Luckily, yet another childless person is willing to tell us how stupid we are! Thank goodness! Because, to be honest, it’d been almost ten minutes since the last time someone without children graced me with their opinion on how much better they are at parenting than I am.
Seemingly everyone has parenting opinions, so I hereby present mine, which are those of someone who isn’t in fact a parent and maybe has a valuable distance and objectivity as a result. Instead of the battle hymn of a tiger mother, it’s the baffled hymn of a cubless bystander, his thoughts turned toward children as the calendar reaches yet another holiday when we shower them with attention and chocolate.
While I have no kids of my own, I have many I can (and sometimes do) lease for the weekend: 11 actual nieces and nephews, whom I’ll be with this Easter Sunday, and perhaps twice that number of honorary ones. I have put in my time around tots and teens, and enjoy them. I have seen my share of parenting, and am not certain what to make of it.
His distance is very valuable! He has nieces and nephews, who give him as much–nay, more!–expertise on full-time parenting as he would get from actually being a parent! Because you see, things like 11, 1, 3, and 5 a.m. feedings, plus sudden inexplicable baby meltdowns and a lack of any local extended family to make sure the baby doesn’t kill herself while you go pee, leave parents very tired, and not very clearheaded or objective. Luckily, you don’t need that kind of intimate knowledge of children to know exactly how to parent!
Let me tell you my parenting story. Not that anyone will find it very useful, for I am but a clueless mother with a real-life child of my own, but since everyone knows that parents think they and their children are the center of the universe, you’ll understand my need to take up your valuable sight-space with my useless self-centered babbling.
A year ago, I was five months pregnant, and I had a whole lot of plans for how I was going to get parenting exactly right. I was considering not buying a stroller at all, because I was really taken with this whole babywearing trend. I’d read that babies who are worn cry less, so I figured I’d just wear my baby all the time. Obviously I was going to exclusively breastfeed. I would never have a screen turned on while my child was in the room, such a fantastic role model was I! I actually practiced temper tantrum responses, even though I wouldn’t need them for at least a year and a half. You know all those bad parents? The ones who let their babies watch TV and cry it out? That wasn’t going to be me, no sir!
Seven months ago today, I gave birth after six frenetic hours of very sudden labor. Breastfeeding was the first thing to go wrong–Zelda was born with a tongue-tie, which had me blistered and bleeding by the time we got it diagnosed, and the tongue-tie was followed by The Thrush That Wouldn’t Die, which meant that the first six weeks of her life were defined by constant pain all throughout my breasts and a low milk supply (caused, I think, by the constant pain). Babywearing was too painful to do. Then she got colic, which transitioned seamlessly into early teething. My husband worked nights, which is when colic usually hits its peak. I was diagnosed with PPD when, one morning, I kind of lost the ability to move.
We just had to stop breastfeeding. It was a loss. No one allowed me to mourn it, so I did, and still do, in private.
Four months ago, I went back to work. I love my job–I’m a librarian at an undergraduate library, and I get to work with creative writing students a lot. During the week, I only see Zelda for an hour in the morning and about half an hour at night, when I put her to bed. I miss her a ton during the week, but on the weekend, I find taking care of her exhausting. If you’ve never taken care of a baby full-time–by which I mean 24 hours a day for multiple days–you have no idea how tiring they can be. Every baby is different, of course; I know people with really easy babies, babies who sleep through the night at 2 months or put themselves back to sleep with no parental assistance. But that’s not my Z. If Zelda gets her binkie out of her mouth, she lets you know. If she’s bored, she lets you know. If she’s hungry? She is NOT going to wait for you to finish making your coffee before you sit down to feed her. My girl is opinionated.
What Frank Bruni perhaps doesn’t know is that, while he’s clucking his tongue at parents for coddling their kids too much, there is an equally big and loud faction shaking their heads at us for not coddling our kids enough. Have you noticed all the articles about how parents are on their smartphones too damn much? About how we’re all ignoring our poor children so that we can check our email over and over again? So, according to both factions, here are all the ways I’m a shitty parent:
- When Zelda had colic, I followed my psychiatrist’s advice and let her cry for twenty minutes a few times while I took a breath and rallied my strength. My doctor told me to put Zelda in the bedroom, shut the door, and turn on the TV so I wouldn’t hear her. Reader, that is what I did. And that’s the story of how I avoided throwing my baby out the window.
- Sometimes, when I’m exhausted from 40 hours of working and 10 cumulative hours of commuting (in LA, the concept of living near your job is kind of a joke), I turn on the TV and let it hypnotize Zelda for a few minutes while I decompress. I tell you, that glassy, vacant stare is a gift.
