Dear writers with kids,
Is it seriously all it's cracked up to be? It is difficult to be enthused about any semblance of parenthood when all I see on Facebook are posts like "My baby performed a routine life function! Superlatives lauding their greatness!" alongside horror stories like "my twin child-things have acid vomit the texture and color of blended red-eyed tree frogs which has now coated every surface in the home, except for the boombox playing 'Electric Slide' on repeat pls send choklit."
Facetiousness aside, do you like your kids? Why? Would you describe your life as being somehow more meaningful in some way than pre-kid life?
How has the nature of your adventures changed? How has your definition of "adventure" changed? Do you still have such a thing as the mythical and ever-elusive "free" or personal time where you pursue things that aren't inherently practical or related directly to your kids?
I am not necessarily looking for reassurances and certainly not those pandering HONY-comments-sectiom-esque platitudes about learning, trials and joy, and joyness... (you know the type).
I just want you to level with me: What has the experience of raising a child looked like for you so far?
-where the wild things aren't
I really like my son. He's cute and smart/dumb and hilarious; he's two and the other day he out-of-the-blue looked at my pregnant wife and said "Mommy is huge!" And it's stuff like that all the time. He's definitely made my life more meaningful; having someone depending on you that fundamentally changes things.
Adventures have changed a bit (there are definitely a few constraints), but we've trained him to be reasonably good in the car, so we can and do still travel, hike, camp, etc.
We make a point of ensuring both me and my wife get free time unrelated to the kids; I figure that if you have no hobbies or interests outside your kids, you will (1) burn out, (2) probably drive your kids crazy, and (3) needlessly miss out on other opportunities. This is partly a function of scheduling our time and partly a function of scheduling him (naps and bedtimes don't just make the kid happier). She does creative writing and attends a weekly writing group. I have time to read and work on Mormon Texts Project stuff. We get out on dates. We probably each have a solid 10+ hours a week, outside housework/childcare/job/church/callings/etc., to do what we want.
So yeah, in our experience the negatives are manageable and easily outweighed by the rewards.
Here's the thing about kids and having them around: they're horrible, completely self-absorbed, poop-flinging, vomit-spewing, shrieking monstrosities until they're your monstrosities. Everything is different when they're your kids.
I adore my two kids, and I can't stand my two kids, and everything in between, but man oh man, they are my kids, and I think that sums it all up. They are mine, and I love them, and they drive me crazy, and they are mine.
Dear wild thing,
My favorite human, Louis C.K., opened season two of his self-titled tv series with the following bit in a stand-up routine:
“Any parent who is honest will tell you, you live with that ambivalence. You look at the face of your beautiful, lovely child and you think two things at the exact same time: ‘I love this kid so much that it's changed my whole life. I love other people more because of how much I love her. I love people that died years ago more. My love has traveled time because of how completely I love her and she loves me back. She’s completely given value to life that didn’t exist before and I regret every decision that led to her birth.' That’s how it feels.”
I love that quote. Having kids is the best and the worst. I had a lot of other thoughts typed out, but really I think I just need to make a series of points:
- All human relationships have costs and benefits. With children, it's just intensified and will likely last a lifetime.
- When people say they enjoy their parenting experience, believe them. I can hear your arched skeptical eyebrow in your question. When people are thrilled about their kids' milestones, they are being genuine. The things that excite people will inevitably change depending on their phase of life.
- This stuff that you hate seeing on Facebook—the milestone and bowel movement phase—is a very brief span of time. I struggled a lot with the baby/toddler phase, but I'm loving the elementary school phase.
- Kids are an investment. I want adult children, and I want grandchildren, and the only way to get to the end is to start at the beginning and go through the middle.
- Adventures still happen, perhaps with less frequency at first. We do concerts, hiking, camping, road trips, travel, comedy shows, museums, beaches. Sometimes we take our kids, sometimes we don't. Holidays are so, so much better with children.
