We, as a society of Americans (I can’t speak for the UK, Russian territories, Asia, Middle East or other places), cannot seem to digest things unless they’re in tiny, little, bite-sized pieces. Don’t get me wrong, we’ll consume a bag full of those bite-sized pieces, but don’t you dare give me information in more than a few hundred words and you sure as hell better have a bunch of funny, seemingly unrelated to the topic, .gif files to reinforce your opinion.
In the last three or so months the “memes” have flooded my Twitter and Facebook pages. Some are clever. Some are funny. Some are sweet.
But the memes are overflowing.
The most common and latest ones describe “what you need to know before you’re a parent” or better yet “what it’s like to be a parent” and “things I wish they’d told me before I had kids” and “what it’s really like to be a parent!”
They’re clever, yes. They’re accurate, sure. They also fall so short of actually providing information or helping anyone that needs them. They’re the internet’s way of taking David Letterman’s “Top Ten List” and making it even less funny. These are marketing for page views and nothing more. They are the attempts to get you to click, then hopefully click some more, then hopefully land on a page, give your email address, and rope you into buying something. Yes. I’m the cynical journalist who has had about enough of the internet meme.
Here’s why: those parenting memes do nothing to help parenting. Not a thing. The people who are clicking on those and spreading them are people who have either been through parenting a child or are in the throngs of it. It’s wallowing in self-importance and pity, not really helping the people who might need the information. The other thing people don’t think about? If you gave this information to a bunch of 20-somethings or 30-somethings before they had made the full-fledged decision to have kids . . . they’d never have sex again.
There are those living in the fantasy world who paint parenting like a beautiful Asgaardian field with valor, wonder and fantastical realms that – if you haven’t been there yourself – you just cannot experience. Others paint a horror so terrible that Stephen King himself couldn’t possibly come up with a scarier scenario.
Let me be the first to tell you – if you’ve managed to keep reading . . . I’m at 400 words now, so you’ve likely clicked over to Buzzfeed or Upworthy already – they’ve just not given you a picture. Sure, the shots of New Girl animated and moving for 1.5 seconds are clever, but they’re just not how most average parents approach things. Let’s face it, I’m not amazing or terrible (I hope) I’m average.
Parenting came as a surprise for me (and my late wife). My wife freaked out when she was pregnant with our oldest. She wasn’t ready to be a parent, hyperventilated, cried, fell on her knees . . . none of what was coming was she prepared to handle.
My oldest was plagued with problems. She had problems with digestion, couldn’t eat formula, breast milk, pre-digested formula . . . proteins seemingly couldn’t break down in her little gut. So she was affectionately dubbed “the Exorcist baby” due to the projectile vomiting she would produce. I had to spend a good half my paycheck every week on ingredients to make our own formula – the only thing she could keep down. She cried a lot. She wriggled around and wouldn’t cuddle with her Mom which made Andrea angry and sad and in turn made her take that out on the only person who would understand – me. When our second was born my wife nearly died in delivery. Hannah contracted RSV and had to wake up every two hours to eat and then get albuterol treatments, which made her hyper, which kept her awake, which made her cry. Add to that having to care for my wife who had a post-op infection due to a mistake in the c-section and it was a mess. We got pregnant again . . . it was twins . . . and I wasn’t prepared for it.
Parenting is messy. That simple.
But after reading all that you’d have to wonder why in God’s name we, as adults, would put up with it. The whole “Ten things people should tell you about having kids” doesn’t tell you anything. It paints either a rosy or a terrible picture. Neither is accurate.
Along with the terrible things up there? My oldest would nestle into the fold in my elbow and lay her head there, snuggling. That got her a nickname from me and me only. We spent every Monday – my day off – of her toddler years together and called them our “Abbi/Daddy Days.” They were mundane, slow, filled with parks, walks downtown, naps, making dinner and they were brilliant. My middle is a musician and writes better music than I do. My twins are a singer and an animator. They love it all. They cry, they get bullied, they get angry, and they miss their Mom.
If 19 years ago you’d come to me and shown me all the bad I’d have thought there’s no point in having them.
But while kids may be work . . . I’ve just never treated them that way. Sure, I had diaper changes but when you have to deal with it things like baby poop are more like you’re a medic helping someone on the field. It’s just part of the gig. When you’re feeding them they’re content. When they’re hurt you worry and pace and want nothing more than to help them. They cost a ton of money and work you to the bone and from the moment they’re born you will never have a good night’s sleep again.
And you’re so very proud of them.
You can’t look at it as work and you can’t treat it like a dream. Being a parent is acceptance of the fact that to them you’re Dad and you have that responsibility. You also have the responsibility to show them that you have your own lives that you live and they are not your identity. They are your responsibility, from now until you leave this realm for whatever is next.
Like Republicans who post pictures, articles and memes that reinforce how bad President Obama is; like Democrats who post .gifs and videos of how inept Tea Party Republicans are in Congress . . . the parenting memes simply reinforce one position or the other to the people who fall into belief in that position.
Then there’s the average, everyday people.
Kids are work. Kids are rewarding. Kids are rebellious. Kids are loving. Kids are ridiculous. Kids are picky. Kids are beautiful. Kids are messy. Kids are amazing. THIS is their job.
You won’t have nice things for about 18 years but you will be able to live a life when they’re not around, too.
But what you need to know is that parenting is not a job or work. It’s a responsibility that has intense rewards for the intense stress. Not everybody’s up to it . . . but if it was so simple everyone would have kids. If it was so complicated our species would have died off a millenia ago. I started parenting with a partner. I’ll finish it on my own, a little harder, but the problems and answers haven’t changed. Parenting is. There are no pat answers to everything. There’s no “10 things” that will fulfill all those expectations. You get up in the morning, do what you have to do without realizing it, and go to bed knowing you’ve led them through to the setting of the sun a little better than when they woke up this morning.
That is what you need to know.