Here are some things I did pre-kid that were hard:
Run a half-marathon
Write and publish a book
Maintain a freelance writing career while at the same time holding down a dayjob
Live in a non-English-speaking country for a year; half that time with a family I'd never met before
But these were nothing compared to the day I first took my baby to the doctor by myself. It was a very complicated event: I put him in the carseat, drove him downtown, put his carseat in the stroller, walked to the doctor's office, endured the appointment and returned to the car. By the time it was over, I was more tired and more proud of myself than I was at any of my graduations or after any race I'd finished or after finally seeing ten years of work come to fruition in a novel that I knew in my heart I was writing for my own fulfillment and not commercial success.
And that's a large part of what motherhood has done for me: made me feel capable in ways I could have never imagined for doing things that are not that huge.
Pre-baby me would not have understood why it would be such a big deal to take a newborn to the doctor by myself. I'd done plenty of things on my own, like travel out of the country or go meet total strangers in real life that I'd only previously known online, but between the physical exhaustion and the fear of doing something wrong (What if I can't get the carseat out of the car? What if we get hit by a car? What if he cries? What if I cry?), a simple task like going to the doctor with my new child felt like one of my greatest achievements.
There have been numerous times like this, where I've looked back and marveled both at how much stronger and more capable I've felt since becoming a mother but over the simplest tasks. Little things, like single-handedly dropping off and picking up my son from daycare (and giving him dinner and putting him to bed all around a full day's work while my husband's out of town), or bigger things like the times my son or husband were sick and had to go to the ER and we had to figure out how they'd get there and who would handle everything at home, or the day last week when our house began flooding with sewage and big ol' pregnant me packed up the kid and fled to my parents' house.
One of the biggest changes once you become a parent is leaving a world of "could do" and "should do" and entering "have to do."
These are not enormous tasks. These are things that anybody would have to do, things that I'd be insane not to do, but maybe that's what it's about—knowing that there is no choice. One of the biggest changes once you become a parent is leaving a world of "could do" and "should do" and entering "have to do." That, for me, is the adjustment. I could have opted out of many of the difficult things I took on prior to having my son and would have felt disappointed, but I'd primarily only be affecting myself.
The vast majority of us parents opt-in to this brand of difficulty, and so we as a whole should be careful not to be too self-congratulatory. Yes, my life is more challenging than it was before I had children but it's nothing compared to what so many other people—single parents, sick people, impoverished people—endure on a regular basis, and there's nothing particularly noble about doing a deed that is the most common one in the world. I don't look at my child-free friends' lives and think, "Oh, they've got it easy."
I don't even think my own child-free life was that easy: I worked even harder than I do now. I cut down on after-work work after my son was born because I knew I needed the quiet time and can't do good work if I'm exhausted. Perhaps I'm just still adjusting to life as a mother, even after a few years, and eventually the whole concept of "have to do" will become second nature and things that seem hard now will seem simple later.
But I look back on that panicky new mom and am proud of how far she's come since then: little things, like taking the boy by myself on the bus to visit a friend, larger events, like just the two of us traveling out of state for a sleepover at a friend's house. These are not enormous tasks. There are much bigger ones to come. But if I can take the kid to the doctor by myself, I can do anything.