- Yes, I genuinely adore my kids. They get on my nerves in a way no other human can, but I truly, deeply enjoy them.
- Personal time didn't exist when I had two under the age of two and Sauron was starting graduate school, but as soon as they start the school pipeline you get some of that time back. After bedtime is magic time. I learned how to manage my time much better after having kids.
- Yes, I do find life more meaningful now, but there are a lot of factors beyond the scope of this question that play into that.
- Lastly, you always hear something like, "It's tough, but it's worth it!" about parenting. I don't resonate with that phrase, because "worth it" almost seems beside the point. To me it's more like, "It's tough, but you can't help it!" My body has an irrepressible, evolutionary impulse to care for my children that carries me through the tedious moments, sleepless nights, and anxious ER visits.
When my daughter was born I did not like her. I knew that I was supposed to keep her alive, and I did my best to make that happen, but I did not enjoy her much. I'd come home from work and my wife would greet me with her in arm and hand her over. I'd hold her for a second, say something like, "Hi, baby," and that was pretty much it. I think my wife was frustrated when she'd turn around nine seconds later and find that I'd put my daughter down and was doing something else. I guess that all sounds bad, but babies are hard for me. It's very, very hard for me to enjoy babies because they are input-output machines with only an inkling of a personality and very little response to stimulus. Without give-and-receive interactions with my children, I have a very difficult time conjuring real emotions.
So it happened kind of immediately for me. I was sitting at the kitchen table with my daughter on my lap, talking to my wife about my day at work and listening to music. As I often do, I was idly drumming on the table with my hands and my daughter started doing it too. It wasn't much, but it was clearly a deliberate action where she picked up her hands and dropped them on the table. I did it again, and she mimicked me. We played like that for about 5 minutes. And it was over in that moment. I went back to work the next day and started telling everyone about it. The parents among my coworkers had a message for me: "It only gets better." And they were totally right.
There's a reason that new parents post every infinitesimally small increment of progression made by their children. There is a preoccupying force that dominates your attention when you come home and see that your baby can do something that she couldn't do the day before. I mean, that's not something adults experience much on that time scale. We learn things over months and years, but not hours or days. I remember the minute my daughter figured out that she could control her left arm. She was batting at a toy with her right hand and I moved the toy to the left side of her body. She flailed her right arm for a while. Then she paused and very slowly started moving her left arm. From that moment forward, she could bat at things with her other arm. I had just watched her figure out a profound truth about her body that had never occurred to her before. If I had posted a video online, all anyone else would have seen was a barely-coordinated baby swinging at a dangling ball. Meaningless to them. Deeply meaningful to me. From there, it's just gotten better. The joy of watching my children absorb things, learn them, and then change their behavior accordingly is wonderful, profound, and fascinating.
Of course it's not always great. My daughter is just now emerging from a difficult phase that lasted for about the last year. She was an atomic bomb with a short fuse and a high yield. She had the power to totally suck the energy out of me. On many days when bedtime rolled around, I had shut down. My communication was monosyllabic. My goal every day was to get the kid in bed so I could spend some time without the screaming tantrums. It was a hard time on my wife and I. Still, at the end of every day, we'd look at her sleeping on the video monitor and think about how great she was.
It's hard to explain, now that I'm trying. Parenthood is the most profoundly meaningful thing I've ever done in my entire life. Yet, every day of it has been filled with trivial, meaningless tasks, repeatedly given and repeatedly ignored instructions, frustrating power battles, and touching poop. In terms of life-changing moments, there have been exactly three. But when it comes to a life-changing-ly meaningful experience, the depth of parenthood is unfathomable. I am more tired than I've ever been in my life. I am very much an imperfect parent with a deep understanding of all of my many flaws (parental guilt is a thing I'm beginning to understand). I often feel like my best efforts are unheeded or useless. And yet, somehow, my children are capable (when they aren't discovering a new way to destroy my house) of the most profound love, the most spontaneous expressions of affection, the most imaginative creations, and the purest honesty. It's the paradox of it all that makes it so good. All these little, trivial things we do that somehow—seemingly accidentally—shape a person. That anyone's kid has ever grown up to be anything even remotely valuable to society is an absolute miracle and participating in it has become, despite all of it's head-banging-against-the-wall frustrating challenges, the reason I get up in the morning.
