Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Pile of Parental Smugness Under the Christmas Tree

To those of you who celebrate, Merry Christmas (a day late)! I hope you had a joyous day as I did.

We spent Christmas with my family at my parents' house (yes, my mother and I ended our estrangement and things seem to be going well so far). My entire family was there - my 2 brothers and their wives/girlfriends, their children (4), my parents and us...a total of 12 people.

The presents were piled high and the children, of course, were extra riled up in anticipation of opening their gifts. As is always the case, my hubby gets them even more riled up by roughhousing with them and being the crazy uncle who is throwing himself on the floor, playing "karate" with them and doing other shenanigans - anything to get them to laugh.

At one point, my brother Ron, my sister-in-law (the other brother's wife) and I were standing in the kitchen observing my hubby and three of the kids in the full throes of chaos. One of the kids had gotten an Indiana Jones whip as a present - a soft (harmless) whip that makes a real whipping sound when it makes contact with someone. So my nephew Anthony was whipping hubby and hubby was reacting like he was really getting whipped - falling over and making silly, pained faces. All of the kids were laughing, but the one laughing the hardest was my youngest nephew, Bobby, who is 2 1/2. He was laughing so hard, he was to the point of hysterics and his belly laughter had all of us in stitches. He was doubling over and holding his stomach each time hubby was whipped. Within moments the entire family was watching and being entertained and were laughing as hard as Bobby.

And then, my brother Ron (the father of the laughing toddler) said (obviously for my benefit), "this is the kind of thing that makes having a kid all worth it. It can be hard sometimes but moments like this make it all worthwhile."

Because I am keeping peace in the family and am careful to do NOTHING to cause any problems whatsoever, I said nothing but continued to smile and laugh at the scene before us. I simply did not respond.

What I wanted to say was this: "Well, I am getting just as much enjoyment from this moment as you, yet I do not have any of the burdens of being a parent. I win!!!"

But seriously, I just have to shake my head sometimes at the rationale people give for having kids. People love to rationalize that undertaking a life of burden, sacrifice, never-ending work, financial strain, marital strain, relinquishment of friends, hobbies and interests is worth it to get the rare moments like this - when one can experience the joy of watching his child laugh hysterically at his crazy uncle - a benefit that one can just as easily enjoy by watching other peoples' kids in situations like this (particularly if the kids are loved ones) or (as hubby says) by renting Three Stooges videos. My heart was bubbling over with just as much joy as my brother while watching Bobby's fits of belly laughter and yet my brother felt compelled to make a point that his joy was somehow superior to mine because he is the one who reproduced.

The irony of the situation, of course, is that it was hubby - a childfree person - who was the one to elicit said infectious laughter from the tot, not either of the parents. It is precisely because we are childfree that we are not jaded by the day-to-day grind of childrearing and are therefore more fun and engaged with the kids. Kids are a novelty to us and we, as fun grownups who enjoy kids and who are still in touch with our inner child, are a novelty to our nieces and nephews. We joyfully engage with them and play with them on their level, while the parents look on and feel grateful for a moment of rest.

So my brother feeling superior for being a parent was laughable, but I was proud of myself for having the self discipline to keep my mouth shut when I could have just as easily smacked him down and put him right back in his place. I just smiled and let him have his moment of smugness. If it makes him feel better, good for him. He needs the reinforcement more than I do, and I am well aware that it will be just a blink of an eye before that adorable, giggling toddler will be a sullen, backtalking teenager. We'll see who's feeling smug then.


flamencokitty said...

"it will be just a blink of an eye before that adorable, giggling toddler will be a sullen, backtalking teenager. We'll see who's feeling smug then."

Amen! I wonder who the kid'll be confiding in though, when he's a disgruntled teen and sick of his parents?...probably childfree auntie and uncle ;-)

redwings19 said...

while I agree with you (and experience the EXACT same thing each holiday), it could be one of those "thinking out loud" moments our siblings have. your brother could have been too tired to think and didn't realize it was a thought that should have been an "interior" thought. I know my sister is at that point with her kids.

Happy Holidays!

Zazzu said...

So giving up money, leisure time, sex and energy ALL the time are worth a few moments of seeing your kid laugh? Doesn't sound like a fair trade to me.

My hat's off to you for keeping your mouth shut. I wouldn't have been able to, but I think it was the right thing to do at that moment. :)

familyof2 said...

It could be that his comment reflects your brother doing his own convincing that he loves being a father. To say "this is what makes it all worth it" can reveal an undertone of unspoken regret....which most parents are unwilling to admit, but are more willing when they can do it anonymously...! ~L

CFVixen said...

