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There’s a Storm Coming

6 Aug

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.

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6 Responses to “There’s a Storm Coming”

  1. mrajya August 7, 2012 at 12:54 am #

    Congratulations on having the rare courage and honesty to say what you do — Ive been mulling over similar thoughts for months and have not known how to put them without somehow doing ‘damage’ to my soon to be three toddler girl or my own integrity as a mum.

    I think you are absolutely, absolutely right in comparing the two roles — that of parents and teachers — as well as in naming the consequence of being fully and wholly responsible nearly all the time for children big and small — burn out.

    The only thing one can do, given the fact that we are indeed parents to our children is seek out as much help as possible from those willing to give us a break whether on a daily basis or weekly basis.

    And to lower our guard and let friends and family and neighbours help us replenish our energies on a regular basis.

    • Dad and Buried August 7, 2012 at 9:38 am #

      Thanks!

      The scariest part is that I – like most parents – am aware of the potential for burnout and am already anxious about it, even though I’m only two years in.

      It doesn’t help that we live away from most of our family and don’t have as much support as many of my friends do. But I think it’s normal to sometimes feel overwhelmed, and so long as you allow yourself to feel that way without persecuting yourself for it, and you manage to give yourself a respite or two – via your spouse or daycare or a babysitter – it is manageable.

      Of course, I’m speaking as the father of a two-year-old. When he’s 15 I may need help from a SWAT team.

  2. I'mMyOwnStar August 7, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    The thing about you is, unlike most parents who come into the roll with this psychotic expectation that they are God’s gift to children and are supermom/dad, you are real. You see the potential issues ahead and you do what you can to prevent it. All of us parents will make mistakes. As long as we don’t beat ourselves up and hate ourselves for it, we and our children will be ok. I think you’re a great father (from what I’ve read) and your kid will think you’re hilarious when he’s old enough to know and slightly appreciate it.

    I’m going back to school in two weeks to finish up my degree in high school education in Language arts….Thanks for the burnout notice! lol

  3. Bill Peebles August 7, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    I have been suffering from ‘parental burnout’ for the last few weeks. Honestly, it can seriously wear you down; a hot summer, a small house, pockets that are very shallow and two strong-minded, active and overly sensitive seven-year-old boys. Sometimes, I am sorry to admit, I lose my temper and, well, I yell. I trained as an actor and I can yell, we call it ‘big voice,’ and it’s very effective. And then I apologize because I frightened them.

    And then I feel like shit and watch baseball and drink beer and cry a little…

  4. Nina August 8, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    This is the second blog post I read today on parents’ honesty about how difficult this job is! I think there’s a stigma that we’re supposed to love this job all the time, and the quicker we can accept that that’s not true, then the saner we’ll be. I don’t suggest we all hate being parents, but I think it’s healthy to admit that it isn’t always so great, and there are many, many days where you’d rather be doing something else, or pine for your pre-kids days. I think that’s normal. After all, a teacher can quit; parents (usually) can’t. We’re stuck, so we have to find ways to figure out how to get through it.

    For me, the biggest help has been accepting that life is different. I noticed that when I was trying to still maintain my life before kids, that’s when I was at my worst. I just had to accept that going out to restaurants isn’t going to be so easy anymore; I won’t have as much time, I won’t have a clean house as often as I’d like. Letting go of the expectations has helped me accept this new life, so that when we do go to a restaurant, I’m pleasantly surprised when it actually turns out all right.

    p.s. Thanks for the link 🙂

    • mrajya August 9, 2012 at 12:46 am #

      Nina you are so right — the predominant discourse about parenting is a bit like that around teaching that it’s all noble, deeply satisfying and something you should never ever whine about.

      I find Ive come to a point where I can no longer crack being the stay at home and working from home mum — I crave a space which is my own, a few friends and colleagues to bitch about life with and some time out out out — and I think both my little one and I are going to be happier for it.

      Thanks for writing what you do — makes me feel less demonic!!!

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