-The Man with a Mustache
Dear where ~
Do I like them?
Niffler Baby sobbed the other night because she missed the Beast after he turned human.
Yellow 2.0 will stop everything and come give Dragon Baby a "[Yellow 2.0] hug" whenever she is hurt or sad.
Dragon Baby has started to pick up chapter books and just read them for extended periods of time, without prompting. (Not often, but it is starting)
Yeah, I'd say I like them.
Is my life more meaningful?
Well, I definitely have a different purpose. Like, I am responsible for the health, spiritual well-being, manners, and education of three humans. So in that sense, it has more meaning. I've also lost some meaning. I don't contribute to my specific field as often as I used to. I don't contribute to the economies of movies like I used to. But the economy of groceries and textiles has greatly benefited from my children. Though, if I'm going to compare the economy of entertainment with the future contributions of three other people, then... I think the three humans win.
Depends on the stage of parenting. When I first became a parent, my lifestyle and adventure changed dramatically. From 2002-2009 I traveled to 5 different countries. From 2010-2016 I went to zero (USA obviously not included.) Where I used to be a night owl and most parties started at 7 or 8, bedtime became king and we were home at 8. It was hard at first, especially as many of our friends didn't have kids. But when our social circle changed to include other parents, that wasn't so bad. Instead of going to movies and concerts, and whatever else it was we did, now we go to Thanksgiving Point, IKEA, and the zoo. All of which, by the way, I enjoy immensely.
However, now my oldest is almost 7 and my youngest almost 3. So our adventuring is changing. Last month we took the two girls and went to Nicaragua. (Poor Yellow 2.0 wouldn't have survived, or rather, would have caused our sanity not to survive, so we left him with various family members.) And they did great! I've caught the traveling bug again, and I think my girls have too. So I wouldn't be surprised to see our adventuring go up a notch again. Maybe I will actually go to California someday! Or Disneyland! (I never said my previous travels were all-inclusive. There are major gaps. I have now been to an ocean beach, though!)
So now that adventuring is on an up-tick, I would say that the major difference is that it is far more expensive.
You have what you make. I joined a babysitting co-op in my neighborhood and it is not uncommon for me to say, "I want to take a shower and a nap," so I ship my kids off to someone else's house. Yellow changed jobs a few years back, because they enticed him with the ability to work at home. The ability to put a baby down for a nap, ask Yellow to turn on his monitor, then go grocery shopping or Visiting Teaching alone has been wonderful. Or sometimes I will go volunteer at Dragon Baby's school. Even without those, though, I'm pretty sure God created babies with the need to sleep all the time in order to provide more sanity for the new mother. Then with Yellow working at home and the babysitting co-op combined, I have started to work again one day a week. So now I'm contributing back to my field of choice after an 8-year break. This summer we're looking at upping that to two days a week, made possible by a trade with a neighbor who has agreed to watch my kids one day per week in exchange for me doing something for her that she needs. Yellow also encourages me to do as many girls' nights out as possible. He almost always does bedtime anyway, and enjoys time alone to program his personal projects or play Obduction, so it works out to be mutually beneficial.
