful about the fact that it can feel impossible to keep going if we don’t get an inkling of a reward soon? Can we be honest about expressing that our kids aren’t the only thing that rewards us?

What’s scary is that if we’ve lost the ability to find rewards in other things, realizing that parenting isn’t all that rewarding either can leave us feeling really lost. That can be terrifying to say out loud.

The problem happens when motherhood becomes your entire life. And if it’s defined by kids being little assholes, well, you’re going to have trouble feeling rewarded.

Tell me: Is parenthood rewarding for you? What do you find rewarding about parenthood? How often do you get those rewards? What do you do to feel rewarded outside of motherhood?