January 21st, 2012


Parenting is Hard

Originally published at Big Ugly Man Doll. You can comment here or there.

There are a few bits going around the mommywebs right now that suggest parenting is hard, and then it’s easy, and then it’s over, and that we should enjoy it while it lasts because our kids grow up and then we’re not doing as much parenting and then we’ll look back on these days fondly and then we’ll die.  Or something like that.

Needless to say, I feel the need to weigh in on this.

Carpe Diem, they say.  OK, just carpe the moment.  No, wait, it’s OK to just carpe the good moments.  It’s ok that it’s hard, they say.  We all know you’re not really enjoying every second of every day, and that doesn’t make you a bad person.

All of that is true. 

What I will add is that as a parent, you’re breaking new ground.  We like to think that we know a great deal about raising kids – there are whole industries built around telling people how to do it, how not to do it, and how not to lose your freaking mind in the process.  None of that information is completely accurate.  We’ve gotten pretty good with the parts you learned in your high school biology class, sure, and we know more about diseases and how to treat and prevent them, but “raising” a child?  This is completely new.  No one has ever done this before.

There are no studies to guide you that will show the effects of this or that parenting technique on kids being raised in an era of instant communication, immediate gratification, and no borders.  Not only is every child different, but every day is new.  My early environment taught me that in order to listen to the song I wanted to hear whenever I wanted to hear it, I had to save some money and ask my parents to drive me to a store and buy the record and bring it home and play it.  (Record, vinyl, yes, I’m that old.)  My kids ask for a dollar and download a single song, play it 30 seconds later, and then tell 17 friends across counties, countries, and continents what they’re listening to and what they think of it.  They move FAST because the tools are in place to let them, and they’ve never known a time when those tools weren’t there.

We, on the other hand, watched these tools being developed.  We’re used to them now, and we use them – but we’re not natives, not most of us.  So of course parenting is hard.  We’re digital immigrants with self-induced ADD, trying to get through days that are filled with sensory overload.  Even without kids, we live in a media barrage of consumer-targeted advertising based on fear, making sure you have enough to worry about.  That way, you can spend money to mitigate those worries.  Do you realize that no one worries about burglary any more?  We get to worry about home invasion now.  What happened to all the burglars? 

We’re told that we can spend our way to safety, security, and serenity.  I’m going to set up a button on this site that will let you send me a dollar, in exchange for which I will send you a personalized note telling you that everything’s OK, you’re going to be fine, and you’re doing a good job.  But I digress.

With kids, who are crazy enough without external help, we suddenly have a new source of sensory input.  New parents aren’t used to sensory input devices that don’t come with an off switch.  They are suddenly faced with complete life-and-death responsibility, no operating instructions, and a society that will judge them at every turn, after the fact.  No one says, “I wouldn’t do that.”  They say, “I wouldn’t have done that.”  Yes, parenting is hard – as a species, we had to throw away the guidebooks for raising kids after the industrial revolution, because by the time the next generation rolled along, the books were obsolete.  Not only is every child different, but every day is new.  (Remember that this did not use to be the case.)  This not only hasn’t stopped, it’s gotten faster.  Fully half of what we consider “good parenting techniques” are still based in the 18th century.  We have digital kids.  We need to become digital parents, fast, and it’s hard.  Of course we worry ourselves sick – not only do we have television telling us to worry about everything, now we have life-and-death decisions to make for someone else, and the world watching.  You want me to enjoy this? 

So, do I enjoy my kids?  Yes.  Douglas Adams once wrote that the hours were OK, but the minutes really dragged.  I enjoy all of my life, even the parts that really drag – I’m generally just wired that way.  (Also, being in a good mood really pisses people off, which is an added bonus some days.)  Of course being a dad is hard.  No one said it wouldn’t be, any more than they said life would be fair.  But if you don’t smile and try to enjoy it, you wind up wallowing in self pity – and then the fear-mongers step in. 

The best thing we can do for our kids is make sure they see us enjoying them.  They’re taking in data on all frequencies and monitoring all channels, because their environment is training them to do so, and they notice everything about how we carry ourselves through the days, hours, and minutes.  Smiling – just forcing those muscles in your face to go up – actually tends to elevate your mood, to say nothing of making people wonder what you’re thinking.  Let them see you smile.  They’ll remember it.  After all, soon they’ll grow up and then it’s over and then we’ll look back on these days fondly and then we’ll die. 

In the meantime, everything’s OK.  You’re going to be fine.  You’re doing a good job.

Every child is different.  Every day is new.  Don’t worry about it.