What has parenting looked like for me so far
I won't lie, there have been some very hard times. But to be perfectly fair, when I was single there were some very hard times, too. I think humans are just designed to go through hard times. There are times that I cry that I am clearly failing my children, and perhaps they'd be better without me. But then I watch them cuddle me and tell me I'm the best mom ever, and suddenly I don't feel so bad. Just this morning Yellow 2.0 spent at least a full hour (probably more) screaming that he wanted the iPad, Daniel Tiger, and Games. I told him he had to play first, then he could have the iPad. "I DON'T WANT TO PLAY!" Seriously, how good can it possibly make a mother feel to hear that her child doesn't want to play with the plethora of toys we have, and only wants digital stimulation? Not ranking high on the motherhood charts here. You may say it's a fluke, but this is typical of every morning for the last few weeks, or even months. He clung to my pocket and tried to drag me out of the kitchen while I attempted to make myself some bacon and eggs for breakfast. Eventually I finished and he suddenly decided he was hungry. The distraction changed everything, and now I am listening to him and Niffler Baby make believe about unicorns, Pikachu, and bad guys while I write this up. It's kind of adorable.
Parenting has been just a different stage of life. It looks pretty much like you would expect. I collect Mother Merit Badges or Mothering Achievements to make me feel better when I clean poop out of the bathtub or get thrown up on in sacrament meeting. But I also have unspeakable pride watching my kids learn to read or figure out math. Or when they figure out a social skill. Just like elementary looked different from high school which was different from college, and single life is different from married, parenting is different from being childless. And just like all those other phases, it changes. Babies are a very different phase than toddlers, which are significantly different from elementary age, and I'm fairly certain it will be very different from parenting high schoolers and then being empty nesters. I believe I have finished my baby phase and am moving on to the next phase, which will look very different. Ask this question again in 3 years, and I will probably have a very different answer to give in most areas. All of my kids will be in school at least a half day. I will have far more time for my own interests and hobbies. Then again, I will probably miss all the cuddles and forget about all the screaming. In exchange, I will be complaining about a belligerent tween, too much homework, and how expensive extracurriculars are. In 15 years I will be simultaneously rejoicing in all my new-found freedom, while also bemoaning all of my game-players moving away from me.
Phases. Life. It changes.
~ Dragon Lady
Dear wild rumpus,
This might come as a surprise to you, but most people seem to like sports. I don't find a lot of commentary trying to convince people to like sports, or rather, convincing someone who absolutely doesn't like sports to maybe give them a try. That might be because 1) enough people already like sports so there's not a big group who needs convincing and/or 2) if someone is that dead set against sports, seems like their mind is pretty made up so why try to convince them?
I sort of feel like having kids (and a spouse and a family) is similar in that, I think a safe majority want kids or at least family, in some way. It's kind of the default. That's not great, when the thing is the default - society generally stinks at tolerating dissent from the norm. And there are obvious downsides to the thing (sports/kids) - enough that it's worth talking about those things, like, constantly because even though we're getting better at doing them (playing sports/keeping kids alive) there are some issues with popular but challenging activities that never go away.
This analogy is getting away from me. Basically I just wanted to say that, from the looks of things, most everyone here who has kids has had challenging, but overall positive kid experiences and are raging kid fans. I don't think we would change the minds of devout fans of NOT having kids, but we can express positive things about the experience.
I really like kids and I always have. I have a huge extended family (68 first cousins on one side), but remarkably none my exact age. So at family functions I would always play with my young cousins. When I was in high school, my eight-year-old cousin invited me to his birthday party. I just get along with kids. And now that I HAVE kids, doing things with them is still a blast. Doing science experiments and baking together and watching them read and really get into some of the same books that I loved as a kid (I got my now seven-year-old The BFG, Wayside School and The Chronicles of Narnia for her birthday and she loves them all) - all of those things are legitimately fun for me. Selfish answer: it's a lot of fun. Another selfish answer: it makes me feel good when I see them thriving and my wife and I succeeding at something that a lot of people flounder at. I get frustrated and have to give loud, clenched teeth answers and sometimes I will walk out of a room of three yelling kids for a few minutes. But, I can't think of anything really fun that I've done as a hobby, as a job, as a relationship, that didn't make me feel that way sometimes.
