Dad and Buried - Always going further than most fathers
The parenting blog for parents who love their kids but hate parenting. Laugh at my mistakes, judge the judgers, and learn why being a parent is the best thing that's ever happened to you that you'll occasionally wish had never happened to you. Especially when you have a hangover.
My 7-year-old always wants to play something with me. It’s usually Zelda, which I’m no good at, sometimes it’s hide and seek, which he’s no good at, and sometimes it’s “surprise Daddy by jumping on his crotch.”
Needless to say, we need new games. And we’ve finally found some.
I’ve always loved playing board games.
I spent a lot of my childhood playing The Game of Life and Monopoly and Stratego and Trivial Pursuit and more, all despite being part of a family that never indulged my interests. Partially because they don’t like playing board games and partially because they don’t like playing board games with someone who takes them too seriously and is an obnoxious stickler about the rules.
But screw them! Now I have kids of my own to force into heated arguments over proper dice-rolling and not yelling out the answers unless it’s your turn! And one of those kids is finally ready to play.
Detective Munch has never been huge into board games, but I suspect that’s primarily because the only ones he’s ever played were Candyland and Sorry. That all changed a few weeks ago when we went to a brewery and they had a copy of Life (we never called it “The Game of Life” because THIS AIN’T NO GAME! and also it’s shorter.)
A favorite of mine growing up, I was excited to introduce him to it while I sampled a flight of local Brooklyn beers. He loved spinning the dial, pushing his little car, and mapping out a fantastical future in which he can actually afford a car, college, and a family. He was less enthused about eventually losing to Mom and Buried, who used the game as a way to explore the road less traveled, skipping college, and totally eschewing a husband (she married a woman) and any kids for a life of beach houses and discretionary income, much to the chagrin of her actual husband and kids.
Nevertheless, my son’s interest was stoked, and the timing couldn’t have been better. Because, as luck would have it, I’d just received “Monopoly Junior: Electronic Banking Edition,” a shorter, kid-friendly version of the famous board game that has caused plenty of family nights to end in scattered game pieces and tears.
Thankfully, our first foray into the world of Chance cards and capitalism avoided any board-flipping and tantrum-throwing, probably because I was nice and relaxed (thanks, flight of beers!). And probably because he won the game. In fact, Detective Munch straight-up dominated, his dice-rolling (more like dice-dropping, but whatever) paying off and allowing him to purchase nearly every property. He ruthlessly drained Mom and Buried’s coffers in no time, like a little Jared Kushner (minus the racism and law-breaking). She was driven to bankruptcy in a New York minute and the game was over just like that.
But he has a taste for it now, especially since the game has been updated for 2018 purposes. The “Electronic Banking Edition” eliminates the pesky ‘banker’ aspect that required math and converting what was once a stack of cash into a debit card. Every player gets a piece of plastic that corresponds with their game piece – the kid version includes a dog, a cat, a car and a boat – as well as a little electronic “banking unit” into which you insert your card and add or deduct rents accordingly.
Adding an electronic element was a great idea, because as any parent knows, if there aren’t some buttons to push, kids lose interest fast! The game also tweaks the board, shortening it considerably and changing the boring “adult” properties to things like “ice cream shop” and “skate park.” The only thing he didn’t like about the game was how quickly it was over.
The one drawback to his newfound interest in Monopoly and LIFE is that those aren’t games he can play alone, and his little brother is not yet interested in anything but repeatedly pushing the buttons on the banking unit. Which means Yours Truly is often drafted into service. Which is fine; like I said, I like board games. I just like them better when we play at a brewery!
I happen to have an extra copy of Monopoly Junior: Electronic Banking Edition to give away, so enter below for your chance to win!
A couple of weekends ago while we were visiting my parents in Connecticut, my oldest brother made a cameo after work.
He’s a sixth-grade teacher and he’d just finished his school day, so he stopped by our parents’ house to say hi to his nephews and grade some quizzes before heading home. I was working at the kitchen table and amidst my typing and his red-pen scribbling, I suddenly heard him say, “98! Way to go, Mia!”
He was genuinely happy that she had done well on his quiz.
Teachers are amazing. Arming them is idiotic.
I could never be a teacher. I don’t have the patience to deal with my two kids, let alone somebody else’s 25!
This morning, I posted a long Facebook status with a photo of some rubber door stoppers my wife picked up on the street in our neighborhood (people put stuff they don’t want on their stoops, it’s a Brooklyn thing). I wrote about what the door stoppers are for – if students ever need to hide in a closet, god forbid, they can use the stopper to prevent a gunmen from entering – and why it’s so sad to even have to contemplate putting them in my son’s backpack.
