New parenting trend: hating your kids

Because I refuse to write one word about swine flu here, I’m going to talk about this instead: CNN runs an essay by writer Amy Wilson about how mortified she was to discover that her third child was a girl.

I sat there in a daze. This child I was just starting to feel stir inside me was a girl? I waited for the excitement to wash over me. It didn’t come. Not only was I not thrilled — I was disappointed. I’m still not sure whether I was more bummed by how I found out or what I found out. Either way, I was shaken.

Even before I had sons, I worried about having a daughter. I could handle boys, with their cut-and-dried needs, but girls were so much more complicated. Girls have elaborate hairstyling requirements. They whine and mope, manipulate and triangulate. How was I going to deal with that?

I was ashamed of feeling apprehension about my unborn daughter. But I couldn’t shake it. What if I weren’t able to embrace what she loves? What if I couldn’t stomach daily viewings of “The Little Mermaid?”

My sons sneer at all things princess, and so do I. We love to pore over the Birthday Express catalog so the boys can plan the themes of their parties through 2013. My role in this is to gasp, “Oh, I think you should have a pink-poodle party!” “YUCK!! That’s for GIRLS!!” they shriek, and I laugh along with them. What will I do when I have someone who wants a pink-poodle party?

Thankfully, according to a postscript, Wilson got over her self-hatred and embracing of archaic gender stereotypes enough to hopefully love her daughter as much as her sons.  This essay would be merely annoying on its own, but it also happens to be one of three similar essays I’ve read just in the past two weeks.  Earlier this week, Richard Seeley of Canada’s Globe and Mail wrote an article about the “sacrifice” he made in allowing his ex-wife to have full custody of their young daughter because, well, he just doesn’t like the kid very much.

As the years went on, their bond manifested itself in frustrating ways. When my wife went back to work and was forced to be away from home on short business trips, my daughter’s waterworks would begin as we dropped her mother off at the airport and would continue for hours or even days.

By the end of the marriage, even though my little girl was mature, she still descended (in my opinion) to great theatrics in the absence of her mother. I chalked it up to a form of separation anxiety, and my tolerance of her bouts of tears decreased. I lost patience with this behaviour, and ultimately with many of her imperfections.

I became more and more of an ogre. I would snap at her. Tell her “no” sometimes for no other reason than to distinguish myself from her mother. If she got an A on a report card, I’d ask why it wasn’t an A-plus. Unconsciously, I would intimidate her. Once — I can’t even remember what she had done — all I had to do was look at her and my expression sent her running to her room, afraid of me. I never hit her, and have never contemplated any form of physical response toward her or anyone else, but what mattered was that I made her afraid of me.

Then there’s blogger Penelope Trunk, who was so offended by a random Twitter friend making a vague jab about her parenting skills that she tracked down his home phone number and attempted to call him, yet goes on to write that her kids are boring and she doesn’t really like spending any more time with them than she has to.

These women feel lost because you can love your kids and still be bored. Kids are not nonstop fun. Talking with young children is stultifying. Yes, they are funny. But in general, you have to pay attention to them every second, even though they are not really doing something every second.

And as soon as your mind wanders too far, something bad happens. For example, I took the kids on a hike yesterday, taking a coat for myself but not for them. Because I checked out. Because I wanted to think about things that are more interesting than coats. This is normal behavior. I mean, intellectuals need intellectual stimulation, and that’s not something kids give.

There seems to be a curious new trend of parents writing long, defensive, self-pitying, occasionally self-congratulatory essays about how much being a parent sucks.  Particularly in Wilson and Trunk’s essays, there seems to be something that suggests they think they’re being hip and revolutionary in saying that their kids are boring and like stupid things, when really they, particularly Trunk, just sound bitter and resentful.  It’s really a shame that Trunk doesn’t believe that her children can offer any sort of intellectual stimulation, without recognizing that that speaks volumes about her parenting skills, or lack thereof.  As for Richard Seeley, we can only be relieved that he recognized early on that he’s a bullying asshole who’s doing his daughter a favor by not spending much time with her.  Saying that he should be congratulated for coming to that realization is a bit of a reach, though.

