You don't really know what an experience is like, of course, until you have it yourself. I remember thinking to myself when my wife and I first began discussing the idea of having children that this was especially true regarding parenthood. In the past I'd been able to predict with reasonable accuracy a number of novel experiences based on previous similar experiences, but no experience I'd yet had seemed even close to the experience of having a child (sorry, owning a pet doesn't come close).
The truth is that parenthood is both wonderful and awful at the same time. What makes it wonderful are all the things people tell you. What makes it awful, however, isn't quite as intuitively clear. Certainly the obvious things like tantrums, stubbornness, and lifestyle changes are difficult. But they aren't what I've found the most challenging. For me, what makes child-rearing the most challenging are the following three things:
My main point here, then, is that nothing in life is only wonderful (or awful), even having children, something many tout, at least in the abstract, as the most wonderful experience to be had. But our experiences never occur in the abstract and thinking of them as if they do, expecting them to be entirely black or entirely white, will only yield unrealistic expectations and thus predispose us to suffer through something that, in the end, really is wonderful.
Dr. Lickerman's book The Undefeated Mind will be published in late 2012.