It’s a pretty flimsy safeguard – is a locked door really going to stop some psycho spraying the room, and does the prospect of a child rushing into a closet to escape a shooter make anyone feel good? – but the efficacy of door stops isn’t the point. The point of my Facebook status is how frightening and depressing it is that parents feel like stuffing door stoppers in their kids’ backpacks is all they can do. This is what it has come down to, in 2018?
Not better gun control or any actual gun reform, but active shooter drills and rubber door stoppers. Oh, and arming teachers.
Arming teachers? Really? It’s such an absurd idea that it would be worthy of a good laugh if it weren’t actually being embraced by the damn President and his bought-and-paid for Republican congress.
No one really knows what they’re capable of in a life-and-death situation until they’re in one, and more power to teachers (and anyone else) who put themselves in harm’s way to confront shooters and protect children, but arming teachers and expecting them to play cop, soldier, or vigilante is a disaster waiting to happen. (It’s even a disaster for actual cops and soldiers more than we’d like to admit!) And it’s certainly not something most educators – “specially trained by experts” or not – are eager to do.
Leaving aside any skill or lack thereof with firearms, most teachers, despite what happens to many of them as they progress through their careers, have noble reasons for choosing their profession. They have to, because unless they simply love being broke, disrespected, and overworked, there’d be no reason to teach; having kids of their own would offer the same benefits.
No, most teachers become teachers because they want to actually teach.
They want to help kids learn and reach their potential and surpass their own expectations and grow up to make a difference. Like my brother, they get excited when a hardworking student gets a 98 on a test and they get disappointed when an unfocused student fails. They get sad when they see their paychecks, but they keep teaching because it’s about more than money to them, and there aren’t very many jobs like it. Or very many people cut-out for it.
My brother is a great example of a kind person and a great teacher who cares about his students and in no way shape or form should ever have a gun. Not merely because the dude takes twenty minutes to finish a five-minute story and would lose a quick draw contest if he had a two-week head start, but because putting guns in the hands of teachers is quite possibly the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard, and I live with a 7-year-old who wishes farts could talk.
I’m sure my brother wants to protect his students in any way he can, but no teacher – no one in most jobs, save for a select few – anticipates facing off against someone with a gun, and asking them to be prepared to fight back with a gun of their own is straight-up insane. Even when they think they are prepared.
Every new shooting and every tragic gun accident makes it clear that adding more guns to the mix does nothing but add fuel to the (cross)fire, which, of course, is exactly what the NRA wants: people buying more guns to defend ourselves from all the other people who’ve already bought guns and to be honest could probably use some new, better guns to defend themselves from the other people with new guns, and on and on and on.
This approach is good for the gun industry and bad for just about everyone else. Especially our kids who are growing up in a country where guns are more protected than they are. (Or one that doesn’t have the money to spend on education – except when it comes to buying guns and arming teachers with them.)
Which is why, since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida one month ago, America’s endangered students have been leading the charge for long-overdue change with their articulate, educated voices and their peaceful, powerful protests. (Clearly they’ve been taught well!) These teenagers know that arming teachers with guns and arming students with door stoppers are two vastly different yet equally ineffective attempts to protect them, and that the only way this problem gets solved is with actual policy change.
Unfortunately, no one in Congress seems willing to make any. So until they free themselves from the NRA’s shackles, arming teachers and telling kids to hide in closets seems to be the best we can do.
These are just a few of the things you sacrifice when you decide to become a parent. (Don’t worry, they are replaced – by exhaustion, debt, headaches, scraps, and stress! Yay!) A lot of that is a side-effect of getting older – most of us accrue responsibility with age, whether we have kids or not – but there’s one thing that having kids takes away from you that you can never get back:
It’s understandable, in some ways. When they’re young, Mom and Dad are their whole life, their best friends, their only friends. They like being around us. They also need to be around us, because as babies and toddlers and preschoolers and even early elementary schoolers with a modicum of independence, they rely on us for so much. They need us to feed them and bathe them and dress them and take them to school and pick them up from school and help them with their homework and bring them to playdates and buy them toys and take them to the doctor and basically keep them alive until they can fend for themselves. (This usually takes about 30 years.)
They need us for everything and they continue to need us even when they’re past the point of really needing us any more. Weaning kids off their parents and into independent human beings is one of the hardest, and most bittersweet, aspects of parenthood. We don’t always want our kids to grow up but at the same time we desperately need them to.
