Why did they even have children?
This was a response to a rhetorical question posed in conversation by a child-free friend, who was reflecting on how a mutual friend was struggling with the loss of free-time and independence that is almost universally experienced by parents of young children. My feedback (initially written in a messenger chat) was well-received, and the recipient thought it should be shared more broadly (or she wanted to share more widely herself, as she thought the parents themselves might find this rant useful). So, here we are.
Why did they even have kids?
You asked (rhetorically, most likely) why people become parents if they don't want to be all-consumed in parenting/having to deal with no sleep and children's emotions and doing stuff for kids all the time etc. Most people have nothing to do with small children, or only brief interactions, until such a time that they have children themselves. No one knows what the reality will be. We may have memories of our own childhood, or see what's presented on tv etc, or know people who have kids and still seem to be living their lives, but you don't know how much external support (either family or social) they had or what parenting decisions they made. If you are prepared to shut your child in their room every night at 7 and ignore them because 'they have to learn to sleep', eventually they will stop screaming for you and you can congratulate yourself on your success. Same for sending them to their room for non-compliance/'negative emotions' etc. If you genuinely believe that's the right thing to be doing and thus have a clear conscience in doing so, you can just shut your child away whenever they're annoying you, and they will stop expecting anything of you and then you can go and focus on whatever you like. Now, more people are transitioning away from those approaches, or at least recognise there may be negative implications for the kids, but there's no set alternative advice or acknowledgement that rejecting those practices means that you are then the one who has to co-regulate and find ways to accommodate children into your family and recognise their needs as well as yours, but still navigate setting boundaries and demonstrate confident leadership. If you've never encountered any of those things before (as that's definitely not what you got as a child, you've never desired any leadership role and didn't realise that's what parenting involved, and never learnt to work with strong emotions because you were taught they should be ignored or were ‘bad’), then it's not surprising that so many people (especially at the 6 month old + toddler stage) feel completely overwhelmed and miserable. Even if people did willingly make a conscious decision to become parents (also noting that in many cases becoming parents is not a conscious decision), it's not necessarily an informed decision. No one knows it will be that hard.