Is there anything worse than listening to a parent brag about how his six-year-old has the basketball skills of Michael Jordan, or tech skills that promise to make him into the next Steve Jobs? What about the parent who complains incessantly, claiming that survivors roaming the earth after the Zombie Apocalypse would have it comparatively easy?
Put two parents in the same room, and they’re bound to start venting about the difficulties of growing littles into bigs. Actually, put one parent in a room with a non-parent and you’re still going to get the same spiel, if not with a little more floridity. That’s especially so if said littles are under 10 years old, a notoriously difficult stage of hands-on parenting, and then again after about 14 years old, when puberty, driving, high school, and college enter the mix.
This state of affairs is annoying for parents’ friends, but there are good reasons they feel this way. Leave it to two parents— with two spouses and seven kids between us—to explain why this happens, and how to navigate annoying parent-speak.
A Mother’s View
As a mom of four kids younger than eight, I find parenting exhausting, all-encompassing, and some days even grueling. It’s a 24/7 circus without cotton candy; an ever-evolving, never-ending juggling act between school and sports, music and art, manners and spirituality, rest and work. Remember the New York Times Magazine story: “All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting?” It cited a 2004 study that ranked childcare 16 out of 19 pleasurable activities.
As much as we love our children and it almost pains us to say this, some days we’re inclined to agree. It makes being chief poop-shoveler at the zoo or bouncer for the Kardashian Strip Club look more fun and relaxing.
What a Dad Says
Kids combine the destructive power of a troop of cocaine-addled gorillas with the listening skills of a boulder rolling down a steep hill. They also contain the boulder’s destructive power, but none of the gorillas’ sign language skills. This can be entertaining unless you’re trying to accomplish things like not setting money on fire via throwing away pounds and pounds of partially chewed foodstuffs.
Then they look up at you with those sweet little faces, say, “I love you, Dad,” and smash your crotch as they come in for a hug. As you writhe on the floor in pain, wondering how you retained enough testicular health to father more than one, another senses your weakness, stomps over, and keeps you occupied while the other two go off to rampage elsewhere without supervision.
What a Mom and a Dad Say
We complain about parenting being hard because…it is hard. We didn’t think it would be. One of us hadn’t given any thought to it at all other than how it would affect his, er, recreational activities. We became parents before it was cool to write listicles explaining “5 Things No One Tells You About Being a Parent.”
We thought being a parent meant shuffling kids to a few soccer games, playing at the park, then eating popsicles. Who knew it involved absurd numbers of dirty diapers, emergency C-sections, emergency-room visits, 4 a.m. wake-up calls, hospital bills, toddler tantrums, potty training, blood-pressure-raising close calls and endless hours of negotiating over ponytails, Legos, and tea parties? We haven’t even navigated puberty, driving, or dating yet.
My Kids Are So Amazing, Other Moms Should Feel Shame
Parents read other parents’ Facebook posts and pound their virtual fists empathizing (and laughing) with dads like this one, who discovered his toddler boys had managed to cover themselves, head to toe, in paint. Nothing creates solidarity more than parents sharing in another parent’s miserable parenting experience.
Yet few things create more hatred, sarcasm, and jealousy among parents and non-parents alike than the parents who brag on their children’s character or achievements as often as they update their Facebook status (which happens about 15 times per day).
Everyone has seen the Instagram pictures of five-year-olds playing violins like Yo-Yo Ma, three-year-olds writing novels better than Jane Austen, and six-year-olds playing golf better than Tiger Woods.
I (Nicole) enjoy my children and think they are loads of fun (and work) but nothing makes me roll my eyes more than scanning a post that reads: “I had the best-est, most awesome-est day ever with my three gorgeous, funny, amazing children who made me breakfast in bed, laughed and played all day with me amidst colorful rainbows and delicate butterflies and who then recited the Twenty-Third Psalm for me while doing their chores and tucking themselves in at 8 p.m. sharp.”
You’re All a Bunch of Filthy Liars
My (Rich’s) absolute favorite thing parents claim is sleep. Children’s sleep patterns also resemble the cocaine-addled. But not your precious spawn, no. Little Megatron was sleeping through the night from the moment you brought him home. “He didn’t get up to feed?” “Well, yeah.”
Let me break this down real simple for you: all babies do is eat and sleep. When someone else tells you his little Sif constantly got up at night, that’s why. It wasn’t to do calculus and prepare for lacrosse. If your baby got up to eat, that’s not sleeping through the night.
Similarly, spare us all your wonderful stories about how much your kids love delicious, healthy food. We all know it would be more cost-effective to serve them fake food. Failing that, there is Go-Gurt, which makes up about 90 percent of my three-year-old’s body.
Or once my middle daughter ran off in Walmart and came back chewing. I asked the obvious question: “What are you eating?” “Chicken.” She had found a piece of popcorn chicken on the ground. And she ate it. She was never happier. Please, though, I stand ready, waiting, and with bated breath, to hear about your young one’s love of quinoa and kale smoothies.
Finally, your kids are terrible. They’re all terrible. Sure, there are various wonderful moments when time stands still and they act obedient, precious, and adorable, and which prevent us from selling them to a traveling circus, but those are the exception to the rule, not the rule.
Maybe You Can Handle the Truth
Why do we brag so much if we know it’s annoying our friends and angering our enemies? Well, little human beings can be amazing. We get it. As soon as we lay our eyes upon those tiny packages of baby skin belting out newborn cries, our nature takes over as moms dab their wet eyes with emotion.
Dads have more range here because a baby’s limited repertoire isn’t really that interesting. Some dads really get into it; others await the growing destructive force that will be unleashed.
In either case, children are to parenting what a great red is to a vineyard. You take some gnarly vines and fertile soil and produce this wonderful thing, albeit one that needs to age. We are dumbfounded and left genuinely beaming with pride. Then the nurses abandon you and reality hits.
So why do we go on about that soccer goal or violin prowess? Three reasons.
For some parents it’s because we have no idea what we’re doing. The steering wheel is in our hands, but we’re really just along for the ride and hoping for the best. We share these amazing stories because earlier that day siblings were head-butting each other for fun. Showing off when we can offers us the ability to surmise we are doing it right and aren’t actually clueless. It’s not a humblebrag, it’s genuine surprise, and we want to share.
For others it’s because they live vicariously through their children, and they feel a baffling, almost-unhealthy sense of pride when those children accomplish something. It’s not little Megatron who just hit a homer, it’s mom and dad.
The third group of parents enjoy their children and realize they are individual humans with their own strengths, weaknesses, joys, and fears, and feel genuine pride when they excel at their natural gifts. We know a lot of parents who reside in one of the first two camps; the third is the ideal, but much harder to reach.
Or maybe not if you take a look at what just happened to the guest bathroom.