Give all moms a raise right now

I’m on my way home from visiting the grandson. A little context here: Baby Knut is 6 months old. His father is in the army, and they just shipped him off for a training exercise in Louisiana for 6 weeks. My wife & I decided to combine two things: 1) Grandma & Grandpa get to visit and see/spoil the new baby, and 2) Grandma will stay for the full 6 weeks to help out. I’m skipping out early because I have job duties to perform back home, so I can’t stay that long.

I was there for only a week. OMG PARENTING IS THE HARDEST JOB IN THE WORLD. I’d completely forgotten — I speculate there is some form of stress/fatigue related amnesia that totally blanks out your memory of at least the first year, otherwise no one would ever have a second child. It’s the combination of being motivated to do a flawless job, and parenting being a 24 hour a day duty that never, ever stops, and interrupts you with a new crisis every few hours. That crisis might be something trivial, but there is no such thing as a trivial discomfort to a baby. Really. To a baby, being a little bit tired means “I must scream as loud as I can into someone’s ear until I’m so exhausted I pass out.”

It seems to work. Next time I begin to nod off mid-afternoon in the office, I’m going to step into the hallway and howl at the top of my lungs until someone consoles me, and then I’ll shriek some more.

Of course, babies also offer a reward system of giggles and bubble-blowing and cooing, and I think I’m well past my cuteness expiration date, so it’s probably not going to work for me. Dang.

Anyway, when there were four of us working around the clock it was a bit tiring; when my son left for Louisiana and we were three, it was exhausting; now that I’ve left and it’s down to my wife and daughter-in-law, I don’t want to think about it. I especially don’t want to imagine being a single parent, which sounds like it ought to be lethal. If any of you readers were single parents, you have my awestruck respect. How did you survive? And if you were single-parenting and trying to work a job…jesus fucking christ, you deserve a medal and Elon Musk’s salary.

It does make me realize that humans had to have absolutely depended on community during their evolution. Pair-bonding is fine, but even working in pairs to care for the young is inadequate — when I was growing up, we had a big extended family to distribute the load. Academia (and the military, or any other occupation that disrupts familial social relationships) is clearly a terrible idea.

But hey, Knut is a lovely 10kg monster of passions — the joy of a 6 month old is even more extreme than their grievances — so I can see why many of us still try. I’m going to have to give my wife a vacation and spoil her for a while when she gets back home in July.


  1. says

    Okay, so you’re not as innately cute as a baby, and bubble blowing and cooing from you isn’t sufficient to cause everyone in the surrounding to drop what they’re doing and fawn on you. YOU CAN WORK ON THIS!

    I suggest purchasing some super cute bubble-blowing apparatus, and perhaps an electromechanical coo generator, specifically calibrated (and you may have to use trial and error here) for maximum response. Approach it as you would research. You could even publish your results!

  2. rietpluim says

    I do remember the early years. Especially the eldest one had terrible sleeping habits, like not sleeping at all and keeping us awake until deep in the night. Boy, I remember carrying her crying off the stairs to the living room. I mean I was crying, from fatigue.

  3. says

    Should be: Give all parents a raise right now, because lots of dads do parenting, and there are also single dads.

  4. chris says

    I always “loved” the cry because they are tired bit in babies. I sometimes see a parent of a young child going through that and make a remark on how odd that babies scream when to us it is just logical to close our eyes and sleep. Mostly the parent is thinking they are doing something wrong, and it helps to remind them that is is perfectly normal.

    Our middle kid had a habit as a toddler to do fall down kicking and screaming tantrums. My tactic was to get up and move to another room. He would see that I was gone, so get up and walk to where I was. Then he would drop down and commence the temper tantrum. We would repeat this a couple more times, until he just gave up. Sometimes just by crawling on to my lap.

    He is now a full grown adult with a good job. He and his wife are flying to Norway tomorrow for their honeymoon.

    Mostly as a parent the job is to make sure the kids make it to bedtime alive. A sense of humor helps. Especially around the time they are teenagers.

