For the past two weeks I had been working on writing something clever and insightful about how different it is to interact with my children now that they’re older. Yes, I said “older.” They’re seven and nine.
Are they different kids than four years ago? Of course. So, however, am I.
Ten years ago, long before children were on the radar for my wife and me, we had met a wonderful couple who happened to be from Sweden. That detail really doesn’t add much to the story, except for the little bit of caché of my being able to say “look, I had a friend from Sweden.” And yes, they were both blond and beautiful.
Well this beautiful couple from Sweden also had a four year-old girl. One weekend we spent a lot of time with this family: the couple and the four year old. We all had a very good time but as Saturday afternoon approached, the couple had noticed the looks on our faces as we watched this three foot tall whirling dervish with short blond hair.
“They don’t come out this way,” said the husband. The wife laughed.
Both my wife and I chuckled, and looked at each other, embarrassed that we had been discovered, or that the looks on our faces were that obvious.
Trying to dodge the obvious, my wife asked, “what do you mean?”
The husband continued, “Kids. They don’t come out this way. When your first child is born you look at each other and wonder what you’ve all gotten yourselves into. Everything is new for all of you. Everything. Which is what is so exciting and wonderful about having a child.”
Just as he finished this gushing testament to the joys of parenthood, their daughter came flying back outside, tripped, and banged her elbows on the their deck. Screaming ensued, and just as quickly as the trauma had begun, it ended and she was running around again, unfazed by the two new band-aids on her elbows.
My wife and I were shell shocked, but at least our fears had been recognized, and we were able to laugh with our friends about them. Yes, laugh. Maybe this innocuous moment inadvertently shaped how I would approach parenting, but our friends were very conscious about how asinine the process of parenting could appear to adults, married adults, without children.
Stop and really look at what we do, at how far we stray from our egocentric needs when attempting to be responsible parents. Aren’t there those days when you would like to just not be a parent? I’m talking about something that is practically impossible to do. I’m not talking about taking a day or a week off. I’m not talking about periodic vacations away from your children: something my wife and I believe is essential to a healthy marriage. I’m talking about turning off that hard-wiring that always has thoughts about your children swirling in the back of your mind.
Responsible parenting often means that those little progeny influence almost everything you do. Your career choices. How you approach your career. Your recreational choices. Even when the activities you perform do not involve your children, they influence how you make decisions about how you go about your activities.
So does this mean that I never wanted to have children, and that I’d love to find a way around its current overwhelming level of responsibilities? No. Though I have to admit that regardless of how prepared I thought I was for being a father, I had absolutely no I idea what I was getting myself into. Three years into fatherhood, after our second child was born, I called my mother for both support and to chastise her for not telling me what we were really getting ourselves into.
After some laughing – at my expense – about how asinine parenting can be – not taking a shower for three days as I, the stay-at-home father figured out how to chase my kids around the house, keep the safe, not use the TV as a babysitter, and clean the house, which I was not good at doing before kids or at any other time in my life – we agreed that if the bulk of prospective parents truly knew what was ahead for them, the human race would come to a grinding halt.
Parenting is hard.
I am not, in any way, like the man I was ten years ago. But – rationalization aside – I’m much more happy with the man I am today, than with the man I was in my 20s. My friends find it funny that I am the disciplinarian in our family, but that’s more of a product of necessity given our family’s unorthodox structure: me at home, and my wife earning the lion’s share of income coupled with her heavy travel schedule.
Curiously, however, I still find myself surprised at every turn of our children’s physical, mental, and emotional development. Thankfully, for my own sanity, the rate at which their changes have occurred has slowed to a mild trickle, from the torrent it was when they were both under four years-old.
I just hope that I never stop being surprised by my children, their changes, and everything they have brought to my life.