The Parent Paradox

This post is a reminder to myself. Feel free to read it if you like, but it’s mostly for me. I can’t guarantee you’ll get anything out of it, but if you happen to, then hey, that’s just gravy.

Since I’ve begun venturing out into the world more with my daughter, seeking social enrichment for her at parks, grocery stores, and other public places, I’ve come into contact with a number of other parents and their children. And in every one of my observations of them, whether that’s how they play at the park together or how they react when their child steals the toy of another’s, the same question runs through my mind:

Does everyone else not really know what the fuck they’re doing, or is that just me?

I know, I know; the reality of this is much less absolute than I’m making it. I’ve learned a lot about how to be a fair, level-headed parent over the past sixteen months, infinitely more than I had when this whole adventure began. But I can’t help but wonder if there’s some kind of Parent Paradox — a fallacy that, despite having enough knowledge about raising a child to successfully bring it from home to a public place, in one piece, with all of its clothes on, one set of parents don’t really know what’s going on any more than the others do.

I know I’m assuming a lot, mostly off the assumption that all other parents have their shit together better than me. They seem to know, intuitively, and with confident certainty, when to back off, when to move in, when to scold, and when to simply brush it off, whereas my knee-jerk reaction to every situation that interferes with another sacred bond between parent and child is to:

  1. Disengage
  2. Apologize
  3. Remove from situation

But the other parent is never angry with us. No one is offended or hurt or… anything. A situation like one kid falling on another is just something that happens between children, and parents are the ones who have to deal with it. And I’m not sure how to? Like most things, I haven’t consulted a guide book for any of this shit.

So my assumption is that just because you have a kid you’re supposed to know how to take care of it. I mean, yeah, that’s your responsibility as a parent, and you absolutely should know that. But this idea assumes that that knowledge is somehow inherent, that you are granted the powers of child-rearing simply upon her birth.

That’s not how it works at all. So why do I think it?

To make this easier to digest, I’ve taken to comparing it to drumming, since that’s the only thing I can really say with any amount of confidence that I’m skilled at. I didn’t obtain the ability to play double bass and single stroke drum fills just from holding a pair of sticks or sitting behind the kit. The skills didn’t magically bestow themselves upon me; I had to work really, really hard at them for years. In fact, it took a lot of simply playing drums, sometimes through aimless practice without any real direction, to build up a solid foundation of skills, knowledge, and endurance. I’ve been playing drums for fifteen years, and I still have lots to learn and things I can improve.

So when I look at something like the everyday challenges of public parenting, I need to make an effort to reassess what’s going on. Maybe the other parents are “better” at the gig because they’ve practiced more. Maybe they’ve had more kids, or have done their research, or have socialized more, or have spent more time socializing with kids than I have. And since I’ve done none of those things for very long, maybe it’s time to step it up.

I look to my wife for natural parenting like I used to look to the drum gods of my youth. I know she’s spent a heck of a lot more time around kids than I have, so of course her skills and general know-how seem much more natural.