Being a parent is a grand adventure, sure, but there’s a flipside to all that shock and awe that I think I can finally articulate.
Parenting imbues you with a newfound sense of insecurity, shellacking it on thick and gaudy. It’s like high school all over again, only instead of zits, you get wrinkles.
Insecure about what? Try everything. Feeling like you’re no longer cool (you’re not, BTW, but no parent is; hey, at least maybe you were cool once). The world seems to be raging on, people recounting barroom anecdotes, critiquing art films, talking international politics. And all I can contribute is a story of that time I changed my son’s diaper in the airplane bathroom and, get this, as I was doing so, he started pooping anew, yeah, I know, right? and I held my hand under the diaper and caught that turd like Ricky Henderson would a blooper to left. Yeah. Suddenly, guests were tired.
You feel like your friends are treating you differently—some better, most worse. Some friends are genuinely uncomfortable around babies (as I certainly was), but instead of respecting that, you find yourself adopting a staunch ‘Love me, love my baby’ policy.
Though it may be paranoia, you feel less invited to things, less involved, less likable. Tired, complainy, boring, dare I say old? The more you feel that way, the less you reach out (as friendship is still a two-way street); you sequester yourself in baby jail.
And then there’s that. Any time spent with the baby must be “quality time.” Which means what, exactly? Am I playing with him enough? Reading to him enough? Am I doing enough gross motor skills practice? Anytime he’s awake, you feel like you should be interacting, teaching, mentoring. Parenting. But you’re so tired, and you still have to wash the dishes, fix a sandwich, go shopping, etc. You feel guilty doing the crossword or writing or watching Oprah—anything you enjoyed B.C. You feel like you could and should always be doing more.
There’s also the endless opinions or “advice” from family, friends and random parents on your sanitation practices, nap lengths, educational toys, you name it. Once we went to a new restaurant that was so hip it couldn’t spell high chair, the host gave us The Look as soon as we walked in. Hey, we have just as much right as anyone to dine there, right? Defiantly, we took a table and endured an hour’s worth of judgy glares (imagined or not) to the soundtrack of whining baby. And the worst part was, they were right—we didn’t belong there. We certainly didn’t have a great time either. Lose, lose.
It’s much worse than high school, though; high school is a cruel but comparatively short phase. And unlike high school, it’s not just about me—it’s my parenting skills constantly on display, which is much more anxiety-inducing. Nobody blames a rowdy runt for his tantrum; it’s the product of lousy rearing every time.
It’s really more a matter of audience than anything. People without kids might have a hard time relating to you, but it’s on you to adapt. Art films and international politics are less your milieu right now; solid food schedules and teething and stroller brands are more your forte. You can relate to that. So find your audience, meet some parents to embrace your poopy diaper stories. They might even one-up you. And they just might make you feel like you’re not doing such a bad job after all.