Marriage and parenthood in particular have the power to mature you at an accelerated rate. Marriage is one of the first significant commitments you can make that is both a.) difficult to back out of; and b.) effects someone other than you. Living in a partnership with another human being is no joke. Although it can be one of the most fulfilling relationships human experience has to offer, it is difficult to transition from a world that mostly revolves around you to a world centered around an "us." Sure, there are friends and family invested in your life when you're single, maybe even a significant other, but for the most part you can navigate your life decisions alone without a ton of fall out. As a single person I could make decisions like---should I take this new job? or, should I eat that donut? without worrying too much about someone being displaced or upset that I spent $2.85 that wasn't in the budget. In marriage, all of your decisions, big or small, in some way effect your spouse. Your emotionally invested, also probably selfish---spouse. Learning to put someone else's needs above your own becomes a critical practice.
Ah, but if marriage forces us to mature then parenthood is the ultimate acceleration milestone. It changes your whole identity (not that you lose your self completely) and requires pouring yourself into a relationship that you technically won't get a tangible return on. (Yes, you'll probably get love and other intangibles that are totally worth it---but you'll also acquire lots of pain, worry, and sleep deprivation---you'll NEVER get that sleep back!). Unlike marriage, you can't undo parenthood. Once you're a parent you can never not be a parent again. It's. for. life. Macaulay Culkin might have legally divorced his parents, but biologically he's stuck with them forever. I can divorce my husband and be single again, but I can't divorce my children and cease to be a mom. Not really.
Both of these sorts of relationships require sacrifice.
True self sacrifice---of your time, your desires, and even your body. Sacrifice demands growth, maturity, and all sorts of other STRETCHY words.
This quote from an interview with John Green captures it well:
"Given [John Green's] propensity for anxiety, having children worries him a great deal---"there's that revelation of oh, this is for ever"---and he is constantly amazed by how wonderful and relentless it is. "It's because the sacrifice is ordinary that it is looked past. It is far harder than many of the extraordinary sacrifices that are always being lauded. And it goes unnoted by the person for whom you are sacrificing. It wasn't until I had a child that I called my parents and was like, 'Oh! This was difficult. I'm sorry.' I thought it was a pleasure to parent me the whole way through."
The sacrifices of parenthood are "ordinary" (in that they are done by many), but just because they aren't considered noteworthy doesn't mean they aren't pretty remarkable. I am amazed at how much I've changed in just the past couple of years alone and it's basically all August's fault. ;)
So no, parenthood is not the goal of life and it doesn't make a person "better" than any other person. And we promise not to whine too much when it's hard because we definitely chose this path. But honestly? We do need some recognition every now and then. Pat a mom or dad on the back and tell them they're doing a good job---because this parenting stuff is not easy. As Green says, it's wonderful...and it's relentless.