I went into this parenting gig with almost total ignorance, and while it’s been more fun than I anticipated, I have few illusions about the trials and tribulations to come.
In fact, based on what I’ve seen from other parents throughout my life, I fully expect the goodwill I’ve accumulated – along with the optimistm inherent to the naivete of a two year parent – to be largely exhausted and potentially completely eliminated by the time my kid is 18. Maybe even sooner.
But I’m not there yet, and I’m in no hurry to be. So I keep trucking along, only occasionally stressing about the future. Best case scenario, I end up like the parents in Easy A. Worst case? I end up like a teacher.
Stay with me here. There’s a definite correlation between parenting and teaching, similarities that start with the role of children in their lives and end with how that role ultimately affects these people.
First things first: I’m certainly not talking about all teachers, or about every parent. But there seems to be something about the act of dealing with children for an extended period of time that beats a person down. That crushes dreams and drains hopes and murders happiness and genocides idealism.
I think most parents and most teachers enter their journeys with great joy, wide eyes and visions of excellence. With dreams of molding the future generation, of being great examples for kids, of benefiting from a new perspective on life as gained through innocent interactions with their young charges, and to enjoy the process every single day.
And yet somewhere down the line things go sour and there isn’t enough sweetness left to fix it.
I can’t speak for all teachers, but it seems to my totally untrained eye that many go in happy and hopeful and come out spent and jaded. I can count on one hand the great teachers I’ve had. The rest of them just didn’t seem to like their jobs that much, or else maybe they’d simply stopped caring. Either way, many teachers don’t seem to make it through unscathed.
Same goes for many parents.
Teachers get jaded, parents get frustrated, the dream is shattered. Or at least cracked a little. For teachers maybe it’s due to the sheer amount of kids one handles – kids that aren’t even related to them; and for parents maybe it’s due to the utter lack of escape available.
The common denominator here? The shared element that is clearly to blame for the slow, steady decline in a person’s outlook on life? CHILDREN. They destroy everything. They make some teachers dread going to work and they make some parents dread getting home from it.
The difference is that it’s okay, and kind of normal, to hate your job, even if you’re a teacher. But it’s not really that cool to hate being a dad. (And at least teachers get paid. Barely.)
So how do I stop parental burnout from happening to me? How do I prevent myself from becoming a disgruntled, disillusioned parent? The last thing I want is to someday hate my role as a father. Or even worse, to hate my son, either specifically for his terrible personality and/or behavior, or more generally for what having a child has done to my life. But there’s no denying that long-term exposure to kids is often hell on your emotional well-being, whether their your own or you’re just getting paid to watch them.
I fear parental burnout. I don’t want to dread coming home from work because my son annoys me. I don’t want to dislike the person I’ve become because of the need to discipline my kid. I don’t want to resent my son for needing a ride to practice or an audience for a school play or someone to play catch with. I don’t want to feel like I’ve lost control of my life.
I suspect that after reading this many parents will do their best to encourage me, to tell me that that I can avoid parental burnout, that it’s really up to me to decide how I’ll respond to the tougher aspects of the job, how I’ll bounce back when my son does some typical teenage bullshit. Many other parents will say I shouldn’t have had a kid and that I should kill myself. It’s the first group that’s right, of course; there’s nothing preordained here.
The trick is to come to terms with the fact that your life has changed. Like everything else, it’s a trade off; you take the good with the bad. And there’s no fate but what we make.
I just hope my son doesn’t grow up to be a Terminator.