My six-year-old is a lot like me and not just in the typical ways all kids are like their parents.
After spending so much time around Mom and Buried and me and observing our behavior, he’s definitely picked up a lot of phrases and mannerisms – from both of us. But, in the same way he’s inherited my face, it seems pretty clear that Detective Munch has also straight-up downloaded my personality.
And that really sucks. I feel like I need to apologize to him.
When I complain that my son has inherited my personality, I’m not saying his personality sucks. Not exactly. I’m saying mine does.
His often does too, but not all the time, and in those instances that he’s at his worst, the things that suck are usually A) a product of his age or B) a direct result of my parentage. I can’t really blame him for either of those things. (If you really want to talk option B, we should probably take a trip to suburban Connecticut and confront my 105-year-old Grandma at her nursing him, because I’m pretty sure it all started with her.)
No, what sucks is how hard it makes my job as a father, and how much it makes me feel like an asshole.
A large part of parenting boils down to coming to terms with things. Coming to terms with the fact that your social life won’t be the same, your priorities won’t be the same, your bank account won’t be the same. More importantly, coming to terms with your own responsibilities as a parent and, like it or not, as a role model.
And coming to terms with who you really are, and if you’re cut out to raise kids.
I’m not sure most of us are, at least not right off the bat. I suppose some people are born parent material, but the rest of us have to adjust. Lately I’ve been having a hard time, and it’s partially because I’m basically raising a miniature version of myself. And I am the worst.
Like me, my son can be moody and ungrateful, stubborn and argumentative, impatient and easily frustrated. All of this at six years old! Oh, and smart-mouthed. I mean, I know I’m a wiseass but I didn’t really know the extent of it until my son started showing me. I am a tremendous wiseass! And, thanks to me, so is he.
Having children can provoke all sorts of crises in a person, and right now I’m having an existential one. Every time Detective Munch evinces an aggravating characteristic that I recognize in myself (see the above list for a few examples), I’m forced to deal with it on his behalf, as his parent. But I’m also forced to reckon with my own shortcomings. Because not only do I recognize that his most irritating personality quirks are my fault, I simultaneously become aware of my own irritating personality.
You know how terrible it is to hear a recording of your voice? Suddenly you have a different perspective on what you sound like, and all you can hear are the bad qualities, and it makes you question yourself, and how others perceive you. “That’s what I sound like?” It’s shocking, and terrifying and gross, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Welcome to parenting! It will lay you bare.
I’m moody and sarcastic. I’m defensive and easily frustrated. I’m more likely to dig my heels in and fight when I’m upset than to calm down and listen to someone else. Basically, I’m a garbage person, and nothing makes me hate myself more than seeing my son fall prey to my same weaknesses.
I know I’m being a little hard on myself. I’m not that bad. Some people seem to like me! But everything you do, and everything you are, is magnified when you have kids. It’s easy to fixate on the negatives; if I had to bet, I’d say most parents reading this question their own parenting. We all judge ourselves a little more harshly now that we have children to mold, raise, and influence, whether that influence is intentional or not. But some self-reflection needn’t be a bad thing.
When you start recognizing your worst qualities in your children, you’re faced with the harrowing three-pronged realization that 1) you have some terrible qualities, 2) it’s too late to course-correct yourself, 3) you need to do what you can to save your kids before it’s set in place.
Nothing shines a light on your behavior more than having impressionable little kids around, studying your every move, using use a template for how to act. But at least behavior is correctable! Personality is fairly immutable – unless you get struck by lightning. Or if you catch it early enough – I hope?
Unfortunately, knowing isn’t half the battle. It’s maybe a quarter of it. Because the very characteristics I want to curb in my son are only exacerbated in myself when he displays them. It’s like when two magnets with the same polarization interact. Instead of our similarities bringing us closer together, they cause us to butt heads. But it’s forced me to take a deeper look at myself, which is a good thing. Self-evaluation is always important, but when you have kids, it’s absolutely vital.
Parenting anyone is a challenging job. Parenting myself is proving downright impossible. (Just ask my dad.)