  5. Louis says

    I did the stay at home parent (dad) thing for a little bit (mostly because my wife’s career was in a superb phase, and a little bit because the wages in research only just covered proper childcare where we live, so it made sense). I was very very very glad to get back to “real”* work. The work of full time parenting is much, much harder.


    * I know parenting is real work. You know what I am saying! “Real”** = a crap description of paid employment (which doesn’t cover other forms of real work like internships, freelancing, charity work….).

    ** The quotes are there for a reason.

  6. iknklast says

    And if you were single-parenting and trying to work a job

    How about single parenting, 2 jobs, and working on a master’s degree? With an ex who wouldn’t pay child support, or take the kid on his weekends?

    I want Elon Musk’s salary…with interest for all the years I did that unpaid.

  7. whheydt says

    Teenagers…. I can deal with. You just have to get their budding rational side and work on that. I once (officially, in a voluntary position of authority) had to read a teen the riot act. I did it calmly and dispassionately. I explained what he had done wrong legally, and what he had done wrong socially. Then left him with a “go and sin no more.” I was told later that as he walked away with a couple of his friends, he turned to one and said, ‘Man, I don’t *ever* want that guy mad at me again!” The friend replied, “Oh, Hal? He wasn’t mad at you. You should see him when he’s mad.” At that point the kid I’d been lecturing turned white. Seems to have worked. though.

  8. unclefrogy says

    It does make me realize that humans had to have absolutely depended on community during their evolution.

    enough of this emphasis on dominance and hierarchy. You out your finger on the truth right there. It is the cooperation of the group that we need the most and it is the key to our success. It is possible to be a single parent today in the prosperous modern world only because so much of the everyday needs are built in to the systems we have developed to supply them. Without that cooperation it does not work and that cooperation is often facilitated by exchange of money . I have had some experience with single parenting from both sides and it is full of many difficulties on all sides
    it is a huge subject and deserves more than just a blog comment but that is out of my abilities.
    I all most resent little Knut for taking you away from the blog but mostly envy you.
    uncle frogy

  9. robro says

    Caine @ #3 — Thank you.

    Parenting is not only the hardest job, but the longest. I’m 70 and I’m confident my mother still worries about me. My father would, too, but he’s no longer with us. My son is 26 and we’re still working that job.

  10. chris says

    “Teenagers…. I can deal with”

    The fun part of boys and puberty is the change in showering habits. First you can’t get them in the shower (or use soap), and then the water bill sky rockets.

    Just an FYI: never enter the band bus after the young men have changed out of their wool uniforms after marching in the hot sun. The smell will knock you back!

    I have my laptop background set to cycle through the collection of digital photos we have taken over the years. Right now it is showing the time when my boys were teenagers, and the middle one going snowboarding with friends. It is a nice way to flip through memories.

  11. jennyjfwlucy says

    I don’t think anyone really understands “it takes a village” until they have cared for a child.

  12. numerobis says

    Careful what you wish for: Elon Musk’s salary is minimum wage. Full time, which is better than many single parents, but still Id argue for better pay than that.

    (His wealth comes from stock ownership, not salary; it’s taxed less, so a lot of executives take their money that way.)

  13. anbheal says

    My ex took a job when her daughter was about 18 months that required frequent trips to China, so I cared for the girl for weeks at a time. I enjoyed it, mostly. Good exercise, riding the bike with her in the back seat up to daycare and back every day. Mister Rogers and Dora The Explorer and TeleTubbies and Curious George on PBS would occupy her while I made dinner or caught up on work. But in terms of taking a community, once she became a competent toddler, we’d be in the doggie park at sunset with all the neighborhood dog-owners, and I’d be chatting away for a few minutes, and then look around: Shit, no Brett!

    Invariably some neighbor would point me to some slide or swing or kitty 150 yards off, and pat my shoulder, “somebody has to be responsible, Ace, and tonight it’s me”.

  14. magistramarla says

    We were a military family (still are, but the kids are grown), and we had no grandparents to enlist for aid. We’ve lived in six different states and raised five kids. I often quipped that I was a single mother of five, since my husband spent so much time traveling. In each new community, we found our own village. Military spouses tend to stick together and help each other.
    In one particular duty station, the family next door had two small children and we went from three to five during those years. We became close friends and always helped each other out when one of the guys was out of town. All seven of the kids became like siblings. My friend’s husband was great at mechanical tasks and home DIY (He taught my husband quite a bit of those things). Mine was good with the computer and electrical tasks. My friend used to say that put together, they made one helluva man!
    We’re still not sure how we survived, but that military community sure helped!