I mean, you honestly asked a billion questions, any of which could be the basis of a whole parenting book, so sorry if this all seems free form. You mentioned adventures. An absolutely fantastic idea that my wife came across that we started doing is (this might sound cheesy - stay with me), a Family Bucket List. The concept of a bucket list is usually "something I want to do before I die." The family bucket list is "something I want to do now." Every 3 months we get a big sheet of paper and write down a big list of any idea that anyone wants to do. Everyone from the family has to have a least two ideas, but you can list as many as you want. In the end, everyone gets to pick two of their ideas and you HAVE to schedule them for sometime in the next three months. No exceptions. It might limit what you put on the list, but, you guys, it's so fun. My then two-year-old's bucket list entry was: "Act like cats" (he loves cats). So we all crawled around and acted like cats. My then four-year-old loves to cook and Harry Potter. So we had a Harry Potter dinner (dressed up in costumes, made recipes mentioned in the books). It was a school night and I left work a little early to help make things, but it was awesome. Last weekend we went camping for two nights thanks to this bucket list. Adventures change from what we could do when we were single, but the fact that we're doing things with kids that will remember those adventures? That makes them meaningful in a way that still blows my mind sometimes.
Parenting rules: be conscientious, be chill, be proactive, do fun things. It works out good for everyone involved.
- Rating Pending (who likes sports when he's watching them but kinda forgets about them and doesn't really care much about them at any other time. He can also think of lots of people he knows who feel that exact same way about kids.)
I'm glad you asked this question because it's been a long day with the six-week-old and I'm still in the not-liking-the-baby stage that Man With A Mustache described. It's nice to read everyone's responses and see how many people made it out of the newborn phase without still disliking their kid. Truth be told, I often wish things would go back to the way they were, but at the same time, I don't think it would feel better to go back to my pre-pregnancy life now that I've had this experience. I'm surprising myself right now because I'm really hating being a mom, but even with my limited perspective I'm starting to think things would feel really off without our kid.
I guess my answer is, I sincerely hope it becomes all it's cracked up to be (and soon!). Please ask me again in a year.
I feel like you're fishing for a cynical response because you believe that people who aren't cynical about their kids are just lying. That's simply not true. Yeah, having kids is tough. It sucks sometimes. It's frustrating to have to find a babysitter ANY TIME you want to go do something with just your spouse. Babies and toddlers need almost constant attention. It messes with your schedule in an irreparable way. Here's the thing—if all of those points are dealbreakers for you and you don't care for the "platitudes" about joy in the journey and whatever, that's fine! You don't have to have kids if it doesn't seem appealing or worth it to you. But don't go around mocking other peoples' experiences with kids just because their Facebook posts seem inane and stupid to you.
I can't really describe my experience of having kids. It's hard a lot of the time. It's fun a lot of the time. My attitude about it definitely plays a part in the hard:fun ratio. I love my kids in a particular way that doesn't apply to anyone else. It works for me, and I'm trying to make it work better every day.
Listen, if you're looking for some irrefutable proof that having kids will be definitively worth it or not for you, you're not going to find it here or anywhere else. Being a parent isn't an experience that you can glean from other peoples' anecdotes. That's why we wax cheesy all the time—there just aren't words that can describe the best and the worst of it. Especially because over time it all coalesces together into one whole lived experience.
So just live your life and make your decisions the best you can. Don't rely on other people to validate your point of view. And leave cheesy people alone. Just because you don't "get it," that doesn't mean that their lived experience isn't that way.
It has been awesome. The toughest part was the purple crying, but that didn't last very long, and only for my two older kids. I love being a dad, and it is so amazing to see them grow up.
Let's answer your questions in order:
Is it seriously all it's cracked up to be? Chyeah, and more.
