It's Okay if You're Not Nostalgic for Parenting

I just read a load of crap titled "How a Stranger's Comment Changed the Way I Parent".

The basic premise of this mom's article is that because an older couple made a comment while she was knee deep in parental hell, she has become more understanding and reflective. This older couple's comment? "Those were the days."

This is my younger son, probably walking away from me while I'm yelling at him to come back.
This is my younger son, probably walking away from me while I'm yelling at him to come back.

So here's this mother, struggling to manage her infant child and two-year-old while on the beach during a vacation I'd guess, and she overhears this older couple and it causes her to stop and realize that everything really is wonderful and she should be more appreciative of the fact that one day she's going to be old and look back on her days as a parent and regret she didn’t live in the moment more.

Um, no.

They're looking for hypodermic needles.
They're looking for hypodermic needles.

I suspect that this mother is living in the moment just fine. It's just that living in the moment doesn't have to mean that you enjoy the moment. What this mother is failing to recognize is that these old people, who were parents once themselves I'd guess, are engaging in parenting nostalgia.

There's nothing wrong with being nostalgia, but to use it as a reason for not being grumpy about things that suck is entirely misguided. These same old people probably look back on the 1950's in the same way they look back on parenting (or maybe not, they don't have to be racists necessarily, they just have to have selective memory) - as this wonderful time where everything was flowers and billowy clouds and cute puppies. Except that in the 1950's, black people were still at the back of the bus and couldn't vote and women were barely in the work force and gay people couldn't even sniff the outside of the closet. They are also forgetting those times when their children projectile vomited all over them or poop somehow got in their mouths.

Soldiers have the same nostalgia about war. They remember their friendships and the camaraderie and the sense of belonging and being part of something. It doesn't mean people didn't die and they weren't being shot at. They're nostalgic because they survived (one survives parenting too, but I am not comparing the experiences of war with that of parenting. They are entirely different.)

Four hours of straight complaining and counting.
Four hours of straight complaining and counting.

Nothing makes the crappy things about being a parent not crappy, except maybe the passage of time. Whether it's cleaning up feces strewn across an expensive carpet or a two-year-old temper tantrum or a child that wakes up every two hours screaming at the top of his or her lungs - it doesn't really matter what the crappy thing is. It's still crappy. Fifty years from now, it will still objectively be crappy. Just because you won't remember those moments doesn't mean they didn't happen and doesn't mean that you shouldn't express some degree of frustration with them.

I'm telling you, the parent who doesn't release their anger occasionally over all the unfair, unpleasant things that happen to parents and just walks around pretending that everything is wonderful is the parent that drowns their kid in the tub.

Nostalgia is essentially the ability to forget every crappy thing and only remember the non-crappy stuff. Memory has the sometimes positive quality of erasing a lot of really mundane, intolerable things. Parenting, contrary to any nostalgic memory, is not a greeting card fantasy. It's not a tampon commercial.

A beautiful sunset like a beautiful day of parenting, is a wonderful thing.
A beautiful sunset like a beautiful day of parenting, is a wonderful thing.

There are times when I love being a dad and times when I don't like it so much. There are times when the love for my children is so deep and complex that it's overwhelming and unbelievable and other times when I think about selling the boys on the black market. It's all fine. It's fine to be nostalgic too.

What doesn't seem fine is the sudden realization that nostalgia is somehow a substitute for a normal emotional life. It's okay to hate parenting even if you're a parent. It really is. You don't have to love it all the time. You don't even have to appreciate it all the time. And you certainly don't have to be self-reflective all the time (though it helps). It's okay to hate your kids some time. Children can be little, manipulative, intolerable demons. It's not necessary to constantly imagine yourself at 100 years old missing those diaper changes and temper tantrums so that you're a better parent. You won't be a better parent.

That's not at all what you'll be missing when you're 100 years old. You'll be missing the best times and the simple times and your youth and your children's youth. And it's all okay. If you're aware of your emotions as a parent and aware of your shortcomings and try to get better and learn, you're probably doing pretty well.

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