Being a dad is the best thing I have ever done. I love it. I love playing with my kids, I love seeing them grow and learn. They make me smile more than anything else in the world. I have been blessed with two boys who I am extremely proud of. They are kind, well-mannered, thoughtful and considerate young men who I can (generally) trust to do the right thing. I know that both of them are going to be far better men than I am and that is all I can ask. I would not change my boys or my parenting experience for anything.
But let’s be honest. Parenting sucks. There are the obvious suck factors. There are the financial strains. The sports fees, clothes, toys, gas for chauffeuring and the occasional feedings are mind-boggling. I could be quite well off without my financial parasites.
There are the endless hours of crappy television. Sitting through hours of performances to see your kid do something of 180 seconds. Favorite clothes ruined by vomit, feces, or jelly. Property destruction. Barney. The realization that you haven’t had a non-kid conversation with your wife since Bush was in office. Sleep deprivation. The Talk. Realizing your kids can stomp you in MarioKart. Dinner battles. Homework Wars. Jar Jar. Suck, suck and suck.
However, this single thing that sucks most about parenting is having to let my sons fail. I disagree with a lot of people who rush to rescue their kids from failing, work hard to avoid putting their children in situations that are uncomfortable or simply refuse to let their children be wrong. Don’t get me wrong. It breaks my heart to see my kids fail or become frustrated with something. I turn into a neurotic mess when I drop them off at something that they are not familiar with and count the minutes until I pick them up again. I hate it more than any other aspect of parenting but I know I have to do it.
I do not want to raise boys who do not know how to cope with failure, who are scared of the uncomfortable or do not know how to handle adversity because I have shielded them from it. I screw up every single day. Frankly, it’s more of an hourly habit for me. I fail at parts of my job, as a friend, as a husband, and as a father. Guess what happens? I try fix it and move on because I’ve learned how to deal with failure. I certainly get enough practice.
Life is going to be uncomfortable for my kids. At some points, things will go south. Friends will betray them. People will fail them. They will screw something up and it will be nobody’s fault but their own. And let’s be honest. James looks exactly like me and Ben acts exactly like me. That means they are both doomed to some pretty spectacular dating failures in the next few years. It’s going to happen. I hate it, but it’s true. However, when it happens, I do not want it to be like falling off a cliff. Maybe more of a bump on life’s hill.
One of my worst parenting experiences was watching Ben not make a soccer team he wanted. I saw the try-outs. I knew he was not gonna make it but I watched his face and saw the exact moment he realized his number was not going to get called. It broke my heart. Not because he came up short, but because I had to watch him hurt. Watching him hold the tears until the parking lot and listening to him cry in his bedroom killed me. I hugged him, talked to him, or just sat with him for what felt like forever. No part of me wants to put him in that position again, but in three months I will. Every part of me wants to either drop him at try-outs and pick him up at the end or make my wife, Jasmine, take him, but I will do it. I will do it because in the greater scheme of things, the results of the try-out will not matter but Ben being in position to learn how to handle failures, as well as success, does matter.
I think the reason I hate it so much is that it’s taken me thirteen years of parenting to realize the stupid “This hurts me more than it hurts you” cliche has some merit. My kids rebound fast but it takes me longer to get over seeing them struggle. If you were to ask Ben today about not making the team he had hoped for he would say, “That sucked. Can I make some popcorn?” On the other hand, it has been eight months and I still feel a little physically sick when I write about watching his reaction to being placed on a different team. I have started to wonder if the reason so many parents will not let their kids be uncomfortable is really for the parent to avoid having to witness it. I wonder if the “rescue” is really a selfish act? I don’t know.
Most parenting “sucks” really are not that bad. I’m OK being home on St. Patrick’s Day writing a stupid blog instead of being out. Being impaled by Lego is part of the job. Seeing nothing but animated movies for a decade is a small price. If I could give up one part of parenting, it would be having to watch my boys work through adversity without swooping in to rescue them. However, if that were the case, I feel like I would not be helping them. I truly believe that letting them experience and work through bumps along the way will help them better deal with some of the inevitable tough times life with throw their way. Doesnt’ mean I have to like it though.