Some Thoughts on Enjoying Parenting

A few weeks ago, I put out a call on Twitter and on Facebook for detailed posts that people would like to see. I got enough great responses that I’m going to fill the entire month of July – one post per day – addressing these ideas.

On Twitter, Pinco shared this thought: “I love your articles about parenting. People enjoying parenting are hard to find, nowadays.”

I genuinely enjoy the process of parenting. I love teaching them new things. I love molding their behavior from the charming anarchists of toddlerhood into socially stable children. I love reveling in their crazy ideas for play. I love introducing them to new foods and new places and new experiences. I love encouraging them to refine their skills and watching as they try very hard to do just that. I love watching them assert their independence and handle tasks on their own. I even relish the harder tasks, like correction of behavioral problems.

I love all of these things.

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At the same time, I don’t think everyone does love all of these things. I don’t think everyone is meant to. I think many people are swept away by a romantic idea of parenthood only to find that such a romantic view doesn’t match the reality of being a parent.

For some, the nonstop nature of parenting becomes a burden. They’re very good parents in bursts, but when it comes to the long slog, they beg for a break from it. Other parents are distracted by other interests. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a child begging for the attention of a parent but that parent is distracted by work or by checking sports scores or by texting. Others have been molded into a state of seriousness by their careers and their earlier life so that it’s hard for them to relate to children. I have witnessed all of these things (possibly within the last week).

If you’re considering becoming a parent, I encourage you not to become a parent unless the following ideas really excite you.

Parenting of a child that will turn out well requires regular focus. That means turning off the cell phone and paying attention, even if what they’re saying or doing doesn’t match your personal interests. That means caring about the castles they’re trying to build out of blocks. That means understanding what the current challenges in their life are, who their friends are, and what they’re struggling with – all the time. If the intricacies of a castle that your five year old built out of blocks sounds much more dull than a night at the club, then stick with a night at the club. I’d rather hear about my daughter’s epic princess castle that she spent an hour building out of magnetic tiles.

It also requires being willing to talk to a young child. By talking, I don’t mean the cutesy “child talk” voice that people constantly get when they’re talking down to a child. I also don’t mean treating your five year old like your drinking buddy. I mean genuine conversation with children, where you listen to what they’re saying and respond to them seriously. My kids eat this up. They feel valued, they feel as though they can tell me what’s going on, and they know that I’m listening and that I care about what’s important to them. Children aren’t incompetents that you need to talk down to, nor are they your drinking buddies. They’re people with feelings and thoughts, and you’re one of the most important people in the world. Put yourself in a five year old’s shoes for a minute and imagine if your parents did nothing but talk child talk to you or else did nothing but treat you like a drinking buddy.

There’s also a requirement that you’re willing to abandon many of the habits of your previous life. I’ve dropped most of my hobbies and shrunk my social circle significantly (though it’s grown a bit as well as we’ve made friends with other parents) since becoming a parent. Guess what? You don’t have time for a lot of the things you used to have time for. At first, parents tend to just sleep less and try to maintain as much of their old life as possible. Eventually, that doesn’t work.

It’s easy for these things to seem like burdens. Here’s the thing, though: they’re only burdens if you don’t like what you’d be replacing these things with.

Face painting

On an average day before kids came along, I might go golfing with some buddies and out for drinks afterward. I might go out to the movies with my wife. I’d do some extra work in the evening. I might spend four hours laying in bed reading.

On an average day today, I build a giant castle out of blocks. I cut a chicken breast into tiny pieces for easy eating. I listen to a young child wonder why their old friend won’t play with them any more. I bandage a wound. I roll down a hill covered in grass. I change a dirty diaper and listen to a baby make noises and watch him smile as I replace the diaper. At best, I might get an hour to read for personal enjoyment just before bed, but I don’t go golfing and I very very rarely go to movies at this point.

Is that change a positive? For me, it certainly is. For others, it might not be. That’s fine.

The fantasy of parenting sounds appealing to a lot of people. The reality of parenting is fun to a smaller group than that. Make sure you’re in love with the reality and not just the fantasy before you bring a child into the world.

Trust me, the reality can be a lot of fun and very rewarding, too. Even if it involves changing some disturbingly full diapers.