Greetings mother’s of Burlingame (and their support staff). It is my great pleasure to communicate with you again with this, my third annual Father’s Day column. My first column explored Fatherhood Fictions. My second introduced my alter ego, Neanderdad. This year, I am writing to encourage every parent out there to know and love their parenting clichés.
Nary a discussion of my kids goes by without somebody laying some age-old parenting cliché on me. You know what I’m talking about; those pithy sayings that you get from parents of older children or grandparents, usually in combination with a smirky, you-have-no-idea smile.
I must admit, I’ve struggled against these little pearls of wisdom, intent on proving them to be, at best, incorrect, and at worst, weapons of mass condescension. But now, with the benefit of time and experience, I’ve changed my mind. I’ve come to believe that every single parenting cliché is absolutely true. However, there’s just one catch. They aren’t true in the way that they seem to be on their face. Allow me to explore three famous parenting clichés.
It’ll get easier. This is the one you get when things aren’t easier. You’ll hear this from some ‘helpful’ relative when you are insane from lack of sleep, gross from being encrusted with all manner of spilled and excreted…stuff, and sick from a deathly illness you’ve contracted from your drooly tike. Just at the point when you find yourself secretly planning to fake your own death and take up a new life under an assumed name in Costa Rica, the bearer of this humdinger of an axiom will wink at you and say, “It’ll get easier.” They are right, but mostly because if it got any harder you’d burst into flames. A note on this classic: while everybody will tell you is that parenting will get easier, nobody will ever say that it will get easy.
Enjoy it, because it doesn’t last very long. This is not an obvious one. You would think that they mean you should enjoy the parenting process because kids grow up so fast. That would be the naive interpretation. Enjoyment of the parenting process is a transitory state, appearing briefly between the more steady states of exhaustion, anxiety, insecurity and terror. What they mean is that you should enjoy ‘it’, that is, whatever you are enjoying, because the enjoyment isn’t going to last long.
For example, if you are at the park, enjoying the way your children laugh and play, then get ready. It is true that there is no greater bliss than seeing your child at that moment. But, as this bromide suggests, it doesn’t last very long. As you sit there all joy-filled and glowy, your kid has already wandered out of view to: A) eat sand B) bruise themselves on the slide C) wet themselves through a gap in their diaper D) get slugged by another kid E) All of the above.
Kids strengthen a marriage. You might just call this the ‘celebrity marriage’ cliche, because nary a People Magazine goes by without featuring an article about how some pop star and her ex-dancer husband are babying up to save their marriage. This expression is also a favorite for my wife and I. That is to say, laughing at this axiom is one of our great shared joys. And that has strengthened our marriage.
Nonetheless, this adage is, after a fashion, true. Let me explain how kids strengthen a marriage. Imagine that you break your leg. After you get the tasty morphine shot, after the doctor sets the bone, after you get the cast, after everybody at the office signs your cast, after you leg itches like crazy and you scratch it with a coat hanger, after they cut off the cast, and way after you rehabilitate your pale, shriveled leg, the place where the bone had broken has calcified over and has become much stronger. In the same way do children make your marriage stronger.
So for Father’s Day, the Rodney Dangerfield of holidays, I am hopeful that these more nuanced explanations of those famous parenting chestnuts will help fill in the gap for you between axiom and actuality. And as you venture forth on your great child-rearing adventure, I encourage you to remember that parenting is the most rewarding job you’ll ever have, so take lots of pictures of your kids, because they grow up so fast.
First Published in the Burlingame Mother’s Club Newsletter, June 2010 (membership required)