- Whenever Zelda reaches a milestone–first teeth, sitting up, standing–I shower her with praise. I tell her she is the smartest, most talented baby in the entire universe, because that’s exactly what she is, motherfucker, even though the experts say you’re not supposed to praise your children because it will make them drop out of high school and take up drag racing.
- I let her suck on her fingers and then touch things in public. If you’ve visited any business in K-town, you’ve probably touched Zelda’s spit. Whoopsie. Thing is, I don’t have ten eyes and twenty arms, nor do I have a miniature straightjacket for her, and touching things with her spit is basically all she ever wants to do when we’re in public, so sometimes she manages to sneak it in.
- You know that family with the screeching baby on the plane? That was us. It’s weird–we keep telling her that her ears will pop if she drinks from her bottle, but she just doesn’t listen! Even worse, we paged the flight attendant to ask for water with no ice for said bottle after she’d already taken drink orders!
- I do fret about my baby adoring me, Mr. Bruni, because guess what, most of the time I’m not in her life at all. I’ll never forget the day my husband texted me to tell me she’d rolled over for the first time. Whenever she so much as glances at me, I grin at her as if all the celestial spheres revolved around her, because they do. Sorry.
My point with all this is that the phrase “best-laid plans” is a well-trodden cliche when it comes to everything except parenting. People without kids look at parents and sniff, “I know what I would do with those kids.” No, you know what you would plan to do. What you don’t know is that those plans would quickly crumble as soon as those kids were actual organisms rather than abstract fantasies. You would trot out the authoritarian line you rehearsed in front of the mirror (“I’m going to count to three!”) and your kid wouldn’t respond like a deftly-coded computer program, and you would realize, shit, she called my bluff and I actually don’t have the energy to pack up all our stuff and go home. Or your kid would eat nothing but chicken fingers for six days straight and you could see them getting scurvy right in front of you and you told yourself you wouldn’t be one of those neurotic parents but now you would find yourself begging them to eat one bite of something green. Or you would spend the morning wrestling a stroller through thirteen crowded stores because guess what, you threw your back out again and you couldn’t carry a seventeen-pound squirming human being, not even with the Moby Wrap that you thought would solve all your problems, and you knew that since your vertebrae weren’t visibly jutting out of your skin, everyone would think that you just hadn’t heard the glad tidings about babywearing.
Look, if I wasn’t ridiculously in love with my baby, if I didn’t consider mothering her to be one of the most exciting and important things I’ve ever done, trashy op-eds like this one wouldn’t get under my skin. I know that the type of people who like those articles are the ones whose minds I’m never going to change. I guess my one hope is that Bruni will decide to have his own kids at one point, turn into the very parent that he thought he was too smart to become (as we all do), and look at this article and cringe.
But then, I’m too involved in parenting to know anything about parenting, so that probably won’t happen. He’ll probably get it exactly right.
Excellent rant! My two favorite stories from when my son was little (he’s fourteen now):
The people who were horrified that I “let” my son call me Richard because he would somehow forget that I was his father (because punishing him for using my name–which was the most frequent advice I got for making him call me “dad” makes all the sense in the world).
The child psychologist who was very disturbed that we let our son sleep in our bed because, you know, “Doesn’t he get in the way?” and the stunned look on her face when I pointed out that there are rooms in our apartment besides the bedroom where we can have sex.
You can make a lot of money drag racing if you’re good at it – or if you’re a good mechanic.
Which means you let her touch things and then suck on her fingers, which means that she’s probably going to have a hell of an immune system and is much less likely to be one of the kids I see come to summer camp every year with a cooler full of medications for this and that allergy because they were never allowed to touch something and then stick their fingers in their mouths and Mommy (sorry, but it’s pretty much always Mommy in my experience) sterilized every surface their kid could touch from the time they came home from the hospital until about, oh, age 26.
When my daughter (our oldest child) was only a few months old my wife told me that “every kid needs to eat their pound of dirt” and she was right on the money.
Although there are times when you really should wipe down the kitchen table.
BTW, stick that kid in the stroller. Babywearing is a fad. Besides, where do you stash the bottle of vodka in a babywearing rig?
SAHD to a 2-year-old. A lot of this is dead on, and I can’t begin to tell you how I’ve failed to live up to my own expectations of how I was going to be the perfect parent (or how those expectations are still causing me grief, even without non-parents telling me how I’m doing it wrong). I want to take issue with one thing, merely as a parent sharing views, not as someone expecting perfect parenting from all parents. And I’ll apologize that it’s a bit off topic, then.
I agree you should praise children a lot. I don’t, however, think you should praise them so much for being smart or talented. Unfortunately, what I’ve seen about praising your kids in the media doesn’t match what I had read in the psychology articles and books the media was supposedly citing. The issue is not whether to praise but what kind of praise.
