Feeling Our Way

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Parenting is a Zero Sum Game

“The old ball and chain” is your child, not your spouse. Read More

My children were not a ball and chain

I viewed my years with young children as a chance to become a child again myself, enjoying trips to the playground, dance and gymnastics lessons and recitals, Little League baseball and rec league basketball and soccer games, swim meets, board games, cartoons, Disney movies, games of hide and seek or playground basketball and trips to science museums or amusement parks. I guess I "missed out" on going out for cocktails or fancy dinners or more adult movies but I tried to take an attitude of "been there, done that."

Now my kids are college age and I enjoy healthy relationships with both of them. Would I have these two wonderful friends to enjoy if I had viewed them as a "ball and chain" when they were little and needed me? Perhaps, but I doubt it. And one thing I know for sure: my own life would have been been much poorer for it.

Children are wonderful.

I have two, both are great kids and I enjoy my time with them. From taking them to their activities to just hanging out with them, to taking vacations with them, my husband and I wouldn't trade our parenting experiences for anything.

Different perspective on parenthood

It's not really clear from DroneDad's comment that he understands what "zero sum game" means. From his description of the activities he did with his kids when they were young, and the fact that he used having kids to be a child again himself, I'm left wondering who did the often thankless, mature tasks of parenting during those years.

Things like walking the floor with a crying baby, changing leaky poopy diapers, sleepless nights with babies and sick kids, leaving a sobbing child at pre-school or day care, comforting a kid who has been snubbed by a friend or thinks he's stupid because he still cant remember his multiplication tables, waiting up for a teen on a date, setting appropriate limits for bad behavior, enforcing that homework comes before fun activities, being the bad guy parent by turning off the TV, serving real food with vegetables for dinner, saying 'no' when it's hard but necessary.

Raising children, if you are doing more than going to playgrounds, museums, vacations and their sports activities, is such an all encompassing commitment that it is, in a way, a ball and chain. It's all worthwhile, but it can be exhausting and leave you with little or no time for yourself when your kids are young. Especially if the parents are competing for precious down time. Or one parent thinks that going to a ball game and a museum is all parenting is about. That's what it's like to be an aunt or an uncle, not a parent.

DroneDads post made me think of a Dr Seuss quote that my teenagers introduced me to: "In my world everyone is a pony and they all eat rainbows and poop butterflies."

I was a ball and chain and lived to tell

DroneDad's reply ignores the point of the blog post in order to promote his own purportedly straightforward warm, loving, uncomplicated (and suspiciously self-laudatory) feelings about having a child. To me, it seems that to be a responsible adult precludes regressing to childhood oneself. Surely, an adult, responsible parent can feel bound (as if to a "ball and chain") by responsibilities while still being playful (and while putting the child's health and wellbeing first). Does DroneDad just mean to assert that he, personally, is a terrific, fun-loving and childlike father, in contrast to the blogger (who, I daresay, is somewhat more honest about the spectrum of human feelings that one can experience: not only those that paint a pretty picture)? Since apparently we're talking about ourselves now, I personally would rather be the kid of a dad who cheerfully refers to me, with affection, as the "ball and chain" as opposed to one who won't acknowledge a wide range of feelings, attitudes & behaviors that can still add up to "good dad." The latter seems way more likely to be mean to me when his inevitable aggression expresses itself and makes him feel like a bad person.

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Michael Karson, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the University of Denver.


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