Duncan Jones, director of good sci-fi films like “Moon” and bad ones like “Warcraft,” decided that Twitter was the right forum to vent his deepest parental frustrations. In a pair of now viral tweets, Jones had this to say:
I have 2 kids. 2 1/2 years & 9 months old respectively. I’ll tell you something I never see anyone admit… they are exhausting, frustrating & life-destabilizing. They are rarely fun. Sure, smiles are great, hugs are lovely, but it’s HARD & not obviously a good choice in life.
This is where people feel compelled to say “i wouldn’t change it for the world!” But you know… Of course I’d reconsider! It’s exhausting! Its banal! It’s like looking after a dog you can’t housetrain. What it is, is that it is. & they are mine. Hopefully they turn out ok.
What’s most concerning is the reaction these tweets provoked. In the 24 hours or so immediately after they were published, a sizable portion of the responses were entirely supportive and sympathetic. A bunch of parents decided to join the fray and register public complaints about their own children. Until saner voices joined the discussion, the thread was a long litany of unseemly parental bellyaching. And not just vague “parenting can be tough” type complaints, but much more specific and personal “my life is miserable and my kids are awful” type complaints.
Some in the media have also come out in defense of Jones. According to Rebecca Cox in Harpers Bazaar, the director’s comments were “so very important” and “accurate.” She insists that he ought to be “applauded” for sharing his perspective. Others have echoed this sentiment.
I’m not sure I can join in the standing ovation. As a parent of three kids — two five-year-olds and one two-year-old — I will offer the standard disclaimer that, yes, sure, parenting is a challenge. You don’t get a ton of sleep, especially in the beginning. And there’s a lot of crying and a lot of noise and someone is always asking for a snack. Things are generally expensive and exhausting and anxiety-inducing. Nobody thinks, and nobody would claim, that parenting is some kind of non-stop amusement park thrill ride. It is, sometimes, much more like the line to get on the thrill ride.
But “rarely fun”? Like “looking after a dog”? “Not obviously a good choice”? If you see parenting in those terms, it’s because there’s something wrong with you. That’s a character defect, not a defect of parenting per se. The defect is easy enough to identify: selfishness. Also, immaturity.
If you rarely have fun with your kids, it’s probably because you haven’t yet learned how to find joy in things that don’t revolve completely around yourself. Once you develop the ability to look beyond yourself just a bit, and push your own needs and desires just slightly towards the back burner for at least a few moments, it becomes extremely easy to have fun with kids. Especially small kids, who are hilarious, creative, and energetic.
In my experience, kids are the most difficult when you try to relegate them to the background so you can do something else with your time. Of course, sometimes it is necessary to do other things, like sleep, or work, or have an adult conversation, or spend some time with your spouse, or watch a movie that isn’t about talking animals or princesses. That’s when they can feel especially frustrating and burdensome. But if you find that your children are always frustrating, always a burden, “rarely fun,” and generally “life-destabilizing,” that’s probably because you are trying to keep them in the background and out of your way far too often. If you find no joy at all in parenting, it’s almost certainly because you have made no effort to actually focus on your kids and invest yourself in them. You are trying to live as if they don’t exist. Children will absolutely “de-stabilize” that sort of lifestyle, and rightfully so.
I’m not saying that we should be completely focused on our children all the time. They do need to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them. But it doesn’t revolve around us, either. Sometimes (frequently, even) we need to break free from our self-centered bubble and go play hide and seek, or build a spaceship out of a refrigerator box, or give piggy back rides, or whatever other kid-oriented thing. The main thing is just to be with them, in the room, in the moment. If we aren’t willing to make that sacrifice — which isn’t a very great sacrifice, in the grand scheme — parenting will be nothing but miserable for us.
One other point: whether these complaints from Jones are justified or not, they don’t belong on Twitter. These days shamelessness is often confused with “honesty,” so that people who air their dirty laundry in public are applauded for being courageous and open. It does not take courage, though, to whine about your toddler on the internet. Some thoughts — thoughts like “I’d reconsider having kids,” for instance — shouldn’t be presented for public consumption. Tell your spouse, tell your therapist, tell your priest. A million strangers in cyberspace don’t need to know about it, just like they don’t need to know about your warts and your bowel movements. Sort through your demons on your own. You shouldn’t advertise the fact.
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