The irony of my complaining about complainers is not lost on me, but consider what the following complainers and complaints have in common:
A pediatrician griping about patients with runny noses.
A high school math teacher grumbling about students who haven’t memorized the quadratic formula.
A lawyer moaning about clients who don’t understand how the court system works.
The doctor, the professor, and the attorney are all biting the hand that feeds them.
Because if little ones aren’t sick, the doctor is unemployed; if all students know how to factor trinomials, the math teacher has no job; if every plaintiff is savvy about due process, the attorney is looking for work.
I am not in favor of illness, innumeracy, or ignorance. Only that we shouldn’t choose gigs unless we know what we’re getting into.
Of course, I shouldn’t complain. If all parents accepted the unmitigated joy that is parenting, I wouldn’t be writing these advice columns.
Which brings me to the subject of parenting. Are you whining about getting up at two in the morning to feed, change, cuddle, and reassure your infant? Because if you were expecting one of those newfangled babies that doesn’t require inconvenient care, I don’t know what to tell you.
You don’t have to have children; there’s no requirement. That business about storks and cabbage patches? It’s pretty well accepted that those narratives, while charming, are biologically inept. “Where do babies come from?” is no longer shrouded in mystery. If it ever was. Canoodling may be magic, but magic is not involved in conception.
If your children don’t please you, that says more about you than it does about your kids.
I’m not talking about the behavior of your offspring which is often, not to put too fine a point on it, deplorable. Three-day old empty pizza boxes do nothing for me. The ”piles of dirty laundry” lobby gets no contributions from this author. I have steadfastly voted against the “coming home late without calling” contingent in every election. But you have to enjoy your kids. “Hate the sin not the sinner.” Be disgusted with the mess, not the child.
A definition of abortion suggests that an embryo is still a fetus until it is graduated from medical school. But along the way are going to be a number of muddles. And while behavior is a hard deer to hunt, the relationship between parent and child is ultimately the responsibility of the parent.
Because you’re big and smart and in control. You determine bedtime, you decide whether to sign up for little league, you control the menu, you choose the neighborhood and the friends and the activities. For the first several years of your kids’ lives, you are one enormous yes or no machine.
Eventually your kids get authority and autonomy. But for the majority of their entire early lives, the parents are, well, the parents.
I’m not discounting the influence of culture, community, and influences beyond your control. Your kids might make bad decisions. They might want to go to the wrong college or live in the wrong city or marry the wrong person. Stuff happens. But how you, the parent, react and respond to what your kids do affects the relationship. And it’s the relationship, not the behavior, that matters. It’s not what happens but how you feel about what happens. And your kids perceive your feelings with unerring accuracy. Your kids know what you’re thinking better than you do yourself.
An egregious example of truly reprehensible parenting may elucidate the difference between influencing the behavior of a child and the connection between family members: A mother has invited her son to her birthday party. The child earnestly apologizes, explaining that he has exams, that he dare not miss class, that the trek home is expensive, inconvenient, and untenable. The mother is distraught, hurt, annoyed. So she takes two dozen Ambien, attempting suicide. Mom ends up in the hospital, gets her stomach pumped. The son leaves college—ignoring his tests, responsibilities, and commitments—to attend his mother at her bedside.
“I knew I could make you show up for my birthday,” his mother says.
If you can’t afford to eat in an expensive restaurant, go out to eat somewhere that fits your budget. If a more modest eatery isn’t financially viable, cook some rice or pasta at home.
If you’re going to be a lousy parent, consider another line of work. If you can’t look beyond yourslef and your needs, there is no obligation to inflict your mean-spiritedness on a dependent child. If you’re going to complain about your kids, don’t have them. There’s no obligation.
But if you have already made the commitment, your first priority has to be on maximizing the gloriousness of the relationship between parent and child.