Monday, 1 February 2010

Some Days Are Better Than Others


IMGP1988
Originally uploaded by reuvenim
With me recently transitioning to a four day working week so I can take care of my two and a half year old Dylan on Thursdays, and with ongoing discussions I have been having with friends concerning parenthood and dealing with babies that seem overly eager to test their guardian’s patience, I thought now is a good time to re-evaluate and re-state my position on having kids and parenthood.

First, let me tell you about my actual experience during my first two Thursdays as Dylan’s sole guardian. Sure, I’ve stayed with him alone many times before, but the vast majority of these occasions were when Dylan was sick and the few exceptions to that rule were for relatively short periods.
So how did it go? "Nightmare" would probably describe things best. The morning of my first Thursday was spent with both of us trying to show the other who’s the boss: Dylan through crying and through a series of ongoing tantrums that lasted close to two straight hours and me through applying physical force to get my way once I gave up on convincing him using words or distractions. And it’s not like physical force is the ultimate answer, because you need to apply just enough force to get him dressed or change his nappy without actually hurting your dear baby while, at the same time, being completely unable to determine how much force to apply because the constant crying renders you unable to judge through vocal feedback.
In other words, imagine someone doing their best to cry into your ears for two hours straight without you being able to do much about it. That’s how much fun it is.
The second Thursday wasn’t much better. The main difference was in the timing: this time Dylan reserved his tantrums just prior to his afternoon nap and to the pre-dinner ceremonies.
Overall, the causes for the tantrums are easily identifiable. It comes down to a combination of not liking a change in routine, not liking it when things are done against his way (and by now turning the TV off is very much against Dylan’s way), and all while trying to assess the new rules of engagement brought about by the change. In short, Dylan was behaving exactly the way one would expect a human to behave under circumstances of change, only that he was using baby tactics instead of adult tactics: crying instead of, say, stalling or not cooperating.
The question then becomes how to manage things better. The trick is to do things without spoiling Dylan: I can have him sit all day long in front of the TV and he’ll be happy, but then again that’s not the point, is it? On the other hand, if I force my uncompromising way then how will I be able to fault Dylan for resisting when I would do exactly the same? As it is, the only answer I can come up with is to try again. Odds are I’m going to have another miserable Thursday this week.

Given the above, the inevitable question which I find raised quite often is – what do I make of raising children and parenthood? Is it worth it?
My answer is rather complicated but in general it hasn’t changed so originality is not to be expected. To each their own, I say, but here is my opinion as per my own personal experience:
  1. Parenthood is not rewarding under the cost/benefit framework we normally judge things by, period. I would suspect anyone telling me otherwise the same way I would suspect a used car salesman.
  2. Personally, since having a child I feel like I've grown decades older.
  3. Not only isn't child rearing rewarding, it's actually the other way around: your child is triggered, through evolution, to take as much as he/she can out of you [the parent].
  4. The loving relationship you have with your child can go a long way into compensating for the related losses. That is, when you don't feel like committing murder.
  5. Our personal experience prior to having a child has been of the “been there, done that” type, which led us to the seemingly inevitable conclusion that the next stage of our lives had to do with bringing a child to this world.
  6. Once you do have a child, there's no going back. People don't seem to realize that, the way they don't realize just how much your life changes when you have a child. You're no longer the end to all means, you're just the means.
  7. The experience one seeks when one seeks to have children is similar to any other experience and thus suffers from the reduced marginal benefit syndrome. I therefore don’t see a rational reason for me, under my own personal circumstances, to want a second child (not to mention doing my part for dealing with overpopulation, probably humanity’s biggest current problem).
  8. I view the child rearing experience as an experience similar to climbing the Everest. While you’re on the climb, you suffer and you hurt and you don’t know why you’re doing it; afterwards, you can marvel at your achievement. Trouble is, with children you keep on climbing for the remainder of your life.
  9. The best way to survive parenthood is to find the golden path where everyone, baby/child and parents, are happy. Luckily, we are there most of the time; Thursdays seem to be the main exception. An exception which should be worked upon, but if push comes to shove we can probably manage without fully addressing it (as the problem is routine based, and as routines tend to be set in a baby/child’s mind after four or so repetitions, an event that takes place only a week will always be regarded as an exception).
  10. After all rational arguments have been raised, one inevitable truth still has to be considered: We are all, each and every one of us, the descendant of a chain of billions of generations of successful ancestors. Successful in the sense that they managed to procreate and leave a descendant behind. Such a heritage cannot be trifled with: procreation is our purpose in life and, like it or not, this is what we are wired to do. Ultimately, it is why the majority of us keeps on acting irrationally and delude themselves to thinking that a child is what they need.

Now, what’s my plan of attack for this Thursday?

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