If you’re anything like me, you can’t wait until your kids go to bed. Not only because, if you’re anything like me, you hate your kids and never want to be around them, but because you need some time to yourself! Even if you can’t get enough of the little moppets, by the end of the day, you’re still desperate to be without them for a few hours, to watch some adult TV or have an adult conversation or get some bow-chicka-wow-wow. Even the most dedicated parents among us need a minute when we’re not parenting, for the sake of our sanity.
Sometimes that means staying up extra late just to get a hit of that sweet, sweet solitude. Sometimes, if you’re a sociopath, that means getting up extra early just for a little peace and quiet. Because for some of us, somehow managing to wake up before our kids is simply what it takes! It gets so bad that I’ve even written about the relief I feel when I go to work, and I’ve got nothing on stay-at-home parents like Mom and Buried who are lucky if the kid takes a nap for a few hours in the middle of the day.
Solitude is a precious commodity for all of us these days, but for parents it’s downright endangered. And it’s not always just about the kids. Sometimes you need time away from your spouse too. The constant clingy-ness and perpetual proximity of your children can drive you so mad that being around anyone, including other adults, even the love of you life, can be too much. You need a break from them too!
When I was single and child-free, one of my favorite things to do on a Saturday afternoon was to go to Tower Records (I’m old!) and browse, or take a walk around Boston with my Discman (I’M OLD), or drive around listening to music on the radio. The closest I come to that these days is if I am running an errand and get stuck in traffic. Or when I’m on the subway on the way home from work, surrounded by dozens of grumpy New Yorkers but lost in my headphones. These are poor substitutes for solitude, but sometimes it’s all you get. (And when you’re a stay-at-home parent, you might not even get that.)
It can be borderline impossible to have time to yourself, and that makes grabbing a little bit more essential than ever.
I get irritable when I don’t get some solo time. I learned this about myself in college, when I would inexplicably become a prickly jerk if one of my roommates so much as spoke to me when I was desperately seeking some solitude. Every now and again I just hit my limit of human interaction and I need you – need everyone – to leave me alone. This isn’t an easy thing to explain to your spouse, and it’s even harder to explain to you kids, which is why I don’t explain it to mine, I just sleep on the couch after I’ve yelled at everyone for no apparent reason.
To be clear, I don’t want to be alone all the time, and on those rare occasions Mom and Buried and I have gotten away from the kids, we can’t help missing them almost immediately, because biology is a motherfucker. But the occasional break is crucial, for my sanity, my parenting, and my relationship. Absence makes the heart grow fonder!
No man is an island, and I don’t want to be one! But I wouldn’t mind if the bridge went out every once in a while.
Last spring, my wife’s sister and her boyfriend came to join us on our trip to the beach, and they brought their kids.
Except they aren’t *their* kids. Not yet, at least.
They’re foster kids.
Specifically, they’re (now) an almost-five-year-old and a one-year-old pair of siblings who were in need of care because of unfortunate circumstances that are TMI (too much information) and WTD (way too depressing) for this post.
With no (biological) kids of their own (so far!), Aunt and Buried decided to foster for a variety of reasons – they’re good people who want to help, they’ve seen the impact neglect (and worse) can have on little kids, and they know there is more than one way to form a family. Unlike the human parasites who give foster parents a bad name, none of their reasons include “profit,” because, trust me, they aren’t making one. Instead, they are putting their hearts on the line, bonding with these kids and risking heartbreak should the sisters be yanked away by a broken system that values biology over suitability.
They know the risks, and they are still willing to make the commitment. That blows me away. What blows me away even more is their learning curve.
They didn’t take these kids home from the hospital. They didn’t have a nine-month on-ramp on which to steel themselves for the profound and all-encompassing lifestyle change that was about to slam into them like a tractor-trailer.
They applied to be foster parents and once they qualified they immediately got a kid. And then when that kid’s little sister needed help, they got another one. Not because they were seeking two kids, but because they didn’t want to separate siblings and saw little choice. And now they’re dealing with a little girl who won’t eat dinner, won’t sleep on a road trip, is smack-dab in the middle of the eff-you fours, and has a bucket of Southern sass to boot. And they’re caring for a baby with breathing issues that somehow don’t affect her ability to scream when she’s hungry.
Having been dealing with this stuff for years myself, and not always well, I wanted to laugh.