If you praise a child for being smart, and they internalize that as a measure of their worth, what happens when they hit a snag? If their framework is built around an essentialist and immutable quality like being “smart,” they can only conclude they’re not smart enough. If that’s a measure of their worth for them, their evaluation of themselves will plummet. If you praise them for their effort (or something else they can control or improve upon), they can respond to adversity with more effort. If they internalize that as a measure of their worth, they will be more resilient.
Unfortunately, the media I’ve seen has talked about the dangers of too much praise or “the wrong kind of self-esteem,” but has totally whiffed on the actually important parts. So I hope this is a worthwhile response.
Wow, excellent illustration of parental entitlement. “YOU have to put up with our child’s noise, germs, and behavior everywhere we go, but you have zero right to say anything about it. Respect the horrible trials and hardships that were imposed on me by my own personal choice!”
Yeah, it sure would be an ideal world if everybody just shut up and got out of the way of you and your precious Goldenspawn, wouldn’t it? *chuckle*
There are places that kids don’t belong if they cannot meet certain standards of behavior, and kids’ parents should do their due diligence to keep their kids from damaging property, our collective minds, etc. But kids are part of the world and are necessary to keep society going. People who are willing to have kids and spend the time and money needed and undergo the emotional travail are to be praised. So asking people to deal with the fact that kids are going to impose on our peace of mind in certain situations is not out of line. Public conveyances such as planes being chief among them. Now, I was at a family gathering last night and after being treated to one of my wife’s relative’s 5-year-old’s behavior I confided in my 27-year old son “About 10 minutes ago you’d have gotten a swat in the ass and told to STFU or you’d REALLY get something to yell about.” But when a baby is crying on a plane and the parents have done about all they can to deal with it and nothing’s working, then the rest of us just have to put up with it.
That’d be awesome! Although it’d be even better if I could bring Goldenspawn into your home and put her right on top of you, with an extra-poopy diaper and her vocal cords at full capacity. And what would be perfect is if I could then take your most expensive, delicate possessions and give them to her to play with. A mom can dream…
Julia, why are you such a terrible parent?
I find it amusing how well-behaved Zelda has managed to be every time I’ve met her. :D
Which is why I like it when someone’s a total asshole like Copyleft just was so you can just point and say “Look, everyone! We can all stop fighting for a minute and agree on something! Which is THAT person is definitely full of it!”
I saw that opinion piece and was embarrassed as a child free, annoyed by some parenting, adult. I mean, was there anything of value in that at all? I didn’t think so.
My criticism of parenting (outside of the obvious abusive situations) mostly centers around the lack of resources and the discouragement towards finding outside resources to help. My sister, for example, is not the best parent in the world. Her problems stem from a lack of knowledge, lack of consistency and the lack of ability to see the dynamics of her relationship with her children. This is so obvious that the school system offered her parenting resources. She refused because it would be humiliating to admit that you’re not inherently a perfect parent. Her peers expect her to be a great parent even if she has no experience and no experienced parents to coach her. This is unfair and detrimental to both parents and children.
Also, airplanes. I hate the crying baby on the cross country flight. I often wonder if this trip was necessary given infants common problems with ears and pressure. But I don’t know how necessary the trip is, so I live with it and don’t complain. What’s worse than crying babies on those flights is the 4 to 8 year old sitting behind you pushing on the back of your seat (and your lower back) with their feet for hours. Fortunately that’s an easy one to solve – just turn around, explain that their kicking and pushing is uncomfortable and painful and ask them to stop. Their parents are always willing to assist them in not doing that for the rest of the flight. As a bonus, you can always thank the child and compliment them to their parent at the end of the flight for ceasing to kill your lower back. Or, I guess, you can complain endlessly about what thoughtless little monsters they are. Not as satisfying as being comfortable for 4 1/2 to 6 hours, but I can see the appeal.
Isn’t it, though?
The direct care provider, the person primarily responsible for a kid, and especially a young kid, gives up more time and independence, for longer, than almost anyone else does, ever. All else equal, people raising children have less disposable income and lower retirement income. All else equal, people with children between kindergarten and about third grade get sick more, because the little darlings have a daily swap meet at school and bring the results home. People providing direct care for infants and toddlers endure 24/7 legal responsibilities (for those without an extended family or other support network) supervising an increasingly-independent, increasingly-exploratory, increasingly-creative, increasingly-energetic child. As a result, they experience some amount of sleep deprivation (sometimes extreme amounts), which lead statistically to a higher incidence of depression, stress, and all of the concomitant health effects which flow therefrom.
All of those burdens fall pretty directly on the people providing the direct care to young children, and that was nowhere near a comprehensive list.
