I had children younger than most of my US friends, and when it was their turn to raise young kids, whenever they saw me they asked questions such as: "How did you do it? I never realized it was so hard!", or "I love him/her/them, but I'm barely making it through the days", or "Tell me, how many more years do I have to go through before it gets easier?"
Yes, I do have a few friends who blossom as parents and seem to take everything in stride, usually leaving their career by the wayside along the way to perpetual parental bliss. It's a sacrifice that seems to come easily to those friends, who appear to have a natural vocation for pure parenthood.
But most of my friends are juggling career and parenting, and, while parents of young children, live in a state of constant tension, stress and tiredness. They do not have quite enough energy and time to perform as well as they expect from themselves at work, nor to be as attentive to their children as they would like to be.
As a parent, one of the most helpful things I got told came from the mother of a colleague. I only met her once, when they came to dinner at my house.
Making small talk, she asked: "So, how is it, doing research, having two young children, and all that?"
I answered succinctly: "It's not easy".
She glanced at me, surprised by my frankness. After a short pause she replied: "It will get better."
Then, seeing that her answer hadn't sunk in, she insisted: "I have had two children myself. I remember what it's like. It will get better. It really will!"
That time, I paid attention. Unnoticed by the other people present at dinner, we exchanged a look of mutual understanding; and the conversation moved on to other topics.
In the following months, whenever things were almost overwhelming, I recalled what she had told me and, instead of thinking "Things cannot go on like this," I soothed myself by repeating in petto: "It will get better."