Over the weekend Mom and Buried and I heard them bicker over bottle-cleaning and diaper-changing, witnessed the then-3yo’s adorable, infuriating spunk, and watched the new parents’ best laid plans and idealistic visions of parenting disappear in the face of finding the best, most convenient way to get the kids stop whining and go the F to sleep! But I couldn’t laugh. Because what they’re doing is unimaginably hard and selfless and no matter their struggles, they deserve nothing but praise. Anyone who opens their homes and hearts and lives to care for someone else’s children does. FULL STOP.
There are times I consider abandoning my kids and they’re my flesh and blood. I can’t imagine the will it takes to foster someone else’s and weather the trials and tribulations that every child brings.
These are children with whom they share no DNA, children they weren’t exactly prepared for and who arrived more quickly than they anticipated (to be fair: not even the world’s best biological parents are prepared for parenting, on-ramp or not), children they’ve accepted – that they requested – as their own. They went from zero-to-60 in the blink of an eye.
As someone who is constantly sharing my experiences online, I get a fair amount of praise for being a good parent. But when I encounter foster parents, or single parents, or plenty of other parents in far more difficult circumstances and situations than mine, I feel like a fraud.
Aunt and Buried and her boyfriend – along with the thousands of others who’ve stepped in to rescue children in need of help and a home and a family – jumped into this thing with both feet. I bitch a lot about my kids but at least I had a slow and steady ride up the terrifying hill before the roller coaster plunged down into the toddler years.
The majority of parents get to experience all of that organically. Bit by bit. Step by step. Phase by phase. So much so that sometimes you don’t even register the incremental increases in difficulty. Not everyone has that luxury.
I had plenty of time to panic, to adjust, and I’ve been panicking and adjusting every step of the way ever since. I’ve been in the trenches with my kids from day one. I didn’t hop into the trench a few months or years in and suddenly have to figure everything out all at once. I leveled up, slowly but surely.
The foster parent does it like a boss – out of necessity – from day one. And thank god they do, because even in my sister-in-law’s small southern town, they’re overwhelmed with need. Even after taking two kids in, Aunt and Buried has gotten several calls seeking emergency placement for other endangered kids.
So if you have the interest, and the fortitude, to provide a safe, loving environment for kids in desperate need of one, please step up. There will always be someone who needs it. Maybe even my kids someday, if they keep trying my patience!
(P.S. The smiling kids in the pics with Aunt and Buried are mine, not hers; we’re protecting their privacy.)
So A Wrinkle In Time hits theaters this weekend. The book is a big deal to a lot of people, but I’ve never read it (blind spot!) and my 7-year-old hasn’t gotten to it yet, and as such the movie isn’t really on my radar.
Well, it wasn’t on my radar, until I came across a little bit of controversy over the poster. It prominently features the female lead and the mostly female cast (does Oprah even have a gender? I feel like she’s singular), all bathed in pastel colors, and it ignited another discussion about gender stereotypes.
Apparently, someone thinks the poster doesn’t appeal to boys. To which I say: who cares? It’s a poster!
Who cares about advertising and marketing in general, and who cares specifically about the fact that the poster doesn’t have any boys on it and/or is purple?
It’s 2018. Are there really still parents out there who don’t want their kids to see/play with certain things because they aren’t properly aligned to gender stereotypes? (Yes, I know there are.)
Kids gravitate to what they gravitate to for a variety of reasons, some of which are biologically-ingrained, some of which are personality-based, some of which are culturally and socially influenced, some of which are unintentionally modeled by their parents and role models, some of which are intentionally taught by those same people. There’s a mélange of influences over our children’s viewpoints and behavior that can be hard to parse, but allowing additional influences in the name of consumerism is one area we can do our best to limit.
I say let the kids figure it out on their own, and teach them the right big things – acceptance, community, empathy, diversity, individuality – and let them do what they’re gonna do. What they want to do. Whether that means boys playing with dolls and watching “My Little Pony” painting their nails or girls watching Star Wars and superheroes and playing hockey. Gender stereotypes are always silly, but they are never more silly than when it comes to little kids. They just want to have fun!
Then there’s the fact that we’re letting a poster manipulate us. It’s 2018. Are there really kids out there who are deciding they don’t want to see something because the marketing “says” they shouldn’t?
Probably some, but probably not as many as there used to be! Thanks to streaming, my kids barely even see most ads. But even when they do, they already know: advertising is bullshit. Because I’ve told them. “They are trying to trick you. Ignore that noise!”
Kids are as susceptible to advertising as anyone else, surely even more so – kids are more susceptible to everything – but that just means we need to push back harder, to educate and arm them with the knowledge and confidence they need to resist that junk and think independently.