In return, all of us benefit. People who raise children provide our various societies, and our species, with all the benefits which the existence of the next generation provides (among others, people able to assist us when we are old and pay taxes which are a net benefit to us at that stage).
(All of this, of course, sets aside the parents of children whose conception is a result of rape or other coercion, statistically most likely to be young, single, low-income minority women.)
When such people inconvenience us with their childraising activities, we can cut them a bit of slack, or we can backhand them across the kisser. One of these positions is ethically superior to the other.
Godamnit Grace, that’s not how you talk to a child-hating walking stereotype. Reason. Logic. FEH!
Copyleft, yes, you need to flay yourself alive and abase yourself before the divine radiance that is my genetic offshoot. Grovel before her claim to superior cultural and economic status, and toil endlessly at whatever you do (I’m guessing you mine Dumbassium, since you always seem to have plenty of it) for her glory and majesty. When she requires your living space or ecological niche, die quietly, with gratitude that your insignificant flyspeck of a life has provided even a trivial measure of utility to She Who Rules The Earth And Sky.
I’m always willing to listen to someone’s parenting suggestions, even non-parents; outside viewpoints do sometimes have new information. But it’s interesting that the likelihood that the non-parent thinks their information IS new and valuable, is inversely proportional to the likelihood that it actually is.
And I second the notion that you praise kids for things they control, rather than for things they just are. My parents praised me constantly for being smart, and you can see how THAT worked out; my daughter is very smart, and gets told that on occasion (so that she knows there are expectations of what she can do) but she is PRAISED for:
persistence in the face of adversity
making responsible choices
She is, needless to say, awesome; the top-of-comment paragraph of fulmination is me being modest and not going full-out, actually.
Heh. The notion that parents are doing society a public service by reproducing, and are therefore deserving of praise and thanks, is one of the silliest notions I’ve encountered.
Look around you; are we really in danger of running out of people any time soon? Are parents really reproducing out of a noble urge of self-sacrifice and service to the community? Get serious, please. You opted into parenting because you personally wanted kids. You deserve no more sympathy for its hardships than the guy whining about how hard it is to find a good mechanic for his Mercedes.
OK, I’m sick of you. Thanks for being an amusement and chew toy, but you can leave this thread now, thanks!
[This is a moderator request.]
Although in fairness, it really is hard to find a good mechanic for my Mercedes.
Actually, there’s plenty of countries where the population is not reproducing at replacement levels (2.1 children/2 adults of reproductive age).
RonF, to be honest, I wouldn’t try to reason with Copyleft–the idea that reproduction is some sort of niche lifestyle choice, rather than a basic fact of human existence, is so baldly irrational that I suspect it’s usually a cover for some other issue.
Julie, I’m sure you’re right. I’ve posted here and elsewhere often enough to realize that for many people polemics are more important than facts.
Fortunately that’s an easy one to solve – just turn around, explain that their kicking and pushing is uncomfortable and painful and ask them to stop. Their parents are always willing to assist them in not doing that for the rest of the flight.
Not always so much. I was on a cross-country flight with an ear infection and (therefore) a dreadful headache. The trip was necessary for me, otherwise I would have kept my aching self at home. And the kid behind me kept kicking the seat back, and each time he did I got shooting pains in the head. So I did the turn around and explain thing, the father with the child chewed me out for expecting his (I’m guessing) 5-year-old to be able to keep himself from kicking me, and then spent the rest of the flight sporadically leaning over and giving my seat back a thump for good measure. Also he kept ringing the call button for the flight attendant and accusing me of harassing them. The attendant was cool and tried to find me another seat but the plane was packed. Worst flight of my life.
So, clearly, all children behave badly and it’s always their parents’ fault.
You’re right, nm. I shouldn’t have said “always.” I should have said “usually”. Some people are just jerks and we can’t always avoid them.
Robert, I approve of your praise-plan, especially the “witty banter” bit. And as I have neither children of my own nor nieces or nephews, I’m even more objective than Frank Bruni.
Shortly after our first son was born, a friend got him one of those… garments… that’s like a cross between a onesie and a business suit. It even had a little necktie attached.
My wife said, “I told you if you ever let me dress our child in something like this, you should kill me.”
“Yes,” I said, “but we need the milk.”
I’m going to second what Matt said, here. (And take a moment to reflect on how easy it is for actual reasonable advice to get mangled at the water cooler into something ridiculous.) Praise your kids for their effort, rather than for their smarts. I went through the gifted-and-talented pipeline, and because of the constant waves of You Are Smart I was basted with, it took me a lot of time and effort to learn to even try things I wasn’t already thunderingly great at.
I mean, I turned out okay even with that. I think it’s easier to notice the things that our upbringing got wrong. I’m sure my parents spent years on end thinking they’d screwed me up terribly, but it all turned out pretty okay.