  15. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Enjoy being Grandpa, all the joy of parenting with none of the responsibility.
    I used to think that was “sarcasm”, until I became a Grandpa, with a grandson who locked onto me without me even trying.
    He really cheers me with every encounter. It is also wonderful relief to be able to hand him off to my daughter at the end of the day.

  16. sebloom says

    I don’t want to imply that caring for an infant is easy, however, it’s important to remember…the age of the caregiver matters as well. When our kids were babies we had a lot more energy and a lot fewer aches and pains. My arthritis didn’t start until after our youngest was in college.

  17. cartomancer says

    Oh, so that’s why all my friends have turned into shriveled, antisocial misery-wraiths who never want to do anything fun over the last five years.

  18. FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says

    In the month that Ms. Fishy gave birth to The Small Fry I quit a job of twenty year, got married, packed all our belongings away, and flew to Australia.

    At one point I took our screaming daughter, placed her gently on the floor away from any choking hazards (paid attention in those new parent classes) and lost my shit in the corner of the room. I was so overwhelmed that it seemed impossible to do one thing more, let alone all the things.

    Obviously we managed, I’m not sure how.

    I do remember sitting on the balcony of our charming little Sydney hotel listening to the a Magpie waddle-giggle-gargle-gaggle-poodle in the gum tree while the baby slept on my lap. That sound is still one of profound relief to me, it was that moment when I finally began to breath again.

    If I had to do it alone? No, it doesn’t bear thinking about…

  19. chrislawson says

    Next time I begin to nod off mid-afternoon in the office, I’m going to step into the hallway and howl at the top of my lungs until someone consoles me, and then I’ll shriek some more.

    So you’re joining the ranks of the Peterson fanboys, then?

  20. chrislawson says

    My favourite personal parenting story.

    We’re just sitting down to dinner when my 6 year old daughter fixes me with an aristocratic glare and says, “Milk!”

    I ask, “And what’s the magic word?”

    Without missing a beat she says “NOW!”

    I did have a stern talk to her about manners, but it took me a little while to stop laughing.

  21. chris says

    jennyjfwlucy: “I don’t think anyone really understands “it takes a village” until they have cared for a child.”

    I would up vote this a thousand times if I could.

  22. says

    How did you survive?

    The more mysterious question is: how did the kids survive?
    I am what I cal a “part time single mum” with Mr working and living in a different town during the week. And I swear that when the little one was a baby and the older one between 2 and three, they had a complicated shift system for taking naps because they wouldn’t ever nap at the same time.
    Now they’re 8 and 10 and most of the times life is easier, only that we’re starting puberty with #1. And as a friend recently said: why is there still so much puberty left at the end of patience?

  23. unclefrogy says

    you know I just could not understand the furor over that phrase “it takes a village” when I first heard it sounded like “duh yah!” to me it must have been another one of those anti-Hillary things?
    uncle frogy

  24. reynardo says

    ” I’m going to have to give my wife a vacation and spoil her for a while when she gets back home in July.”

    Good. That’s how you make sure the marriage is still working after all this time.

  25. Another Matt says

    We had our twins three years ago. I’ve been a stay-at-home dad for those years while I’m on the academic job market. Yeah it’s fucking hard, but really rewarding. I’m looking forward to preschool, though. They’ve never had a babysitter, which is part finances and strangely it’s part just being so overwhelmed that researching childcare and organizing time feels less possible than just making it through another day with the kids. I envy other parents who have family nearby!

  26. conradhicks says

    Agreed. One decision I have never regretted was to get the snip quicksharp after my wife and I both agreed neither of us had any interest in having kids. As lovely as my nieces and nephews and godkids (name only, not in the religious sense) are, spending any length of time with them removes any doubt that may arise from time to time….so much work. I’ll stick with dogs and horses.