A Parenting Paradox
The argument has existed for quite awhile. In fact, I read an article tonight from four years ago in New York Magazine’s parenting section about it: “Why Parents Hate Parenting.”
Don’t let the title fool you, they have a sort-of happy ending. However, you slog through a lot of academic studies and points that tell you just how parents are fooling themselves if they say they’re happy with their station in life. I wonder about that, simply because the article is looking at the parenting paradox from the perspective of an upper-middle class person in Manhattan. They look at things like soccer-tournaments, baseball, swimming lessons and the after-school programs. They talk about Moms who say they want to have career and parent at the same time. They say how stressed they are, how angry they are, how they can’t seem to do it all and how obnoxious (my observation) their children are.
I have to be honest, I just don’t feel that way.
These are my children. They are an amazing part of my life and they are a major focus of my day, too. When things go wrong I go to pick them up from school. When things go right I hug them, show my pride, and inside I glow with their achievement.
However . . . and maybe this is because I first became a parent very young, a mere 23 at the time . . . parenting is a part of my life. It’s not all my life. Don’t get me wrong, it eats up half my day . . . I work a full day, come home, change clothes, and then my day starts all over again. A second job, so to speak. I make dinner, make treats for dessert or lunch, do a load of laundry, and get them situated for the evening. I don’t complain (much) about it.
When I had my first daughter I was freaked out but not as freaked out as my wife. There were things about my life that changed. In 1993 I still thought there was a chance I could be a musician full-time. Children have a way of changing that dream. The big thing to remember in this, you must see, is that it’s not their fault. They didn’t have sex and then get pregnant. They didn’t necessarily choose to be here. They just are . . . these helpless little creatures show up and you’re responsible for creating them . . . so you’re responsible for their existence and continued existence. That’s just reality. You can rail against it like the world has handed you a bad turn of the wheel or you can just do what you can with the cards you’re dealt.
So no, I didn’t go on tour with Eric Clapton. I also didn’t quit my career.
When my wife passed away, things changed dramatically. We don’t have the ability to do soccer practice, baseball or other activities. However, my son loves animation so he is able to do that at home. My daughter is a musician. My other son loves to write. We all have our itches that we scratch.
My children are pretty amazing little people and I’m happy as hell to be part of all that. Am I stressed a lot? Yes. Absolutely. Am I unhappy to be their Dad? No. A surprise to some but not those who know me is the fact that if I could afford to stay home and just be an at-home Dad, I’d do it. That’s not in the cards, though. I’m not independently wealthy and I struggle, both physically and financially. But my kids also get to see that I have a career, I work, I play, and we do things together. That’s the key. We enjoy each others’ company.
That’s what counts.
It’s no paradox, really. It’s embracing the fact that you created these little people. It’s up to you to make sure they are part of your world . . . not the focus of it. That way, they are self-reliant but able to know you’re there to take care of them when something goes wrong.
The article talks about a researcher who says staying up at 2am with a sick kid watching cartoons becomes a nostalgia about watching cartoons with your child.
The week my wife passed away my daughter was heading to bed, got her hugs and collapsed on the floor, cracking her head open, likely with a concussion. I stayed up all night with her. I was worried as hell, stressed out, but happy to be the man there to help her. She laid her head on my lap, I boosted her up on the couch, and I kept a close eye on her. This wasn’t fun, nor will we look back on it with fondness . . . however, we’ll look back on it and know I was there for her.
Parenting isn’t a job nor is it fun, it’s just parenting. It’s not rocket science, though it feels like it.
So I do it and realize that every time I do something for them they’re happy. When I do something for myself, they’re just as proud. That’s not parenting . . . that’s family.