The kind of nonsense promulgated in this tweet is exactly what we should be pushing back against:
What exactly is the problem with this poster? The fact that there are no boys (save for Chris Pine’s tiny head) in it? The fact that the colors are “traditionally” more feminine, if that’s even a thing? It’s not like the image is of flowers and skirts and Barbie dolls, and even if it was, who GAF?
For one thing, boys can like flowers and skirts and Barbie dolls – I played with Barbie dolls when I was a little kid and I still managed to enjoy sports and marry a woman and spread my seed, as God intended! (I do hate guns though, uh-oh!)
For another, it’s a poster announcing a movie (the totally gender-neutral title is underneath the “girl-centric” imagery), the substance of which – the plot, for example – is what anyone curious about the movie should be worried about.
By the way, that plot? PURE SCIENCE-FICTION. Which – let me consult my copy of Outdated Stereotypes for Neanderthals, Vol. 2 – is “traditionally” considered male-centric. So maybe the poster – if you consider it to be feminine – is fighting against that lame stereotype to draw in young girls who’ve already been told by “society” that sci-fi isn’t for them? In which case, score one for marketing!
Girls can like science-fiction and boys can like fashion. Boys can like posters that don’t have boys on them and movies that don’t have boys in them just as white people can like movies that don’t have white people in them and cis people can like movies that don’t have cis people in them. If all you want is a world in which people stay in their bubbles and ignore (at best) everything outside of it, more power to you, enjoy voting for Trump in 2020.
Otherwise, stop worrying about what’s on a stupid poster, teach your kids to look past advertising and ignore gender stereotypes – all stereotypes – and encourage them to think for themselves and enjoy what they like. Which may or may not include A Wrinkle In Time, but the reason kids don’t enjoy it shouldn’t have anything to do with the genetic make-up of the cast.
Besides, I just checked IMDB and apparently Michael Pena is in it. Everybody likes Michael Pena!
They say opposites attract. Mom and Buried and I aren’t total opposites, but we do have some significant differences. And we definitely parent differently.
On good days, those differences complement each other. On bad days, they cause conflict. When you have a kid who is acting up, and acting out, the bad days become more frequent.
Especially when you don’t always see eye to eye on how to discipline that kid.
Everyone has a different idea of how to properly raise, and effectively discipline, their children. Even, sometimes, spouses.
I know we do.
Mom and Buried is far more patient and understanding with Detective Munch than I am (The Hammer is still too young to be much of a factor.) When he’s at his worst, she is far more likely to give him the benefit of the doubt than I am. I go zero to 60 – or, more accurately since I’m usually already at a simmer, from 40 to 60 – in a hurry. I have my good moments but I have to work harder for them.
When it comes to discipline, Mom and Buried’s instinct is to rationalize our 7-year-old’s behavior and give him another chance. My instinct is to go harder and to punish more, until he gets the message and we see results.
I’m not sure she’s right. But I’m not sure I’m right either.
Is her leash too long? Is she being too permissive? Is he manipulating her, avoiding consequences, and becoming a spoiled monster? Are my expectations too high? Am I too hard on the kid? Am I scaring him into resenting me and becoming an angry, rebellious punk?
Who knows? We all parent differently and we’re all just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks, hoping it pays off somewhere down the line.
One thing is for sure: neither approach seems to be generating the results we’re looking for, and our inability to agree on the best tactic often causes problems in our parenting, and in our relationship. We should probably find a way to compromise, for our kids’ sake and our own.
(Ironically, the one way in which Mom and Buried and I are usually aligned may be causing the most damage: We both allow frustration, inconvenience, and the desire for an enjoyable afternoon/evening/weekend to lessen our resolve far too frequently. Sometimes, allowing the kid to watch the movie/have the toy/go to the party we’d threatened to take away is just easier than dealing with three hours of complaining and whining and attitude. But we’re undermining our own authority, and while it makes things easier in the moment, it will probably make things much harder in the future.)
Parenting is stressful AF, and when the going gets tough, and when spouses parent differently and have different styles and philosophies, surviving it gets a lot harder. It’s a lot easier to point fingers when there’s actually something to point at, and the resulting conflict can cause major rifts in a marriage. A house divided can not stand!
But we’re both trying, trying to help our son be better, trying to help ourselves be better, and, perhaps most importantly, trying to help each other be better, compromise, and find more common ground. For the sake of our kids and our marriage.
Being on the same page is only going to get more crucial as our kids get older. Already, Detective Munch plays us against each other! Parent versus kid is hard enough, parent versus kid and parent is a war on two fronts.
