Parenting: Don’t Worry, It’s Only Forever

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Parents love regaling non-parents with stories or pictures of their children. Which is annoying to non-parents. I know, because I annoy myself when I’m doing these things except that bragging about our brilliant children is how parents explain to non-parents how it’s totally okay that we can never sleep in on a weekend ever again.

Finding wonder in being a parent seems like a simple task. And yet it’s a battle we’re fighting daily. Of course there is wonder there, right? Well, children are filled with wonder, surely. In the most mundane sense of the word, they wonder why – oh MY GOOD GOD do they wonder why. Sometimes my son asks me questions WHILE he’s asking me questions. His mouth can’t keep up with all the wonder spilling out of his head.

More importantly, children are filled with the SENSE of wonder. A slime-covered rock is as wonder-inducing as a sunrise (and sunrises are something you see a lot of as a parent). We lose that somewhere along the way as adults. As Paul Rudd says in Knocked Up, “I wish I liked anything as much as my kids like bubbles.” Parents laugh a little too hard at that scene.

Being a parent is instructing your child, “no hitting,” “say thank you,” or “inside voice,” ten ZILLION times a day. I’m so conditioned to it that one time at work someone split a cupcake with a coworker and I immediately said, “good sharing!” Being a parent is being asked for water or snacks more than you’ve ever been asked for anything in your life. It’s changing diapers at 3 AM and crawling out of your sleeping child’s room on your hands and knees in your own damn house so as not to wake the baby once he’s finally asleep and cursing at inanimate objects for making too much noise.

Speaking of noise, your life becomes noise. Sometimes when I’m driving by myself, I’ll leave the radio off and just enjoy the silence. People have told me that I’m crazy for doing so and I don’t disagree.

Being a parent is constant worry.

The world is suddenly a sharper, more threatening and more dangerous place. The worst part is that you have to let your children reach for the ring, Caulfield style. You have to let them climb playground ladders for the first time. To a casual observer perhaps it’s not that dangerous, but to a parent it’s akin to bareback riding on an enraged rhinoceros. All your worst-case scenarios that were stored in the dark recesses of your psyche before becoming a parent are laughably inadequate now that your vulnerable offspring are running around in the world.

So yeah, children are little beings of wonder, but finding wonder in being a parent presents a challenge.

There’s big wonder in things like the majesty of bringing life into this world and passing on your legacy… or WHATEVER. That doesn’t get me through the workday on 4 hours of sleep with formula on my shoulder that no one told me about.

Where is the wonder in that?

First of all, I wonder if I can possibly teach my two children all I want to. There are little things I believe in such as not wearing socks to bed, not popping your damn collar or my favorite: No, we can’t buy a selfie-stick. Why? Because they’re for morons.

Then there are the bigger things like valuing your friendships, that exercise is not a hobby, or nuggets of wisdom to pass down on how to help people or stand up for yourself. I wonder how in God’s name I’m supposed to teach all of that to them—and hidden in there is the Wonder.

All parents come to the inevitable conclusion that what you tell your children is largely irrelevant. The most infuriating piece of parenting advice is that if you want your children to be better people, you have to become a better person yourself. It’s the only parenting advice that really matters at all, despite the overflowing shelves in the parenting section at the bookstore.

That’s not some “life is wonderful” catch phrase – quite the opposite, in fact, because as a parent, your failings are no longer just your failings. You want to teach your kids to find work they love? You have to find work you love. You don’t want your kids to be smokers? You want them to wear helmets, help people, find time for reading and exercise and to appreciate healthy food? Guess what?

It’s exhausting.

I see parents who do not exist in the world outside of their role as a parent. They don’t have anything left of themselves. I understand how it happens. But to me that’s almost as bad as being an absentee parent because you’re not showing your children how to live life. You’re constantly hustling at the parenting diner and to be an effective parent, you need to be a person first.

Children teach us so damn much; the least we can do is return the favor.

One of the basic premises of martial arts is that one cannot become a master without being a teacher. Full disclosure, the most I know about martial arts is the importance of wearing a shower curtain to hide from your enemies at the costume party. However, the importance of teaching to truly know something seems valid for any discipline. You have to go deeper to bridge the gap from your knowledge to someone else’s.

Parenting is that, except for life. Under the barrage of the daily grind of school drop-offs and baths and bedtimes and questions (oh my God the questions) and any number of other selfless acts, you’re becoming a better person. You understand more of your own life while trying to teach someone else about his or hers. You see your friends differently as you watch them make their own friends. You see slime-covered rocks differently. You find strength and patience in yourself that you never knew was there.

So much of your time and energy has to be given to rearing your children, yet in the aggregate, you’re living a better life—if you just pay attention long enough to let it happen. There’s the wonder.

And now, I have to go explain how the entire universe works to my son before he explodes.

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