Obviously the “bad parent” essays are coming about in direct opposition to the myth of the perfect mother, who spends every waking moment of her life in rapt attention over every word her child says, wants nothing more than to sing the theme song to Yo Gabba Gabba ad infinitum, and cleans up Kool-Aid and hot dog vomit without complaint.  It’s supposedly edgy to come out and admit your shortcomings as a parent, particularly if you’re a woman.  There are entire books written by women lamenting their “failings” as parents, such as letting their kids eat McDonald’s twice in one week or parking them in front of a SpongeBob SquarePants marathon so they can have some time to themselves to do their nails or update Facebook.  Except these aren’t “failings,” these are things that most mothers do at some point that damage their children not one tiny bit.  We’ve just been conditioned by society, the media and most dishearteningly each other to believe that they will.  So while it’s refreshing to read about other mothers who sometimes rely on TV to babysit their kids and keep a stockpile of chicken nuggets in the freezer for those nights when we don’t feel like cooking dinner from scratch with nothing but organic ingredients, as evidenced in the three essays cited above, it is possible for the pendulum to swing too far in the other direction.

I’m not saying kids aren’t boring.  They can be, but so can a lot of adults.  Personally, I’d rather spend an hour listening to a child babble about Pokemon than five minutes listening to an adult go on about American Idol.  While Amy Wilson, if her postscript can be believed, did eventually get over her sheer horror at the idea of having a daughter who might like pink things and not be a woman-hating carbon copy of her, I can’t help thinking that Richard Seeley and Penelope Trunk really didn’t want to have children at all.  There’s the real problem where social conditioning comes in: it’s still considered the norm to procreate, whether you want kids or not, and occasionally you end up with people like Seeley and Trunk, who lament how much being a parent negatively impacted their lives, with little regard to how their resentment affects their kids.  They want us to feel sorry for them, and how they didn’t get the lives they wanted, when the only people we should be feeling sorry for is their children.  You can bet they know how they feel more than the rest of the world ever could.

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3 Responses to “New parenting trend: hating your kids”

  1. Well written, and as usual, I agree with you. No, parenting isn’t a non-stop laugh-a-minute. I don’t know who would think it is. But I think part of the problem is that these parents doing the writing are losing sight of the fact that their kids aren’t just objects to be possessed, they’re actual individuals. Instead of seeing their kids as people to interact with, to talk with and learn from and teach and share the world with, they’re seeing them as time-suckers, brain-wasters.

    I tend to wonder what they’d be doing with those brains without the kids around to blame for being boring. I know I’d rather spend time talking with my son than with the chick who forgot her kids’ coats.

  2. Heather Says:

    Maybe part of the problem is that a certain generation of people were goaded into reproducing with promises of non-stop laffs and uber-fulfilling afternoons of patty-cake and nappy-naps. A lot of my friends who openly dislike children have ended up pregnant and (supposedly) ecstatic, no doubt convinced by parents or grandparents that child-rearing is the most important, glorious task they could ever undertake.

    And then, as they’re elbow-deep in their 6th diaper of the day, they realize they’ve been had. Their intuitions were right, all along, but they weren’t strong enough to resist the societal pressure to procreate. They couldn’t tune out older people’s claims of, “Oh, but it’s different with your OWN children!” and “Once you have them, you’ll love them.”

    That’s been my experience, anyway.

    That being said, Seeley is a dick.

  3. Thank you for pointing out the tremendous social pressure that pushes people inexorably toward child rearing. Because our society perpetuates the myth that life can’t be complete and fulfilling without having children, people who wouldn’t otherwise take on the responsibility and labor of parenting become reluctant moms and dads, a situation that isn’t good for either them or their children. It’s time we stopped idealizing child rearing and insisting that people can’t be happy, well-adjusted adults without having kids. Children are not some miracle cure for adult immaturity, discontent, or loneliness; instead, they often bear the fallout of these problems in their parents’ lives. The choice to remain child-free needs to be legitimized as much as the choice to reproduce so that people who aren’t cut out to be parents won’t leave a legacy of misery to their innocent families. Besides, if they really are the intellectual titans Trunk makes them out to be, it would be in society’s best interest for them not to waste their towering intellects at home.

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