We all have big plans for what we want to teach our kids, the values we want to instill, the pop culture we want to pass down. We all have big plans for molding out children into the kind of people we want them to be.
And then we actually have the kids, and life intrudes.
A few years ago, an old friend was visiting with his family. We were in the backyard, catching up over a couple of beers, when one of his sons, who’s the same age as Detective Munch said something about a girl in his class, or a teacher, or his mom. In an attempt to make his dad laugh, I reflexively made a “women, am I right?” joke.
My friend didn’t laugh.
Instead, he cut me off, making it clear that he didn’t want his kid to hear that kind of thing. I was embarrassed, not only for making a dumb joke, but because I knew he was right. I was being a bad role model and a bad parent. My highly nuanced crack about the inherent difficulty of interacting with the female gender (i.e., “Women be CRAZY!”) was inappropriate around a young, impressionable kid. His dad was right to rebuke me.
A joke like that might be harmless among adults who know each other – my friend knows I don’t actually believe it, that I was being hacky and ironic, but it’s not so harmless around kids. They absorb everything, they look to adults for cues, and they don’t know from irony. Displaying a subtly misogynistic attitude could potential infect my friend’s kid with an unhealthy perspective. That’s not the kind of lesson I want to impart to my friend’s kids, and certainly not to mine.
I want to raise my sons to be respectful of women, of everyone, and to accept them as equals on every level. I spend a fair amount of time writing about my desire to raise my sons with the right values, but the anecdote above should make it pretty clear that I don’t always practice what I preach.
It’s a lot easier to write about being a good dad than it is to actually be one.
I have a lot of shortcomings as a parent and as a person, and I’m not shy about admitting them. I also don’t pretend that it’s easy to follow through on all the grand plans you have for raising your kids – from playing them classical music when they’re in the womb to denying the screen time until they’re ten, etc – once you actually have them. All that stuff is great in theory and much more difficult in practice.
We don’t raise children in a vacuum. We don’t parent them in a bubble, isolated from the real world, protected from daily stresses, separated from our non-parent lives. No, we add the children to our lives, and we continue to live. Our priorities change, and our perspective is altered, and, if we’re diligent, our behavior changes as we adjust to our roles as Examples and Role Models.
But none of us stop being ourselves when we become moms and dads. It can sometimes feel like it, but the people we were pre-kids are never really gone. It can take a real effort to adjust your behavior and your lifestyle to the fact that there are kids around. But if you want to raise them right, you have to do more than pay lip service to the values you want to pass down. You have to live them yourself, or else the messages get muddled. Actions speak louder than words!
Instilling the right values, imparting the proper wisdom, and raising your kids with lofty ideals sounds great, but it’s a lot harder to pull off when you’re actually living your life.
It’s hard to preach kindness to your kids when someone cuts you off in traffic and your instinct is to curse them out. It’s hard to promote civility when your primary mode of communication is sarcasm and gentle mockery. It’s hard to insist on kindness when reading the news makes you furious with half the country. It’s hard to teach equality when you crack jokes that say something different. But you’ve got to try!
Like it or not, you’re a role model now. Your kids both want to be like you and can’t help becoming like you. And while they might listen to the things you say, they also watch the things you do, so you’d better practice what you preach.
About once a week, I work from home. And I HATE it.
I didn’t like being a stay-at-home dad and I don’t like working from home. It’s not my forte, and that has nothing to do with my gender.
It has more to do with my kids.
Mom and Buried has a lot of doctor’s appointments. For issues both big – like her multiple sclerosis – and small – like when she nearly cut her own finger off last summer. Thanks to my awesome boss, I’m able to work from home once in a while – like today! – in order to accommodate these appointments, which my wife usually tries to double and triple-up on so as to get them done in the same day.
My kids aren’t quite as helpful.
I didn’t much like being home with the kids even when I wasn’t actually working from home and was just parenting them. (I know, I know, staying at home with the kids is hard work in and of itself. Chill; that’s the entire point of this post!) When Detective Munch was younger, I was a stay-at-home dad for about two years. It wasn’t my favorite.
It’s hard work entertaining a two-year-old, especially if you aren’t keen on planting him in front of the TV for six hours. And parenting is just the tip of the iceberg; any stay-at-home mom or dad knows that taking care of and entertaining your kids is only half of what’s expected of you. You’re also expected to clean and clean & fold laundry and cook dinner and run errands and fold fitted sheets somehow AND you’re expected to do it all so seamlessly that when your spouse gets home they don’t even realize how much blood, sweat, and tears – oh my god, the tears – went into it.
