Before I had a son, any number of well-meaning parents told me, “DO IT ALL NOW! Once you have kids you’ll NEVER have time for yourself.” This refrain turns into a thundering cacophony once you are actually pregnant, but now it also includes the line, “Sleep now, because once your child is born you will NEVER SLEEP AGAIN!”
These points are well made and not entirely inaccurate. Much is made of studies that show that people without kids are happier, healthier and are DEFINITELY having more sex…you can just take that one to the bank. A bit ironic that the people procreating are the ones who no longer have the time or energy for procreation, but whatevs, as my happily childless sister would say. You know what you’re signing up for and it’s not like you weren’t warned.
But there is an untold story in this tale of woe; a much overlooked complaint that most parents have but feel uncomfortable admitting…the big problem with having kids isn’t actually dealing with the kids. The real issue with being a parent is DEALING WITH OTHER PARENTS. We ALL feel this way to some degree but are loathe saying so, as this would alienate approximately 90% of our social circle. “You know what? YOU are the problem, not your kid! Although if you don’t stop being such a half-assed/controlling /disconnected/micro-managing/lackadaisical parent, pretty soon your kid WILL be the problem, and it will be ALL YOUR FAULT”.
HA-ha-ha!!!! Yes, we all think everybody else is doing it wrong and this is what makes parenthood so exhausting. Not our own little angels, who we deal with in a way that makes sense to us and therefore works on some level, but those people who are basically handing their kid a bottle of karo syrup and a pellet gun then taking a nap. You think I’m exaggerating??? Maybe just a little. But I am here to tell you that my child has never caused me half the stress, anxiety and sleeplessness that my peers have. They are what make parenting hard.
My son once told me that he wanted to move in with his playmate, because her parents give her “anything she wants.” How is this helpful to me? How do I stop the kids at school from telling him about the totally age inappropriate movies they have seen? How can I keep him on track with healthy eating when he is plied with Teddy Grahams every time I turn my back? How can I convince him that 9:00 is a perfectly healthy and reasonable bedtime for a 10 year old who regularly sleeps 10 hours, when his friends are up until all hours watching reality TV?
The truth is I just really like kids. They are so authentic; they haven’t built up their defenses, they let it all hang out—the good, the bad and the absurd. “No filter” is their way of life and they fully understand the critical importance of “shaking the sillies out”, as a friend of mine puts it. Kids are zany and curious and lively and fun and INTERESTING.
Parents, on the other hand… you want to know what other parents talk about? Their kids. Pretty much exclusively. I mean, if you directly ask them, they will say a few words about work (boring) or the real estate market or something, but mainly we talk about who puked, who cut their own hair, what this one said to that one, what the teacher said about the other and whether or not the school bus driver actually likes children.
This is NOT our kids’ fault. They are the “common ground” we cannot escape, because most of us would have absolutely nothing to say to each other without them. Now maybe this is just the suburbs and the cities are full of people discussing literature and politics at the park. But in the suburbs, you hardly dare breathe a word of your real thoughts, dreams or belief system, because you barely know anything about these people (except for the fact that they are seriously messing up their children) and you wouldn’t want to put them off with hints of an intellect or a life that doesn’t involve laundering vomit out of bedding.
You know what drives me crazy? Those parents who insist EVERYTHING that passes their child’s lips be ORGANIC. That is almost as bad as the ones who put POP-TARTS in their kid’s lunchbox!!! How about those people who apparently feel little screens are a good substitute for actual parenting? UGH. Or the ones who don’t let their kid watch television? And people who swear in front of their kids are the WORST. Although I can’t stand it when prissy-pants-parents act like “stupid” is a dirty word and not an excellent description of a lot of things!
But hey, GUESS WHAT? We are ALL bad parents some days and ALL good parents other days and mostly we are just doing the best we can with the information we have. PARENTING IS HARD WORK. These mysterious little creatures come into our lives and turn everything upside down and we spend every single day trying to figure out what is BEST for them, often at our own expense. And we are constantly second guessing ourselves and usually worried that in spite of our very best intentions we are TOTALLY SCREWING THIS UP.
So let’s get off each other’s backs, okay? This job is hard enough without facing constant scrutiny for our choices. I love being a mother and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world; but I miss being seen as a person and not just somebody’s mom. The next time you observe someone struggling in a parenting moment, instead of a dirty look how about saying “Hey, I’ve been there”? Because all of us have. And some days, a little validation is all we need to get back on track.
And truthfully, although the answer to “what’s the matter with kids today” is sometimes “their parents,” most of them will turn out just fine. My son will, too. So don’t be worried about him having an uptight, hifalutin mother. He’ll survive her, just like your kids will survive you. Ha.
Image credit: “Kids These Days” captured by Wes Peck