You know, the parent who annoys you before you have children…or before you have as many kids as they do. In your eyes, they get it all wrong.
How could they do that?
Why don’t they just do this?
For myself, I can chase personal guilt back to an observation of “failed” discipline at a nice restaurant early in my first pregnancy. The scene was Silicon Valley, and the parents were older (a cultural norm in the Bay Area). They have no control, I remember thinking to myself. Their unwillingness to face the little giant in the high chair really got under my skin. Before you have children, you can really believe you have all the answers.
But if you are a parent long enough, a realization will stop you in your tracks. In my case, I had to accept an uncomfortable reality: my kids are their own people. They won’t always behave at dinner – no matter how much money or effort you expend.
And, in due time, I did that thing I said I never would.
I learned to let little things go.
So why, then, do we become the people we used to judge so harshly? I believe it’s because parenting is built on a foundation of love, and, quite frankly, love isn’t rational.
Before we become parents, we see a linear path to results. Work hard in college, earn the degree. Work hard in your career, earn the promotion. Work hard in your hobby, earn the bragging rights.
But parenting has this swift way of kicking us in the teeth. It all starts with labor. Babysitting, books, and birthing classes – as it turns out – don’t prepare you for the pain or emotions that accompany your little one’s epic arrival.
From their first breath, you realize you know nothing. There is no straight path. You’re screwed. And, unbeknownst to you, the magical growing in parenting most often arises from errors. Lots of errors. But we figure out how to cope with the uncertainty.
Why did that father dust off his child’s dropped pacifier? Because he is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and this is a decision that will allow him to hold on for five more minutes.
Why is that mother supplementing so early? Because she is battling mastitis and a child who – no matter what she tries – won’t latch. She loves her child so much that she wants him to be fed.
And why are those parents at the nearby table allowing their child to scream? Because they are so sleep deprived that their brains cannot offer a solution that will satisfy the childless couple to their left.
Somewhere deep down, I knew my own public embarrassment was on the horizon.
Of course, it all feels like a distant memory now – my pre-baby self tackling the world’s problems with ease.
Take, for example, this week’s crisis: my daughter shoplifted. There’s nothing innocent about a one-and-a-half-year-old snagging a dog toy before exiting a department store. What could I do?
“I’m sorry, my little girl took this,” I uttered in disbelief to the cashier. He only smiled in reply with an extended hand.
Indeed, pride is the price we pay for parenting.
One Year Ago: A Glowing Reminder