Dad Files: Why Are Parents So Negative About Parenting?
From the time we first established a sleep schedule for our sons, my wife and I ritualized the process. We get the boys, Jack and Eli, fed. Then we let them roll around on the carpet for a bit, playing with their toys. We tuck them into sleep sacks about 10 minutes before bedtime, give them each a pacifier, sit them on our laps and read to them.
“Oh the things you can think up,” I read aloud, from Dr. Seuss, “if only you try.”
Our boys, fraternal twins, are just eight months old, so their vocabulary right now seems to consist of “ba” and “gah!” But when we read they often appear transfixed, as if we are imparting great wisdom. With the last Seussian syllables still sounding in our ears, we trundle them upstairs, turn out the lights, sing them a song and tuck them into their cribs. And that’s that. But it isn’t only that. What I mean to say is that the sum of these parts adds up to what is, often, the most emotionally satisfying part of my day. And with each passing week the boys themselves seem to render this ritual ever more powerful. Most nights, in fact, as my wife and I sing “What a Wonderful World” we alternate between staring at our boys and staring at each other. And the four of us wind up tethered into a semi-circle: Me holding Jack, who grasps one of Lisa’s fingers, who cradles Eli, who reaches across and holds on to my thumb. “I see friends, shaking hands, saying ‘How do you do?’” my wife and I sing, smiling at each other in the dark. “They’re really saying, ‘I love you.’”
Lately, I’ve marveled at how much deeper, richer and more meaningful my life seems now than it felt nine months ago, before the boys came kicking and squalling into this world. And I emerge with a question: Namely, why haven’t more parents shared stories with me like this one?
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve met many other parents who are happy about their children. And I’m not insisting that everyone keep their problems to themselves. Truth: My life isn’t only more satisfying now. It’s also much harder. But why is it that so many parents, when they find out I’m actually happy, actively seek to make me sad?
“You just wait,” I’m often told. “Wait till they start crawling faster than you can walk. You’ll be crying then!” Or: “When they can talk the only thing you’ll want is for them to shut up.”
I wrote a column, several months back, in which I marveled at how gloomy so many parents are, and I understand how early I am in the process. Each stage will bring new challenges, and it’s inevitable that sometimes a phase I’m good at handling will yield to one that is far more problematic. But I’d like to think that, when my boys start running in opposite directions, the stress I’ll feel corralling them will be offset by the deeper relationship we’ll be building—that, in fact, I’ll appreciate their growth and enjoy seeing them run and laugh and play. In fact, I even expect the sense of meaning I derive from being a parent will be worth all the effort I expend. And my conscious intention is to actively focus on the sweet spots, while accepting the tough times as the necessary cost.
There is evidence that what we choose to focus on determines our experience of life. There is a well-known link between fixating on negative thoughts and stimuli, for instance, and major depression. And there are ways, through meditation—or, if that word is too loaded, simply being aware of our thoughts—that we can train ourselves to let some thoughts go, quickly, and focus on others.
In that spirit, I’d like to start a process here, in which we fixate on some positive stories about parenthood. Sure, everyone needs to vent sometimes, to acknowledge how tough it is to deal with dirty diapers or petulant teenagers. But I’d love it if some readers might share stories, in the space below, about times when everything seemed to click into place—when their child(ren) just filled them with joy. In particular, if you recognize yourself as the kind of person who talks, a lot, about how hard it is being a parent, I’d love it if you’d take a few minutes to recall and share, in the comments section, some downright idyllic moment when your life as a parent seemed not only right, but charmed and beautiful.
This little exercise might be the start of something big, for you and others who land upon this page and read what you had to say.
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.