(When you think about it like that, being asked “what do you even do all day?” is kind of a compliment! An insulting, infuriating, and utterly ignorant compliment, especially coming from one’s spouse, but still. Kudos!)
I’m not good at any of that stuff. I’m not a good planner, I’m not a good packer, I’m not a good cleaner, I’m not a good grocery shopper. I’m just not very good at most domestic responsibilities. Don’t get me wrong, I try to be a good husband so I definitely DO all of that stuff, I just don’t do it anywhere near as well as my wife does.
And if I needed a reminder, both of how inadequate I am and how amazing my wife is, working from home the other day did the job.
At the end of a rainy day spent entertaining my second grader and preventing my toddler from killing himself while simultaneously attempting to get my work done, do the laundry, and at the very least manage to not make the house MORE messy, Mom and Buried finally returned home, and not a minute too soon.
Shortly after she arrived, we started cooking dinner together, and already at the end of my rope, I just about lost my mind. There we were, prepping chicken and boiling pasta while dealing with both kids underfoot, clinging to and darting between our legs, grabbing at and wielding every loose kitchen item they could find, all while blanketing the kitchen in an agonizing Wall of Sound. I was completely bewildered and overwhelmed.
(You know in the movies when someone discovers they can read minds and before they know how to control it they are practically driven insane by the noise? Have kids!)
My wife, meanwhile, was nonplussed. She deals with this every day. She handles it every day. I know this – I KNEW this – but this long, hectic day helped reiterate it. So did the fact that she flat-out told me, “I’m better at this than you.” Which wasn’t super helpful! But she’s right.
Again, before you get the wrong idea, this isn’t a gender thing. Not in the slightest.
True parenting equality means roles aren’t restricted by gender. In our house they’re not, and I bet they’re not in yours either. It’s 2017! Mom and Buried and I don’t divide duties based on chromosomes, we both do what needs to be done, what we’re good at, and, when we’re lucky, we’re able to delegate those duties based on what we prefer to do.
My wife and I have both been the working parent, we’ve both been the stay-at-home parent, and we’ve both attempted the balancing act that is working from home with kids around. She’s better at those last two than I am, but that’s not because she’s a woman. She’s better at them than I am for a million different reasons – she’s more patient, she’s more kind, she’s more willing to talk about Minecraft, etc. – but mostly it’s because she’s better at *everything* than I am!
So if you’re out there wondering how your spouse manages to make what he or she does look easy when your attempts leave you curled up in the fetal position surrounded by empty bottles of booze, remember that unless you’re talking about playing tackle football or giving birth, it’s not gender that makes the difference.
My wife is better at those things than I am because of *who* she is, not what she is. I’ve never assumed otherwise, and neither should you.
(Although successfully folding a fitted sheet might be a female thing. Because I went to college and I am at a total loss with those things.)
Parents spend so much time teaching our kids the dos and don’ts of proper behavior that we seem to forget that we need to adhere to the same rules.
We want our kids to grow up with empathy and compassion, acceptance and generosity and more, but we often go around practicing the exact opposite, particularly when it comes to our interactions with fellow parents.
Maybe it’s because the act of procreation is so profound, and, for many of us, may be the most meaningful, lasting thing we’ll ever do. Unfortunately, pretty much anyone can do it, and the idea that someone knows better merely because they have children, or have had children for longer, is absurd.
Most of the parents I know can hardly handle their own kids (myself included), let alone other people’s! And yet once we procreate, whether we’ve been parents for a year or for ten, we can’t help ourselves from offering advice to other parents, leveling judgment at them, making comparisons of our kids and our methods, i.e., being obnoxious.
We spend so much energy teaching our children to be good people (impressing upon them the need to be kind, to be respectful, to treat others as they’d like to be treated) and to have good manners (training them to say please and thank you and you’re welcome, not to stare, not to point) and then we seem to lose track of those values ourselves.
So I’ve put together a list of some basic dos and don’ts of parental interaction, so that we can try to stop being jerks to each other.
Don’t Judge – As if you know any better
Don’t Offer Unsolicited Advice – If I want your input, I’ll ask for it
Do Offer a Helping Hand – It’s always welcome
Do Offer a Drink – So is this!
Don’t Compare – Everyone’s circumstances are different. YOU DON’T KNOW MY LIFE.
I don’t want to tell you what to do any more than you want to hear it. I don’t know what you want, or what’s best for you, because I don’t know you. And even then I wouldn’t presume that I know better than you how to live your life or run your family or parent your kids; I’m barely holding my own life and family and kids together.
