Monday, February 11, 2013

Great Moments in Self-Indulgence

It seems to be a trend these days that if you vigorously assert your own shortcomings, then that basically alleviates your culpability in bringing them about. To wit, Noah Berlatsky has penned an essay at the Atlantic entitled "I'm Not Proud, But I'm Not Alone: A Lazy Parent's Meditations."

Berlatsky, who is evidently a lazy parent but not a lazy writer, spends a bunch of paragraphs in hand-wringing psuedo-anguish about how he and his wife cannot keep the house clean, are woefully inept at cooking dinner, and do not want to take their son on camping trips---all because they're "lazy" parents. "We are supposed to sacrifice for the children" and so forth, he writes---but damn it, they just can't live up to that golden ideal. Because they're lazy parents! And I think he believes that by admitting his laziness, and spending an entire essay rationalizing it, he makes it okay; the slate is clean.

I have no idea if this type of reasoning has been around for a while (perhaps I'm too lazy to research it), but based on purely anecdotal evidence, it strikes me that in recent years there has been a growing movement to glorify and/or make light of bad and lackadaisical parenting. The first thing that springs to mind is the book "Go the Fuck to Sleep," a "children's book for adults" that is meant to hilariously point out that sometimes parents are just tired of their kids. It's funny because it's true, I guess. But it's also irritating and somewhat unnerving, at least to me. Sure, parents get frustrated by their kids, sometimes a lot. But paying tribute to those unfortunate-though-real situations---almost glorifying those situations---is kind of creepy: "Sometimes I sort of hate my kids. That's funny." Gross. No, it's not funny.

Here's the kicker paragraph from Berlatsky's essay:
Perhaps the hardest part of parenting, then, is knowing that—no matter what your income is, or how much energy you've got, or how great a cook you are, or how many parenting books you read—you're not up to the job. And the best part, maybe, is that even when they know you're not up to the job, children are generally still willing to love you if you give them the chance. My son is a little annoyed that his parents are lazy, but he also thinks it's funny. He's got a sense of humor, and he's also pretty forgiving and kind. He's this lovely little human being, and it's at least as much despite me as because of me—which is why children are a gift not just to the deserving, but to the bumbling and lazy as well.
Talk about perpetuation. Son finds lazy parents to be amusing and probably normal. What kind of parent do you think Berlatsky Jr. is going to grow up to be?

More to the point,  it's just silly self-pandering to openly admit you're "not up to the job" of parenting simply because you're lazy. Laziness isn't a chronic disease that leaves you bedbound. It's something that can be fixed. Think if someone said, "Perhaps the hardest part of being a house painter is knowing that you're not up to the job." Would you not sneer at this person for giving up refusing to try harder?

Now, house painting and parenting are two different fields with two different sets of responsibilities and expectations and skill sets. That is irrelevant, however---they are both things, and as such they can be done well, or poorly, depending on how you choose to do them, and depending on whether or not you learn from your mistakes in doing so. You don't have to be a "perfect" parent, but then again you don't have to be a perfect anything; you just have to not be a defeatist about doing better at what you do. To go into parenting declaring that you're "not up to the job" is just a smug way to get out of being up to the job, and joking about being unable to clean the house and cook dinner is just a sly way to admit that you're a bad parent with no desire to get any better.

Hell, though, maybe I should try it at work---perhaps my boss will think it's "funny" if I'm lazy.

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