It kind of sounds like he was trying to prove something to he doesn't quite believe it either!

Dave said...

I think you could have responded in a way which would have pleased yourself without having it sound like a smackdown.

"Well, [hubby and] I are getting just as much enjoyment from this moment as you."

The first part of what you wanted to say would have been enough to get that point across without it appearing snarky.

Robin said...

I actually look forward to my brother having children so I can enjoy them.

firefly said...

I would have asked innocently, "Makes WHAT all worthwhile, Ron?"

The older I get, the more I realize that if an activity isn't inherently rewarding (yeah, I like the endpoint, flowers, but I also get into digging in the dirt and being outdoors, so gardening itself is fun), it's probably not worth the effort.

Waiting around for a payoff doesn't erase the grunge work. Every time one of my cats gets on my lap and purrs, I don't say, "yeah, this makes scooping the litter pans twice a day ALL WORTH IT."

Life is too short to spend most of it suffering just for a few moments of perceived glory.

Dave said...

Given that you say the comment was 'obviously for your benefit' I'm guessing there are other family dynamics involved so in that situation I can believe the smugness aspect.

Absent that inside knowledge however I don't think I would take such a comment to be smug or judgmental in any way. More like redwings19 said, just a moment of thinking out loud.

If I climb a mountain with two other people and while we're sitting at the top looking at a beautiful scene they each say different things like...
"Isn't God's creation grand?"
"Now this is what life is all about."

If I'm an atheist whose focus is my family rather than the great outdoors and mountain climbing I'm not going to take those two things as proselytizing or judging my priorities in life. It was just those two people talking out loud about what's important and meaningful to them about the moment they're experiencing.

In your brother's case it could be that those moments of hysterical laughter really do make all the poopy diapers and temper tantrums worth it to him.

Again, you have the insider knowledge about the dynamic between yourself and your brother, so in your situation I completely agree. In the larger picture though I just don't think every similar comment necessarily reflects smugness or a subconscious attempt by the parent to convince themselves they really did make the right choice to have kids.

Anonymous said...
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Christy said...

My brother says this to me, too. Most of the time I think it means, "Please, please stop thinking I am a complete and total idiot for having and keeping these wretched beasts." Less often it means, "Please consent to have some of these because we have no girls and we would like to experience that vicariously through you." I now see how it can be used for smugness, though. I like firefly's comment! I've really been there for most of my nephews lives, so I like to say things like, "Remember the time that X screamed unabated for the first one and a half years of his life? Bet you wish you could get those years back!" Really innocent like.

Also, Childfreeee, first time commenting but a long time lover of your blog! Keep it coming!

Wag the Dog said...

Who knows how such comments are really intended? Is it a better-than-thou claim? Do the parents view the time childfree siblings get to have fun with their children as "charity" to "poor poor childless" couples?

If they see the joy in a child's face as a dividend for a long term investment, and that the childfree are not making that investment but get to share in the dividends at Christmas time, then such comments can even be intepreted as being "this is not fair!"

I'm wondering if this is why I simply do not enjoy the company of kids any more. Parents view the fun as a sort of compensation that I should not deserve since I haven't suffered the same pains that they did.

Paula Knight said...

My partner has the same talent with our friends' children and people have often told him he would make a good parent. He disagrees - just because you are able to give an hour or two of unfettered energy to a child who is not your own, doesn't mean you would be always have that energy. The very reason he has that to give, is probably because he isn't a parent! As for being worth it, children are surely a huge investment you should never expect any return from.

Fanboy Wife said...

You really do win!

Retired Syd said...

I just found your blog from an old Penelope Trunk post. So nice to see a comment I could actually relate to! (After reading the one about how people that don't want kids are just selfish people who shouldn't procreate anyway, blah, blah, blah . . .) Nice to come here and not feel like I have to strangle someone.

My husband is much like yours, really enjoys playing with our nephews (I'm not so much into that.) The family is always saying, "Doug, you enjoy playing with them so much, I just don't understand why you didn't want kids." To which he ALWAYS answers, "these ones I can give back when I'm done having fun."

Anyway, you have a new subscriber.

Childfreeeee said...

I was thinking the same thing. Also, since homosexuality occurs in nature (in the animal kingdom), the argument that it is "unnatural" is not valid. And let's not forget that we, as childfree people - are also seen as "unnatural" by many for not taking part in procreation. It's a process that we have all the natural parts for, and (according to those who believe such things), we're all subject to a divine command to spawn. So we all know how it feels to be viewed and treated as unnatural oddballs, when really we're just living the life that feels natural to us.