What is it about kids that ruins everything?
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.
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.
And I’m not talking about the idealized, Hollywood-ized versions of parents and teachers, wherein the sterling adult role models teach their young charges to to Stand and Deliver; raise their kids to not kill mockingbirds; educate dangerous minds and embolden youngsters to Erin Brockovich the system. I’m talking about burnout.
First things first: I’m certainly not talking about all teachers or 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. 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.
As I said above, I can’t speak for all teachers. In fact, I can’t speak for any; I’ve only ever been a student. Teaching is a way to make a real difference, and it’s an admirable career choice; no one becomes a teacher for the money. And while I’m sure there are a fair amount of teachers who enter the profession for cynical reasons, never really get all that invested in it and therefore are never broken by it, 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: Mrs. McDonough in 2nd grade, Mrs. Anderson in fifth grade, Mr. Proto in 9th and Mrs. Delvecchio in 11th. That’s four, out of dozens. Many of them didn’t seem to like their jobs that much, or else they’d just stopped caring. Either way, most teachers don’t make it through unscathed. And neither does every parent.
The common denominator here? The shared element that is clearly to blame for the slow, steady decline in outlook on life? CHILDREN. They destroy everything. They make teachers dread going to work and they make 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.
So how do I stop this potential 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 don’t want to dread coming home from work because my son annoys me. Or dislike the person I’ve become because of the need to discipline my kid. Or 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 expect many parents that read this will do their best to encourage me, to tell me 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 pre-ordained 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.