It is difficult to be enthused about any semblance of parenthood when all I see on Facebook are posts like "My baby performed a routine life function! Superlatives lauding their greatness!" alongside horror stories like "my twin child-things have acid vomit the texture and color of blended red-eyed tree frogs which has now coated every surface in the home, except for the boombox playing 'Electric Slide' on repeat pls send choklit." It's also difficult to be enthused about owning a car when my friends put pictures of their lame Chevy Cavalier, it's difficult to be enthused about the outdoors when people post crappy pictures of their camping trip in places where I know they are no more than fifty feet from a road. Life doesn't have to be incomprehensibly exciting all the time, and on the same token a few complaints on Facebook do not represent the majority of your time as a parent. Parenthood is not monotonous by any means, and the "routine life function" that kids perform are really, quite meaningful if it is their first time. There is also quite a bit of "I did this, I made this happen. I created this life and kept it alive long enough to successfully [smile, poop on command, roll over]" which I completely understand. Yeah, people share too much, but should someone else oversharing their life keep you from living yours?
Facetiousness aside, do you like your kids? Why? Would you describe your life as being somehow more meaningful in some way than pre-kid life? Yeah, I like them a lot. They are cool and smart and rugged, and my wife just sent me a video of an impromptu boxing tournament they organized in the living room and I have watched it seventy times cackling with glee the whole time. My life is so much more meaningful now that I am keeping little people alive. I have a combination of people to support, defend, and impress, and those are three impulses I feel the strongest. I wouldn't trade my little guys for all the gold in Arabia.
How has the nature of your adventures changed? How has your definition of "adventure" changed? Do you still have such a thing as the mythical and ever-elusive "free" or personal time where you pursue things that aren't inherently practical or related directly to your kids? My adventures have included kids, that's the only change. They love to go to my hockey games, they love to go hiking, they love to go rock climbing, they love to go fishing, when we had a dog they loved chasing the dog around. I don't care about free time, relaxation and down time makes me anxious. If my kids can't do it, I find something they will enjoy until they are old enough to enjoy what I do. Now that the oldest two can read, we can enjoy time sitting around the house reading when I get home. There are many, many special things to do with kids. Having kids doesn't end your personal life, it just gives you different opportunities.
I am not necessarily looking for reassurances and certainly not those pandering HONY-comments-sectiom-esque platitudes about learning, trials and joy, and joyness... (you know the type). Cool. For me, having kids is truly about learning (lots of learning), trials (not so many trials), and joy and joyness. It really is. It is sincere, not platitudinal at all. Does it surprise you that people genuinely find joy in child-rearing? Are you so cynical that true expressions of joy can only be platitudes? Do learning and trials mean nothing anymore? That's sad.
I just want you to level with me: What has the experience of raising a child looked like for you so far? It's been awesome. I'm a doggone good dad and I have a doggone good wife and kids. I'm a little colored by nostalgia and longing because I have been away from them for nearly a year, but man, I can't think of a single downside of being a dad. I can't think of anything decidedly negative of my experience so far, except for one time I was giving SGT Sentry a shoulder ride and he jammed his fingers in my nose and gave it a yank. I cussed at him and immediately put him down, but it's been smooth sailing since.
I stumbled upon the childfree forum on Reddit by accident one day, and that was one of the most horrible things I have seen on the internet. Horrifyingly cynical, overwhelmingly angry people with no sense of perspective who constantly mocked people who choose to have children and broke their arms patting themselves on the back over their choice to not have kids. This is not to say that everyone should be obligated to have kids, I am firmly in the camp that people who hate kids shouldn't have them, but they all seem to forget that they, too, were children who screamed and had runny noses and babbled on the subway and made strangers angry. Don't forget that you, too, were a child whose parents marveled over every poop, who probably coated the house in vomit at one point, and who grew up and forgot and now thinks you're better than all that.
Stay away from Facebook if it makes you so cynical. Enjoy life a bit, and if a kid is going to be part of that life then don't feel bad one bit. I will never apologize to anyone or anything about my love for my kids, and my love of being a parent.