Dad Files: Dear Fellow Parents, Please Stop Complaining About Being Parents
People who’ve read this column on even a semi-regular basis probably heard me rail, now and again, about the stupid things parents say.
I’ve yet to feel the accelerated time of parents who say it all goes so fast. I also found, much to the consternation of wizened elders who assured me otherwise, that parenting did get easier and I slept again. But one of the craziest things anyone ever said to me, and I heard it repeatedly, is something on the order of: “You’ll be hating life when they start walking!”
At the time, I thought they were crazy (Hint, I still do.) But now that they’re walking, I totally (not really) get where they were coming from (I don’t). So here, now, are the Top 3 Reasons I Wish My Children Couldn’t Walk.
3. All the Sympathy I’m Not Getting
Look, since parenthood is, for some people, merely a large Martyr’s Club in which we commiserate on how awful it is to care for and love the very children we wanted, it needs to be said: Having kids that can walk is kind of a drawback. Just imagine the next time you’re sitting around, bitching and moaning about how difficult it is to be a parent: If you were the one in the room with kids that can’t walk, no one could ever really trump you.
2. One Day, My Kids Will Leave
The sight of those little boys, up on both legs, shambling around the house, only serves as a horrible reminder of the passing time and my own mortality. Think of it this way: If I’m lucky enough to live that long, my kids will not only keep walking but one day graduate from college (and don’t get me started on what an expensive pain in the ass that will be), so that I get to suffer the indignity of watching them become functional, self-sustaining human beings before I die.
With each step they take, and each cramp in the small of my back, I am reminded that some day I’ll be dead, and they’ll still be going to parties. My God. Who wants that?
1. Too Much Change
Parenthood means managing constant change. A few months ago, our boys couldn’t stand. Now they freely ambulate. Last week, we could place laptops and paperwork on the dining room table, safely out of reach. Now, they are tall and well coordinated enough to walk over, reach up and grab whatever they want, necessitating we push everything to the table’s center. Some time not so long from now, they will climb so skillfully, like beautiful, good-smelling monkeys, that even the top of the table will not be safe. And where, I ask, will I hide my laptop then?
The truth is awful, and the truth is this: My life would be much easier if my sons were just rooted to a single spot, like carrots.
Ahem. I hope, of course, that you can tell haven’t I meant a word of this. So what am I really writing about?
Since becoming a parent, I’ve made a lot of fast new friends, bonding with them about the trials and triumphs. But I am continually surprised by how many parents remain stuck on the trials—even to the point of complaining about how hard it is for them to deal with kids who, you know, walk. A colleague, hearing my idea for this column, said, “Of course no one wants their child to be crippled!”
She explained: “They’re joking, they’re bonding, they’re making small talk.”
Believe me, I get it. And I might be overly sensitive to hearing people talk about how hard life becomes when their children learn to walk. My wife happens to be a pediatric physical therapist. She works with children who can’t walk, and for them it’s not small talk, nor is it funny. But I also just can’t relate. Since when is small talk is supposed to be negative?
“It’s the sort of thing people can say in passing,” she offered.
“I can say, ‘I had a great weekend,’ in passing,” I told my co-worker.
She accused me of being “too Pollyanna,” and after I had a good cry, I told her she was wrong. Hey, to some degree, I suppose, talking about our joys might be seen as too emotionally intimate, too naked, too sincere. Throwing a big cynical blanket over the facts of our lives acts as a kind of protection. And of course, parenting is so stressful that people require some sort of outlet. The jokes let off the frustration that accumulates from the discipline and patience parenthood requires. But I am just not feeling the same kind of tension.
The other day, when we returned from Rittenhouse Square, we put the boys to bed and I started in on household chores, thinking about what a good time we had. When they were crawling, playtime in the park was something we couldn’t even attempt. I suppose we could have plopped them on the ground and run circles around them. But it wouldn’t have been the same. And they would have spent all their time just wallowing in the dirt. Then I suddenly remembered, for all the fun I had, I also felt a lot of stress over the course of that hour, too. Eli searched, the entire time, for objects I’d rather he didn’t pick up—twigs, candy wrappers, clumps of dirt—and tried to put them in his mouth. Jack tried to feel up every leg of every man, woman and child he could reach. But the memory of those difficult moments seemed somehow small—and lacked any real force. In fact, in retrospect, all I could really feel, with any vividness, was a sense of elation—the joy of running around the park with my kids.
That may not be normal parenting small talk. But so far, it’s the only thing that’s been coming out of my mouth.
Steve Volk is Philadelphia magazine’s senior writer. A new dad to twin boys, he blogs about the ups and downs of modern-day fatherhood on Be Well Philly. Read the series from the beginning.