With our first baby, I remember thinking, I can’t wait until we get out of the newborn stage and this all gets easier. But then my newborn became a toddler and I saw how toddlers can be pretty difficult too, in their own ways. It was only becoming easier because I was becoming more used to it. And then we had another baby and I just sort of accepted that the next decade or so might be filled with sleepless nights and tiny bottle parts and diapers and baby gates.
And then, in the past few months, something even crazier has happened. I’ve not only accepted the possibility of there always being little people who demand a lot of me— I’ve come to desire it. Whereas, before, a baby was the thing getting in the way of everything, now everything else seems to get in the way of the babies. Before, the baby stage was something I just had to get through in order to raise kids, now I find myself thinking the unfathomable, I wouldn’t really mind always having a baby around.
And it’s not because they’re cute. Actually— it’s not even because they’re babies. It’s because they need me. It’s because I’ve found I’m generally my better self when people need me. I’m more organized and detached from my stuff when I have to baby proof my house. I’m more disciplined when I have to go to bed early. I’m more satisfied when I have to think carefully about the kind of music I play or the movies we watch or the places we go. I’m healthier when I have to cook for growing bodies. I’m humbler when I have to change diapers and potty train. Having little people who need me demands that I be my better self.
Now, certainly, every family and every person does NOT need a baby to be virtuous. But I do believe every family and every person can benefit from a dependent person— even a difficult person— relying on them in some way. Modernity has allowed us to avoid the difficult people. Modernity has allowed us to avoid babies and old people and sick people and poor people and disabled people. Modernity has allowed us to avoid people who make things inconvenient.
But we need some inconvenience in our lives. Without them, we get way too focused on our own needs and interests. Without inconveniences, we can become blind to anything other than our own personal interests and pursuits. And this blindness can be easy and enjoyable, sure. But it doesn’t make us very happy in the long run.
So, in the way that you can, embrace the difficult people in your life. Don’t be afraid of them. You may not see it in the moment, but the difficult people can make you better. And if you’re better then you’re also happier.