The Drudgery of a Shocking Parental Contradiction
I’ve noticed a damning indicator of the effect of children on wellness. The parent who spends more time with them in a given time period typically is in the worse mood, while the other one feels more alive but guilty.
When I’m with my kids, I find myself willing the clock to go faster to reach naptime or bedtime or schooltime. When I’m not with them, I want time to slow down and feel intense deadline pressure to enjoy, to get things done, to live. Because when they wake up, my life on a basic level gets worse.
What does this mean? I can’t seem to decipher the contradiction. How can I love my kids more than anything, but hate being with them? There is an Eminem and Rihanna song called “Love the Way You Lie” that hasn’t aged well, but the conflicting supercharged emotions speak to me.
When my kids are at school or asleep, I think of them with such fondness I sometimes need to actively resist the time suck of pulling up cute pictures of them on my phone. I love getting lost in their faces and replaying their voices and giggles in my mind.
Yet almost as soon as we’re together — I mean within minutes — the steep diminishing returns turn negative. I simply don’t need that much time with them. You can eat cheesecake for only so long.
It’s excruciating. The first two-plus hours of the day from around 6 to 8:25, spanning predawn darkness and hot Texas morning sun, feel like I’ve lived an entire life. Think about how slowly even just 60 seconds go by when assembling a three-piece puzzle with an 8-month-old, or hiding under a suffocating bedsheet from imaginary rain with a 3-year-old. It requires so much effort and tedium.
When they finally go to school, I really haven’t done anything I want to do: exercise, eat, sleep, work, crap, shower, brush my teeth, unload the dishwasher. Presumably, none of these things are more important than family time as long as I eventually get to them. But they all feel better to do in the moment rather than be imprisoned by my thoughts while supervising children.
That’s a weakness of mine exposed by parenthood. I do not have serenity. My mind is a circus. My meditation attempts are a joke.
There is a funny experiment that found a significant percentage of folks would rather give themselves mild electric shocks than sit in a room alone with their thoughts. I prefer not to deaden my consciousness with Instagram or TikTok, addictions which likely prey disproportionately on parents bored out of their minds by young offspring.
Then again I often end up repeatedly scrolling ESPN or The New York Times and concede I’m only a slightly better person in that respect. If you check ESPN frequently enough the headlines don’t change, it’s worth asking whether you’re living your best life.
Sometimes I will actually look at pictures of my kids as an escape while they’re right next to me. The implication is the idea of children and what it all means is better than the reality and day-to-day.
Like I said, I can’t figure it out and should probably outsource to experts. My buddy sent me possibly the greatest article I’ve ever read. It should interest any parent or potential parent, in other words every adult on earth.
By the way, I know a ton of people who struggled or are struggling to get pregnant. We’ve had a miscarriage. I recognize hearing me complain about healthy children might be unbearably annoying, so let me just offer two thoughts if you’re still reading: a) Never give up; I believe it will happen for you and b) Try to appreciate the extreme benefits of not having children in the meantime.
I still can’t believe in this Covid-reconfigured workforce, some people can roll out of bed at 8:57 a.m. and not be late for work. They can go to bed at 1 in the morning and still get eight greedy hours of sleep.
Plus when adults with no dependents clock out of work, they can do anything. There are no children to watch, and no tasks created or backlogged on account of the children. I mean, that’s a crazy difference in time, like living an extra 30 percent on top of uninterrupted sleep. The problem is they will never appropriately value the freedom until it’s taken away.
One of the many useful concepts in the article is bifurcating happiness into how you feel in the moment versus how you might feel thinking about your life in a rocking chair with a beer.
“I think this boils down to a philosophical question, rather than a psychological one. Should you value moment-to-moment happiness more than retrospective evaluations of your life?” — Tom Gilovich, Cornell psychologist
It’s a brilliant question. I remember a transcendent potty training episode when bedtime was dragging late, and I was hungry and tired with a million things to do. My son climbed onto the stepstool facing the toilet, pivoted 180 degrees, pissed all over the place like it was a Vegas alley, hopped off and slipped on the urine, hitting his head on the floor and triggering a tantrum.
I’m not sure this amounts to a life of purpose or meaning as referenced in the article. A more cynical view would be kids consume so much of your day, there’s no time or energy to define sources of meaning, let alone pursue them.
That’s not the Holy Grail answer to meaning in life. That’s distraction so you don’t have to confront those kinds of questions. In a way, kids are both the electric shocks and the reason why you need them.
The only email you will get from me is one post per month for free until I die or you unsubscribe. You can also reply to that email and I will reply back, thereby making us pen pals. Occasionally when candor exceeds nerve, I hide a post from the website so only trustworthy subscribers can read it.