“You wanna know why your father spends so much time on the toilet? Because he’s not sure he wants to be a father.” – Louis C.K.
Parenting is hard
I think I was sitting on the toilet, my legs just starting to fall asleep, the first time I saw this video. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
I love my three sons desperately. They’re curious, funny, and smart…and they’re my fault. That is to say, I created them (I believe their mother was also involved). Sometimes I like to remind my oldest of that fact.
“I created you, you know,” I’ll say.
“No you didn’t. God did,” he’ll say.
Well, 8-year-old, I don’t have the courage to talk to you about sex yet, so you’ve won this battle. Trust me, though, I’ll win the war.
Why is parenting hard?
In her book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, Jennifer Senior calls becoming a parent one of the most sudden and dramatic changes in adult life. One day you aren’t catching poop with your bare hands as it tumbles from your 1-year-old’s diaperless butt cheeks, and the next day…well…you are.
The transition from childless to parent is tough, but heaven help you if you decide to have more than one child. My favorite description of what it’s like to add another child to your brood comes from Jim Gaffigan:
Just imagine you’re drowning…and then someone hands you a baby.
Whether you have one or a dozen, feeding, cleaning, teaching, protecting, guiding, and nurturing children can be overwhelming. Sometimes parents need to escape.
Why you’re always on the toilet
Sometimes you have a VERY legitimate reason to be in the bathroom for 20 minutes (gross). There are other times, though, that you just want to be left alone. The reasons for this usually fall somewhere on the spectrum between “kids are annoying” and “I’m overwhelmed.” I know my wife can relate to this.
“Mom! look at me!”
“Mom! I peed my pants!”
“Mom! I want a snack!”
“Mom! Take me with you!”
“Mom! There’s gum in my hair!”
Holy Zeus, child! Just give me a minute.
Unfortunately, if your kids are like mine, not even a locked bathroom door will protect your sanity. If they don’t know where you’ve gone, they’ll roam the house shouting, “Dad! Dad! Daaaaaaad!” until you give away your position.
Pro tip: don’t teach your kids that trick where you can unlock a door by sticking a toothpick through that little hole in the door knob. You’ll regret it.
Why you should get off the toilet
Your kids need you. I get it, that’s part of the problem. They tend to NEED you all the time. But parenting, done right, is fundamentally a selfless endeavor. Like Louis C.K. said in the video,
I got off the toilet, I flushed down my personal dreams, and I decided, ‘I’m going to be a dad!’
I’m not as bleak about personal dreams as Louis C.K. is. I don’t think being a good parent requires a complete dream-flushing. But make no mistake, you can’t be completely self-absorbed and be a good parent.
You need your kids. Being a father makes me a better man. My kids compel me to work hard, delay gratification, refrain from destructive overindulgence, and focus on someone besides myself. They give me love, affection, praise, and a sense of purpose.
Not everyone needs to be a parent, though. Some people choose not to have children and still live meaningful, happy lives. Others want children but can’t have them and still live meaningful, happy lives.
Parents of children who have special needs or who are defiant or destructive might ask themselves why they “need” their kids. These parents sometimes say that raising difficult children makes their life meaningful, but there’s no denying that they struggle with unique challenges. These parents shouldn’t be afraid to seek support.
The world needs your kids. We live in a world filled with people who consume, exploit, attack, and destroy. This world is also filled with people who produce, nurture, protect, and create. What kind of person will your child decide to be? You can’t control their decisions, but don’t ever be the reason they make a bad one.
What to do once you’re off the toilet
Be present. It can be tempting to check out mentally when you’re watching your kid do magic tricks. Fight that temptation. Put away your phone and look your child in the eye. Pour every ounce of your attention into what he is doing. Anchor yourself in her world by making observations, asking questions, and following along.
If you do this you will enjoy the time you spend with your child so much more and so will he. In fact, this kind of interaction can be so satisfying to children that they are less likely to pester you afterward.
Cherish moments. I remember when my youngest child was just a few days old. It was 3 AM and I had just gotten him to fall asleep. I was cradling him on the couch, staring at his face.
Suddenly, he laughed. I didn’t think infants could laugh like that. He full-on guffawed. The beauty and innocence of that little laugh made me weep and I’ll never forget it.
Take real breaks. Kids need to know that their parents are taking a break, not just that they’ve disappeared. This is harder with very young children, but explain to your kids that you are taking time for yourself and that it will help you be a better parent.
It took a while for my kids to get used to this idea. The 2-year-old used to say, “No date! No date! Me come with you!” when my wife and I tried to leave for an evening. After we found a good, consistent babysitter he complained a lot less.
Learn more about parenting
Babies don’t come with manuals. That hasn’t stopped thoughtful people from writing some, though. Here are a few of my favorite parenting books.
Go easy on yourself
Nobody’s perfect; you aren’t and neither are your kids. You’ll make mistakes; so will they. Cut yourself some slack and give them the benefit of the doubt. You’re children will require much from you. Make them worth it.
Note: The links on this page are Amazon affiliate links, which means I get a small percentage of the proceeds if you make a purchase using my link. Thanks!