There’s only one thing I know for certain about you, and that’s that we’re in the same boat. We’re all flailing around, grasping at straws.
We’re all tired AF. We’re all frustrated as hell. We all judge and we all compare and we all do the same shit we hate having done to us because we’re all human and we can’t help it. To our credit, much of the judgment probably comes from a good place, an instinctual desire to protect children, but the fact is no one knows best.
The sooner we all accept that, the sooner we can stop worrying about what other parents are doing. So unless you see someone holding their second grader’s legs during a keg stand, you should probably just butt out.
In other words, rather than leave you with a long list of dos and don’ts, I’ll go back to the only ones you really need: do mind your business and don’t be a dick.
Stress isn’t a competition. Newsflash: We’re all stressed out of our minds!
Adulthood is stressful. Work is stressful. Marriage is stressful. The state of the world is stressful. Life is stressful!
And, of course, parenting is stressful too, in more ways than one. But parenting stress is a little different, because being a parent is both stressful in and of itself and because the presence of children adds an extra layer of stress on top of everything else. It’s fun!
Parenting isn’t necessarily *more* stressful than other things – there are plenty of non-parents out there with stuff going on that is just as intense, if not more intense, than the stuff we parents deal with every day.
Every single one of us has things going on in our lives that keep us up at night and bog us down during the day, and we’re all doing our best to handle them. We’re all trying our best to survive those stressful details and occurrences, some of which are obvious to outsiders, some of which aren’t. Everyone is fighting some kind of private battle, whether it’s as insidious and crippling as depression and anxiety, as commonplace and unnecessary as self-consciousness and self-doubt, or as unique and fictitious as being possessed by a Demogorgon. (What? You don’t know my life!)
But parenting is a little different in the way that it takes all of your existing stress and gives it a boost. Then, to make matters worse, it forces you to keep it to yourself.
When it comes to being overwhelmed with stress, it’s typically a good idea to talk to someone about it. To let it out. To get help, if necessary. Mom and Buried likes letting it out when we’re lying in bed and I’m about to fall sleep, which doesn’t exactly do wonders for my stress level but that’s not the point!
Unfortunately, parenting makes hiding your stress necessary, at least when your children are around.
I already tend towards the dark side, personality wise. The last thing I want to do is make things worse by letting my adult anxieties and fears bleed into the way I interact with my kids.
I should ask my mom and dad how they did it.
When I was growing up, I was lucky. I was rarely aware of any of the stressful things my parents were surely dealing with. In fact, it wasn’t until I was older and out of the house – and out of my bubble, and out of my own head – that I really started to clue in, and it was a bit of a shock to realize that not only are my parents fallible human beings, they’re also dealing with the same shit as everyone else!
To their credit, they did an extraordinary job of shielding me and my older brothers – not just from whatever the daily, monthly, yearly concerns that were roiling around in their brains all the time, but that they even had any concerns! Because if their stress altered the way they interacted with us, I had no idea. At least none that I can remember now.
What’s most impressive about that magic trick is that it had to be accomplished on two levels:
They had to keep their kids from catching wind of whatever concerns were causing the stress, which probably wasn’t all that hard; we all know how clueless and self-centered kids are! But it still requires a lot of effort, and;
They had to prevent those stresses from impacting their behavior, their moods, and their parenting.
That’s the rub. That’s the hard part. And that’s the part that I struggle with. Unfortunately it’s also the part that is most important.
I don’t want my patience to be thinner than usual, my voice to get louder more quickly, my mood to be grumpy more often. Because while they may not know why – or worse, they may assume they’re why – they can definitely tell when Dad’s unhappy or on edge, and that’s okay once in a while, but not when it’s the norm. Not when it causes them to be scared of me.
It’s not my kids’ fault that money is tight (I mean, it kind of is with all their stupid clothes and diapers and food, but I’ll allow it), it’s not my kids’ fault when Daddy’s job is frustrating and precarious, it’s not my kid’s fault when Mommy doesn’t feel great, it’s not my kids’ fault that politicians are killing the country or that January has inexplicably lasted six years or that the new season of Game of Thrones won’t even be out until 2019!
Besides, even when something is my kids’ fault, that’s usually the last thing they need to know. They’re children, they don’t deserve to be saddled with adult problems. They deserve as carefree a childhood as they can get. They’ll have plenty of stress of their own to deal with when they’re older.
Until then, it’s my job to protect them from stress for as long as I can, and that mostly means protecting them from mine. Hopefully I’ll get better at faking it. I’m a terrible actor, but I do like bourbon, so that should help.